Wits Great Hall
History and technical specifications
Also simply called the Great Hall. Opened in 193*?? A students’ hall that seats up to 1035 and is utilized for numerous political meeting and performances over the years.
In 1979 the Great Hall was refurbished - it was given a new acoustic treatment, an inner stage and a wide forestage with an hydraulic orchestra lift. The venue seats 1035.
Today the Wits Great Hall is also managed by the Performing Arts Administration at the University of the Witwatersrand under the name of The Wits Theatre, which is a service organization within the university, providing support for the mounting of these productions, and aspects of technical teaching and practical training for both the School of Dramatic Art and School of Music.
It handles the day to day running of the Wits Theatre complex and Great Hall and while the university community have first call on the facilities, it also caters for a large, diverse collection of professional companies, dance studios and schools.
It has a rich heritage that dates back to plays such as including André van Gyseghem’s production of The Hairy Ape with the Bantu People’s Theatre in 1937, Joan of Lorraine (1947) and Romeo and Juliet (1949) by the (Johannesburg Repertory Society, and the world premiere of the SA musical King Kong in 1959.
For many decades the Johannesburg Musical Society has presented its splendid recitals, featuring the best artists from this country and all over the world, here. The Wits University Great Hall: Muriel Alexander directed Joan of Lorraine , her last play for the REPS in 1947 at the Wits University Great Hall. Leon Gluckman directed T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral which was performed here in 1948. Romeo and Juliet was performed here and in the Pretoria Opera House in 1949. It was produced by the Reps to commemorate twenty one years of existance. It was directed by André van Gyseghem, and starred Leon Gluckman, Eugenie Heyns, Muriel Alexander and Herbert Kretzmer. Sets by Len Grosset and costumes by Louis Jacobson impressed. James Ambrose Brown’s Ambrose Applejohn’s Adventure was staged by Children’s Theatre here in 1950. . Children’s Theatre presented Gordon Daviot’s Richard of Bordeaux at the Wits Great Hall in 1951. It was directed by Minna Millsten with sets by her husband Basil Warner starring John Rutherford. Children’s Theatre culminated with Colin Romoff’s production of Treasure Island at the Wits Great Hall in 1953, starring Felix Cooper. Leon Gluckman staged Shakespeare’s King Lear here in 1954. The play was directed by Elizabeth Sneddon, and Gluckman played Lear. Percy Tucker filled the post of business manager, and Audrey Cobden assisted Gluckman. Brian Brooke brought the Welsh actor-playwright Emlyn Williams to South Africa to perform his one man show Charles Dickens at the University Hall in September 1954. John Boulter directed Julius Caesar for the Wits University Players in 1957 starring Janet Suzman. The American comedian Anna Russell did a series of her one-woman shows at the University Hall in 1956. Union Artists staged King Kong, which was directed by Leon Gluckman at the Great Hall in 1959. Stanley (Spike) Glasser was the musical director, Arthur Goldreich did the design and Arnold Dover did the choreography for this musical starring the trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Nathan Mdledle in the lead role, band vocalist Miriam Makeba, Joe Mogotsi and Peggy Phango. Eugene O’Neill’s powerful tale, The Emperor Jones, directed by Leon Gluckman and starring Joe Mogotsi was staged here in 1960. It had an all-black supporting cast of thirty. Union Artists brought the Indian director Krishna Shah to South Africa to mount Rabindranath Tagore’s King of the Dark Chamber in 1961. It starred Indian stars Surya Kumari and Baskhar and opened in Durban before playing at the Great Hall. Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, produced by Leon Gluckman and Leonard Schach was staged here in 1964. Leonard directed Leon and Erica Rogers. It was performed to multi-racial audiences. The Wizard of Oz was staged here for Children’s Theatre in 1965. Taubie Kushlick produced and contracted Des Lindberg to write extra music and lyrics, and Dawn Silver for choreography. Keith Blundell was the musical director, Nina Campbell-Quine did décor, while Heather MacDonald Rouse did costumes. Yvonne Bryceland came to the Great Hall in 1982 with a one-woman show for PACT. ****
In 1993 the Great Hall hosted the St. Petersburg Ballet Company. A few years ago, it was converted from an adaptable theatrical venue into one more suited for concert performances.
For more information
Go to the Wits Venues website at http://web.wits.ac.za/PlacesOfInterest/WitsTheatre/Venues/WitsGreatHall.htm
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