Wits Theatre

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The Wits Theatre is a multi-purpose performing arts centre built by the University of the Witwatersrand.

Also referred to as the Wits Theatre Complex by some.

It has various venues, including **, The Theatre Downstairs or The Downstairs Theatre (Onder-by-die-Witsteater in Afrikaans)

The Wits Theatre complex first opened its doors in July 1983 and the first manager was Mannie Manim. Ten years before that, the plan for the theatre was first announced. In the intervening years money was raised from the public and private sectors and the complex cost in the region of R5 million. The Schools of Dramatic Art and Music needed a laboratory where their students could learn to develop their craft; where they could experiment with the latest in performing arts technology and could display the results of their work and experiments to the university and the public at large; where this could be done in the comfort of relatively well-equipped venues. Before that, The Wits School of Arts (Dramatic Art) had been staging its productions in the Nunnery. This venue was once a convent hall and is steeped in theatrical tradition as companies like the Junction Avenue Theatre Company and the Market Theatre Company both staged productions there 20 to 25 years ago when there were no other theatres available. It has been retained as a teaching venue for use by the The Wits School of Arts (Dramatic Art). The complex consists of The Wits Theatre with 367 seats in an adaptable auditorium. Its foyer contains bar and cafetaria facilities, Cafè Dulce The Downstairs Theatre is directly below it, and was designated "store room" on the original plan by the architect Don Lennard but now houses a versatile experimental theatre with its own foyer which also serves as an exhibition space, the venue seats 120. On the ground level to the north of the building, the architect, whose consultant was John Bury, (one of the great British designers from the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre), placed an open air Amphitheatre. For the first eight years of its existence, the occasional open air production was staged there when the winter nights were not too cold or it did not rain in summer. In 1992 it was enclosed and added a third venue to the complex - a 120-seater all enclosed theatre where work which cannot be housed in the other two venues can find a home. It has its own foyer space. One of the best features of this complex is that there is sufficient undercover parking for the entire audience of all three theatres in the Senate House parking garage, just a short stroll across an enclosed bridge, from the foyer. The theatres are also served by a fully equipped workshop and wardrobe which are situated above and alongside the dressing room areas adjacent to the theatres. The Wits Theatre has established itself as South Africa's major venue for contemporary dance. Annually the FNB Dance Umbrella celebrates its national festival here with top companies from around the country. All the region's major dance companies have danced here and book seasons on a regular basis. The Wits Great Hall is also managed by the PAA, and seats up to 1035. (See Great Hall, University of the Witwatersrand.) The Wits University Theatre: It opened in 1983 and comprised a 370-seat main auditorium and an experimental theatre in the basement. It was built mainly as a learning laboratory for Wits students. Paul Regenas was its first manager. Ian Steadman directed its first production called The Comedy of Errors, cast with students. Athol Fugard’s Master Harold … and the Boys was staged here after a countrywide tour in 1983. Pieter-Dirk Uys’ Selle ou Storie starring Christine Basson was staged here in 1983. Graham Wright brought the Baxter production of Steven Berkoff’s Decadence starring Bo Petersen and John Maytham (replacing Fiona Ramsay and Henry Goodman who had played the roles in Cape Town) with direction by Ron Smerczak to the Wits Theatre in 1984 after it ran at the Durban Alhambra. Soyikwa presented Matsemela Manaka’s Vuka downstairs in March 1986 after its run at the Market. The Market presented Bobby Heaney’s productions of Harold Pinter’s One for the Road and Saumuel Beckett’s Catastrophe here in 1985. Nicholas Ellenbogen’s Theatre for Africa presented Raiders of the Lost Aardvark here in 1991. Nicholas Ellenbogen directed Cinderella for Theatre for Africa in 1991. Mannie Manim’s idea for the Amphitheatre, a new venue at the University, came into being in 1992. Nicholas Ellenbogen’s Theatre for Africa presented Kwamanzi and Elephant of Africa here in 1992. Pieter-Dirk Uys’s Paradise is Closing Down was staged here in 1992. **** Percy Tucker, 1997




Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

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