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Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA)

History in South Africa

The first South African YMCA was established in Cape Town in 1865. Various other local associations were formed, before the establishment of the South African National Council of YMCA’s in the 1940s. Each local association is autonomous and is governed by a local board. The YMCA in South Africa has had a turbulent history, with changes of leadership reflective of political and social pressures.

The YMCA centres in various cities did a great deal of charity work and provided accomodation and refuge to people in need. In the 1970-1980 periof a number of these centres offered performance spaces to controversial political theatre groups. These include the YMCA in Beatrice Street, Durban, where TECON performed and the YMCA in Soweto (the Dube YMCA) where Theatre Workshop '71 and Matsemela Manaka presented their work , **

In 2007, the SAYMCA went through an in-depth consultative process of revisioning and emerged with a clear direction on social relevance and sustainability. The SAYMCA also began the GOP process in 2008 and is now in its second year, working with Canada YMCA, YMCA of USAs, Y-Care International and Swedish YMCA/YWCA.

Role in theatre in South Africa

In many cases YMCA facilities have been used for performances, particularly of performances of a political or controversial nature.

YMCA venues used for theatre

YMCA Hut, Voortrekkerhoogte

The “Hut,” was an impressive building which opened in 1940 in Voortrekkerhoogte in which many shows were staged, mainly for the benefit of troops stationed in the area. The building had a magnificent recreation hall, a curtained stage, a reading room, a small shop, and a canteen. The Union Defence Force Entertainment Unit staged many of their shows there during the Second World War.

Beatrice Street YMCA, Durban

TECON performed a number of their plays there in the 1970s. ***

Dube YMCA, Soweto

The YMCA in Soweto (also referred to as the Soweto YMCA), a venue used on occasion for performances - e.g. those of Theatre Workshop '71, Matsemela Manaka and his Soyikwa Theatre, and **. For example productions included **, ** the first performances of Matsemela Manaka’s Egoli: City of Gold (1979), **, * (See also YMCA on the general use of these venues in the country, particularly in the “struggle” years between 1970 and 1990.) (See Kruger, 1999, p 165)*?

Rissik Street YMCA, Johannesburg

Rissik Street, Johannesburg. (also simply known as the ‘Y’): The YMCA built a theatre attached to their premises at the north end of Rissik Street and opened it in 1955 with Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (doing their own management). Jimmy Mentis produced, Anthony Farmer did sets and the cast included Shirley Firth. Henry Miles’ one-man Shakespeare show was staged at the YMCA in 1955. The Arena Theatre Company booked the YMCA during the festival period of 1956, and staged their non Festival production of Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning, starring Jenny Gratus, Robert Lang and Will Jamieson. They also staged Jean Anouilh’s Antigone with Beryl Gordon and Arthur Hall during this same period. Anthony Farmer wrote the musical Ever Since Eve which received rave reviews when it was staged at the YMCA in 1958. This Anthony Farmer Production’s offering starred Olive Wright, Maureen Adair, John Boulter, and newcomer Patrick ‘Paddy’ O’Byrne. **** Percy Tucker, 1997

The ‘Y’ was a purpose-built theatre at the north end of Rissik Street, built by, and attached to the YMCA in 1955. Later renamed the Intimate Theatre.


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