University of Pretoria, Department of Drama
The Drama Department at the University of Pretoria is a tertiary training institution for theatre practitioners and researchers.
The Department was originally established under the name Departement Dramakunde, in January 1965 as the second Afrikaans language drama training institution situated in a University. It was intended to be part of the University of Pretoria's endeavour to introduce formal academic training in drama, music and fine arts. The department set out to train theatre practitioners that can make a contribution to the rapidly developing theatre industry of the time. The department further aimed to specifically promote Afrikaans theatre in the country.
in 1974 the name was changed to Departement Drama (or Department of Drama in English) and the focus narrowed to some extent.
The philosopher and sociologist Geoff Cronjé was appointed as the first professor and Head of Department and was initially assisted by the well-known actress and director Anna Neethling-Pohl. Prof Pohl retired from service at the University in 1971 and Prof Cronjé followed her in 1972.
In 1974 Louw Odendaal was appointed as the new Head of Department and after his retirement as HoD in 1998, he was replaced by Allan Munro in 1999. When Prof Munro resigned, Carel Trichardt acted as HoD, to be followed by Fred Hagemann upon his retirement. Marié-Heleen Coetzee became HoD following Prof Hagemann’s retirement mid-2008.
Besides the abovementioned lecturers, the staff of the department has over the years included many well known theatre personalities and teachers, such as Truida Louw, Neels Hansen, Hannes Horne, Fred Steyn, Betty Hugo, Estelle Zeeman, Pieter Brand, Johan Visser, Marth Munro, Chris Broodryk, Bailey Snyman, Myer Taub, and Morné Steyn.
Today the Drama Department has 5 full-time academic staff members, of whom 4 are permanent. The Department makes use of 1 teaching assistant and presently 3 tutors appointed from the student body.
At first, the Department occupied temporary spaces (a number of old residences) on the University campus on the old Christian Brothers' College grounds. Gradually more permanent theatre buildings were made available: Die Masker ("The mask") (the old school hall converted to a theatre), followed later by Die Bok ("The goat") and Die Lier ("the lyre", both training spaces).
In February 1982 the Department moved to the beautiful old Brethren House, formerly part of the Christian Brothers’ College (CBC) complex. Periodically, the Department received significant donations: The Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal (PACT) made texts equipment, costumes and so on available to the Department, the Heidelberg Teachers’ Training College donated costumes in exchange for using the Department’s wardrobe, and important collections of photographs and documents were also donated. Prof Pohl presented the Merensky 2 Library with her valuable drama and theatre library as a gift.
Today the Drama Department is located in the drama building on the Hatfield campus comprising of offices, two seminar rooms, three lecture spaces for practical work, a digital media studio (postgraduate) and a radio studio. The Department makes use of a movement studio on the South campus, as well as a rehearsal room and two theatres on the Hatfield campus. The Department makes use of lecture rooms in the Agriculture Annex (next to the theatres) and the Humanities building for theoretical modules. The available rehearsal venues at times struggle to meet the pressure for rehearsal space at peak times. Due to the Department’s approach to integrating theory and practice in many modules and year courses, there is a need for flexible spaces that will allow for this integration to be fully realised.
Historically the Drama Department modelled itself as an acting academy that focused on training actors and directors. The Department’s core business was to produce actors and directors for the theatre, film and television industries. The focus of production work was on works from the Western canon and Afrikaans classics, and similarly the theoretical focus was on Western theatre history and South African theatre history as it pertained to the development of specifically Afrikaans and English theatre. While most of the department's students left the Department after completing their BA Drama degrees and postgraduate studies were not a priority, the department nevertheless produced some of the early masters and doctoral graduates, often people working on directing or on the history of South African theatre.
In the 1990’s there was a dramatic shift in the country towards training students as theatre-makers rather than solely as interpretive artists and towards locating drama/theatre/performance studies in a more analytical paradigm. The Drama Department’s acknowledgement of this changing landscape of tertiary drama/theatre/performance education was evidenced in the move away from predominately Western canonical texts and performance modes and the development of a range of courses outside of the traditional historical offering.
The departmental website at https://www.up.ac.za/drama-department
Information submitted by Marié-Heleen Coetzee
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