National Theatre

(Redirected from National theatre)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

See also State Theatre

National Theatre and State Theatre as concepts

Interestingly few English dictionaries actually define the notion of a "National Theatre", beyond saying that it "the former name of the Royal National Theatre" (in London). However the notion of a "national" or "state" theatre is nevertheless an old, often debated, one and can have many meanings, from the notion of a specific building to a broad concept of a theatre (or theatre system) funded by the "nation" or the "state". (In some cases the "state" in question may be part of the larger entity, a nation or federation, as in the USA for example.) There are numerous examples of the phrase being used in the latter sense by authors and speakers (see for instance ten "Examples from the Web for national theatre" cited in the Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 05 Dec. 2015. <>.

However the central idea has always been to obtain governmental funding and support for the professional theatre in a country, and that such a theatre would be an expression of the artistic and cultural soul and achievements of that country, state and/or nation. Most nations tend to have such a theatre or theatre organization.

Among the most fraught issues up for debate surrounding the notions have always been governmental intervention in creative freedom, censorship and control of content. (The same is true of all sponsorship of course, also private and/or commercial funding.)

The concept of a National Theatre or State Theatre in South Africa

The notion of a "national" or "state" theatre for South Africa also comes quite a long way. Some of the ideas were visionary and grandiose (including theatre schools, orchestras, drama, ballet, opera and other companies, theatres in every town, and the like). However the central idea has always been to obtain state funding and support for the professional theatre. The interpretation of the notions nation and state though, have been singular in South Africa, over the 20th century.

The term State Theatre is also used in the plural as "state theatres", usually to refer to all theatres totally funded by the state, but very specifically so for the period 1970-1990, when it normally referred to the four state funded Performing Arts Councils (PACs) in South Africa. In the later part of this period, and the early post-apartheid period, the Market Theatre was often referred to as the true State Theatre or National Theatre of South Africa", even though it at the time received no direct subsidy from the state. Since then quite a number of the old "alternative theatres" (including the Market Theatre, the Baxter Theatre and so on) do receive a partial subvention from the state via the National Arts Council, and thus in effect could be seen as state theatres.

Petitions for a National Theatre

Numerous individuals, Organisations and intsitutions have over the years agitated for a form of state intervention. In the first concerted thrust (between 1936 and 1947) for example the names of most prominent (white) theatre personalities and academics can be found in the minutes of meetings and on petitions. These include P.P.B. Breytenbach, Hermien Dommisse, Anna Neethling-Pohl, Muriel Alexander, Myles Bourke, Hendrik Hanekom, André Huguenet, Leontine Sagan, Marda Vanne, Gwen ffrançon-Davies, Margaret Inglis, Nan Munro, John Connell, Hélène Botha, W. du P. Erlank ("Eitemal"), W.E.G. Louw, F.C.L. Bosman, S.P.E. Boshoff, Donald Inskip, Rayne Kruger, L.W. Hiemstra, T.H. le Roux, Among the organisations that involved themselves in this were FATSSA, the Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, the Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations (FAK).

Petitions for a National African Theatre

A lone voice with another message and interpretation at this time was the playwright and cultural leader H.I.E Dhlomo, who wrote a series of articles expounding his notion of a national African theatre in **. (These ideas were only picked up again much later in the 1980's, and informed mushc of the debate surrounding the notion of black theatre and theatre in the "new South Africa".)

National Theatre Organisation: The first National Theatre in the British commonwealth

These initial movements culminated in Commission of Inquiry into Adult Education (led by G. von W. Eybers), the report of which led to the founding of a National Advisory Council for Adult Education, which had a theatre committee, which drew up a proposal for a national theatre organisation. The result was the National Theatre Organisation (NTO), founded on 7 April 1947, with P.P.B. Breytenbach as chairman (later full-time director), focussing on Afrikaans and English drama. See further NTO

The Performing Arts Councils of South Africa

In 1961 it was replaced by four provincially based Performing Arts Councils/Boards (PAC's), namely PACT, CAPAB, PACOFS and NAPAC, (later also SWAPAC) catering for drama, music, opera and ballet. *** By 1990 the disillusionment was so great that a strong movement - spearheaded by a number of national bodies - such as PAWE and ACTAG - and inspired by individuals such as Mike van Graan and *** was launched to have the PAC's replaced by a nationally based funding Organisation, and this finally came in April 1997 with the National Arts Council.

Alternative theatres, and The Market Theatre as a "national theatre"

In the mid 1980's a counter movement had developed, as the independent alternative theatres (the Space and the Market Theatre for example) became seen as the true representatives of South African culture. The Market in fact became known internationally as the unofficial "national theatre" of the country.

Renewed ideas of a State Theatre

At the start of the new millenium, however dissilusion with the ability of the NAC to sustain a true "state theatre" began to grow again and calls were once more heard for a more direct involvement of the state in founding a national (or a few national) companies, to employ performers and build a theatre tradition. Once again Mike van Graan emerged as a prominent figure, in his position as the chairman of PANSA. (See the individual personalities, Organisations and institutions highlighted above.) (See Binge, 1969; Hauptfleisch 1984, )

National Theatre as the name for a venue or organization

NTO and The National Theatre

See Breytenbach Theatre and National Theatre Organisation

The Market Theatre as the "National Theatre"

See Market Theatre

PACT and the State Theatre Pretoria

See State Theatre


For more information

Return to

Return to South African Theatre Terminology and Thematic Entries

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page