A Companion to South African Theatre and Performance (COMSAT)

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Background and origins

A Companion to South African Theatre and Performance (COMSAT) was originally conceived and initiated by Temple Hauptfleisch in 1994, when he founded the Centre for Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Stellenbosch. The aim was to involve a range of researchers and students to compile a general reference work on South African Theatre and performance which would make the results of academic and other research more readily accessible to the general reader and the theatre enthusiast. In this sense the basic aim was rather to condense and collate available information on all South African theatre and performance forms (as far as they have been documented) in a single volume and in a handy format, rather than undertake any comprehensive new research. A key model for this project was Phyllis Hartnoll’s famous Oxford Companion to the Theatre.

The working procedures for the original COMSAT project were relatively simple. The basic framework of the project was conceived by Temple Hauptfleisch, while the detail principles for the publication – and especially the the format for the entries (see below) – were devised by the Project Committee in consultation with the Advisors. With these in hand the members of the Project Committee thereupon did a basic search of the most prominent books and articles on South African theatre and performance, in order to compile a gross list of possible entries for the Companion. The gross list was then honed down to a basic shortlist of about 2000 entries, which were apportioned out to possible authors.



While the authors were working on the entries, the project’s co-ordinator Yvette Hutchison – with the help of Petra Malherbe of the University of Stellenbosch’s Data-centre, set about devising a computerized format for the various kinds of entries, utilizing the Microsoft’s Access programme. This would allow the team to continually update the basic information, and possibly publish revised versions of the book or go on to an online facility or a CD-rom based product.

When the original deadline for entries had come and gone in 1996, only 21 of the 80 people approached had accepted the contracts, 12 had submitted material, of which only 9 had had fulfilled their contracts completely and properly. (A few more submitted entries during 1997-8, bringing us to 11 contributors by 1999.) It became clear that the project was very close to getting bogged down. At a subsequent meeting, the Committee decided that the rest of the book would be written by Temple Hauptleisch, assisted by Yvette Hutchison and some of the post-graduate students in the Department of Drama , while the two sub-editors – Edwin Hees and Arnold Blumer – would help with the final editing process. The current database is the result of all the aforementioned processes.

From 1994 to 2010 the project expanded almost exponentially, generating over 10 000 individual entries and a number of sub-sections, including an Overtview of theatre and performance in the country, a chronology of theatre events (in the context of social, cultuiral and political events), a comprehensive bibliography and annotated lists of plays and performances.

This database of more than 2000 pages soon became a core resource for the research undertaken by the staff of the Centre for Theatre and Performance studies as well as the staff and students of the Drama Department. Gradually international enquiries also begtan to come in to the Centre.

In view of this interest the pressure to "publish" the material began to grow. However, it slowly became clear that that (a) few publishers were really interested in a publication of this enormous size and (b) as the material still kept on increasing , much editing still needed to be done, and there was an enormous amount of information still lacking. Thus the research team began to explore other possibilities. The most promising seemed to be an online version of the database, done in consultation with the University of Stellenbosch IT section and the J.S. Gericke.

So, in May 2010 a meeting was held with Ms Ina Smith head of *** and Mr Hilton Gibson IT specialist for the J.S Gericke Library, to create a website for An Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre and Performance (ESAT). This would form part of the University of Stellenbosch's Libopedia programme. The various templates were now developed, the staff were trained and transferral of the data to the ESAT file began in July 2010.

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