Malcolm Purkey

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Malcolm Purkey (1951-). Actor, director, playwright, influential drama lecturer and theatre administrator.


Born in Orange Grove, Johannesburg, his father was a jazz pianist and his mother a singer. He went to Highlands North High School, and after a short while in Britain, returned to begin a BA degree at University of the Witwatersrand. His qualifications are a BA (Witwatersrand) 1974, a (Hons) (Witwatersrand) 1975, an MA Theatre Studies (State University of New York) 1980, an a Fulbright Scholarship. He is also a Graduate of the British National Film and Television School (1994 ).

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

He began as a stage manager for the Adam Leslie Theatre, 1972, then became involved in the development, design, construction and management of the Box Theatre and The Nunnery theatre as performance spaces for the University of the Witwatersrand's School of Dramatic Art (1973-1976). In 1976 he became the company manager for Theatre Workshop '71, and inspired by the company, he and some friends (including William Kentridge) founded Junction Avenue Theatre Company in 1976. They were later joined by former members of Theatre Workshop '71. He was the administrative director for most Junction Avenue Theatre Company projects between 1976-2000.

Having gone to State University of New York at Binghamton on a Fulbright Scholarship (1978-80), to complete a master's degree, he joined the staff of the Wits drama school as lecturer in 1984, becoming Professor and chair in 2000. From 2005-2013 he was the Artistic Director and member of Senior Management team of the Market Theatre Foundation, and in 2014 became Dean of AFDA Johannesburg. Over the years he has been a guest lecturer, pannelist and speaker at intsitutions and forums across the globe.

Productions as director/facilitator/author

Internationally renowned, Purkey is one of the pre-eminent exponents of workshop based theatre development in South Africa, often supervising the research, running the workshop, writing the script and directing the work. Particularly known for his exciting and influential work with Junction Avenue Theatre Company and the Market Theatre. Fond of Brecht, Purkey has a number of times directed popular productions of The Threepenny Opera with students and professionals.

Projects for Junction Avenue Theatre Company

The Fantastical History of a Useless Man, (1976-7), WoozeBear (1976), Samantha in Search of an Orchestra (1977), Randlords and Rotgut (for Wits History Workshop, 1978), Will of a Rebel (1979), Security (1979), Ilanga Lizophumela Abasebenzi (1980), WoozeBear and the Zoo-Bears, (1980), Marabi (1982), The Bacchae (1983), Dikitsheneng (1984), Sophiatown (1985-8) , Tooth and Nail (1988-1991), Marabi (revision, 1995-8). He has also directed many of the Comapny's children's shows.

Directing projects at the Market Theatre

Tom Stoppard's Jumpers ( 1980), The Primary English Class, (Horovitz, 1980), Shades of Brown (Picardie, 1980), Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Dario Fo, 1981), Speed the Plow (Mamet, 1989), Duet for One (Kempinski, 1994 ), Love, Crime and Johannesburg (1999). Projects at the Market Theatre Foundation since 2005 include: Hostile Takeover; Ain't Misbehavin'; Dream of the Dog; The Girl in the Yellow Dress (2011); Sophiatown; The Island, Little Foot and From the Mouths of Babes.

Projects for the Wits School of Dramatic Art

Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, 1983; Sizwe Bansi is Dead, 1984 (Funda Centre, Soweto and Grahamstown Festival, 1985); Julius Caesar, 1985; The Island, 1985 (Natal Schools Festival, Barclays Bank Highveld Schools Festival); Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, 1987; Randlords and Rotgut, 1989 (History Workshop and Open Day); Mary O'Mally's Once a Catholic, 1990; Athol Fugard's Hello and Goodbye, 1990; directed workshops, research and production for The Breeding Ground, 1991; The Changeling, 1992; Marat/Sade, 1994; Wole Soyinka’s The Road, 1995; The Canterbury Tales, 1998, Romeo and Juliet, 2000; A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2001; Twelfth Night, 2002; The Taming of the Shrew, 2003; The Tempest, 2004.

Other directing, workshop and playwriting projects over the years

As a student at Wits; Sequel to Jeso, (1971), Books, (writer/director, 1973), Of an Anna, (facilitator, director , 1974), Ubu Rex (Jarry, 1975, a University Players/Box Theatre production), Sneezed, (co-writer and director), The Goat (1975).

Professional work: Travesties, (Market Theatre, 1978 - Breytenbach Epathlon, Best Director of the Year), Miss Julie (Hermit Theatre, Durban, 1980), I'm Getting my Act Together and Taking it on the Road ( Arena Bistro Theatre , 1980), Antigone (1983, St Barnabas School), Gandhi in South Africa (workshopped educational theatre project, 1983 and 1984), The Gentle Art: Readings From the Works of Nadine Gordimer (1991 , COSAW and PAWE) and Marat/Sade, 1996, Nice University, Lyon Festival, University of Aix.

Work while studying in at the State University of New York: The Mystic Drum, (co-writer and director, with Nigerian actor, Chuma Chukwa, 1978), Merchant of Venice, (1979), Relatively Speaking, (1979), The Importance of Being Earnest, (1980)

Associations, Educational and Professional Bodies in South African theatre

Purkey has been deeply involved in organizational matters for much of his life, and memberships include the South African Association of Theatre Managements, (1985-1989), PAWE (Founder Executive Member of 1990-92, council member 1994 -1997), the Civic Theatre Johannesburg, (Board of Governors, 1994 - 1996, member of Management Committee, 1995-1999), National Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown (member of the Artistic Committee 2005 -), and Newtown Improvement District, (Member and Chair 2008- 2013).


A number of his playtexts have been published, including The Fantastical History of a Useless Man (Ravan Press, 1978), Randlords and Rotgut (Ad Donker, 1980) , Sophiatown, plus introduction and glossary (David Philip Publishers, 1988, Witwatersrand University Press, 1993 ) , Sophiatown, (New edition)), At the Junction - four plays by Junction Avenue Theatre Company (Witwatersrand University Press, 1995), Love, Crime and Johannesburg ( Witwatersrand University Press, 2000).

A number or articles and papers on theatre and politics have also been published over the years.

Awards, honours, etc

Winner of a number of awards for his work in South Africa, including the Breytenbach Epathlon for Best Director of the Year (1978), the AA Vita Award for best play (1986, 2000), Fleur du Cap award for Best Director, (2011).

Academic/artistic recognition abroad also came in the form of inter alia a Red Ribbon award at the American National Film Festival (1984), a British Council Fellowship, British National Film and Television School, 1992/3, an invitation of the French Ministry of Culture, Belles Estrangers Afrique du Sud, to be a panellist and lecturer at Sourbonne, Potiers, and other French universities and centres, 1993 and a French Academic Fellowship, University of Sophia Antipolis, Nice, 1995/1996.

Literary awards include the Olive Schreiner award for Dramatic Literature, 1984.


Tucker, 1997.

Curriculum Vitae of Malcolm Purkey (Personal correspeondence with Temple Hauptfleisch, 2015).

National Arts Festival programme, 1991. 53.

IMDb [1].

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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