Breytenbach Theatre

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Breytenbach Theatre was a simple yet well-equipped proscenium style theatre with a seating capacity of 220, superb sight lines and an orchestra pit. Named after P.P.B. Breytenbach, the first director of the National Theatre Organisation (NTO). For almost three decades it was a crucial venue in the evolution of South African theatre.

Also known as Die Breytenbach Teater (in Afrikaans) and popularly referred to as "Die Breytie" or "The Breytie" in the industry, just as Mr Breytenbach was himself known as "Oom Breytie" ("Uncle Breytie") to most people in the theatre business. It was actually the end product of a series of adaptations of previously existing halls and venues on the same site, inclouding the hall of the Deutscher Verein, the Harmoniesaal, the NTO Kamertoneel, Die Nasionale Skouburg/ The National Theatre and finally The Breytenbach Theatre. (See below)

The Deutscher Verein, Pretoria


A German association for culture and ***.

In 1888 Dr. Hävernick, a Geologist and Naturalist conceived the idea to found a small society, and during a meeting the details were discussed and statutes set up, under the name “Geselliger Verein von Deutschen zu Pretoria” the club was established (Pretoria Deutscher Verein Zeitschrift, März, 1963:3). The club house moved from location to location due to financial reasons or political problems, such as the war, it moved from the Reck’s Lokal, a hired room in the Transvaal Hotel, the site were Pretoria is currently situated and finally to the current site which is on the corner of Proes str. and Paul Kruger str. (Transvaler, 1988).

According to the Pretoria News, August 1988 the following history was stated: that due to financial reasons the society agreed on selling the club to the British League Club to prevent the society from reaching total bankruptcy. “At the end of 1925, as a result of the national consciousness that had ruled the German people since 1920, Germans in Pretoria reinstated the German Society.

They established a new club house on the corner of Proes and Paul Kruger streets- the present German Club can still be seen at this site” (Pretoria News, 1988. In September 1932 the German Society extended the club in order to host all its members as well as other German Societies. By December 1933 the extensions were completed. From 1937 until 1962 Mr. E. Schweickert became Chairman of the Society.During the war the Ministry of Defence rented the building and handed it back to the German Society on 15 July 1950.

According to the Chairman Mr. Norbert Allgeier the Club lost interest in the 70’s and when a number of younger members were elected to the committee, new ideas and enthusiasm came forth and the club got new life. Mr. Allgeier also said that: “The club is Purely a social club and does not involve itself in political issues.”According to the Pretoria Deutscher Verein Zeitschrift, March - July 1963 the history of the building is as follows: In the Reck’s Lakal on the 16th of August 1926 was the Deutscher Verein Pretoria dissolved. Thus on the 4th of September 1926 the site on the corner of Market- and Proes str. was bought and the decision made to rebuild it for the societies purposes, due to a suggestion made by the Board of Directors. These Extensions and alterations began on the 1st of November of that same year and were finished in February 1927.The official opening occurred on the 5th of March together with the Major, Herren C.M. de Vries.

During 1927/1928 a flat for the caretaker and a bowling alley were added to the back of the building. In 1929 the society reconsidered more rebuilding plans, which were then approved by the Building Committee in a General meeting in which it was also decided to allow women to become members of the society. Soon after the Committee decided to change the society to a company with limited liability in order to aid with the burden of the financial implications of the rebuilding of the structure and thus the societies name changed to Pretoria “Deutscher Verein limited” (Pretoria Deutscher Verein Zeitschrift, June 1963:4).

During the war the Ministry of Defence rented the building from the society.Middle 1943 the mortgage on the property became too much to handle for the society and Mr. E. Schweickert took over the mortgage.In 1948 the society voted for a Building committee, which approved the building plans and determined if the increase of the main part of the building was possible. On the 15th of May 1950 the building was returned to the society. After a number of necessary renovations the building could be opened to the club again on the 15th of July (Pretoria Deutscher Verein Zeitschrift, July, 1963:4).

An offering was received by the club to buy another property, which was able to accommodate a hall, which could house 600 people, a beer garden and a bowling alley. Thus the plans became to build an entirely new club on the property, which was situated next to the existing one and only demolish the old one once the new building had been completely erected. During another general meeting the newest building plans could already be shown by architect Dr. May von Langenau in the form of a model, which suited everyone’s expectations of what it should become. (Pretoria Deutscher Verein Zeitschrift, July, 1963:5)Currently the building is used as a small shopping centre for small independent businesses, such as a hair salon, a take-away kitchen and a small goods store etc. The ‘shopping centre’s” name is Liuba Shopping centre.

Venues used by the Deutscher Verein

Original hall of the Deutscher Verein

Constructed on the basis of a community hall originally built in 1903 by the Deutscher Verein for the German speaking community.

In 1903 they built the hall in Harmony Hall in 1903 as a community centre for the German speaking community of Pretoria. It served in this capacity till the First World War, when the war time paranoia ended the association’s activities. Revived in 19**, the association ***

Die Harmoniesaal

[later?*] called die Harmoniesaal (Harmony Hall). After 1914 it was successively used as a hospital during the flu epidemic of 1918, a school, a needlework school, a sculptor's studio (used by Gerhard Moerdyk?*), a film studio and a theatre,

NTO Kamertoneel

In 1955 the year of the city's centenary, the hall was bought by NTO with a grant of £6 000 from the city council of Pretoria. In 1957 plans for its conversion into a small experimental theatre ("kamertoneel") were drawn up by Michal Grobbelaar and Frank Graves and the actual building was carried out by them, Piet Bezuidenhout, Danie van Vuuren and the administrative staff in 1958. It was initially named the NTO Kamertoneel ("NTO Chamber Theatre") and used for experimental productions, particularly of new works, and by the youth group, it opened on 17 November 1958 with Voorlopige Vonnis (Von Hoeck), directed by Tone Brulin. At this point P.P.B. Breytenbach bought and donated the house next door to NTO, in the hope that they could enlarge the complex to serve as a training facility for performers and technical crew.

Die Nasionale Skouburg/ The National Theatre

Not to be confused with concept of a National Theatre

Based on the success of its initial season of 12 productions in 10 months, the Central Government, the Dept of Education, Arts and Science and the City Council all donated money to upgrade the theatre and on 1 October, 1959 the work started on the project. The new theatre was initially to have been named the The National Theatre ("Die Nasionale Skouburg" in Afrikaans) and the complex (including the proposed theatre school, workshops), the Breytenbach Sentrum (Breytenbach Centre) in honour of the then director. It opened in 1960 with two indigenous plays, The Fall (by Anthony Delius) and Nie vir Geleerdes (by N.P. van Wyk Louw). The dimensions of the new stage not only made large scale productions possible, but the auditorium had excellent sightlines. It soon became an immense favourite with performers and audiences alike.

PACT and the Breytenbach Theatre

In 1963 the theatre was transferred to Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal (PACT), to be used for their productions and in 1967 was renamed Die Breytenbach Teater (in Afrikaans) and the Breytenbach Theatre in English. It became one of the best known venues in the country, with many of the most impostant new Afrikaans and English South African plays premiéring there. With the construction of a new State Theatre Pretoria in the centre of Pretoria (198*), however it lost its prime position. PACT initally used it as a rehearsal venue and a rentable space (e.g. for the various annual theatre competitions and festivals. A notable one being the ATKV Kampustoneel festival of University theatre, allowing budding playwrights a chance to see their plays on that famous stage.)

The Boycott

In 1978 the Pretoria management committee refused to seek approval to open the theatre to all races. As a result five Afrikaans playwrights pledged that their works would not be staged there until Pretoria opened its theatres to all races – they were W.A. de Klerk, André Brink, Uys Krige, Pieter-Dirk Uys and Pieter Fourie. They were joined in this decision by a number of actors, amongst them Sandra Prinsloo, Regardt van den Bergh, Tobie Cronjé, Errol Ross, Andre Hattingh, Rika Sennett, Trix Pienaar, Louise Mollet-Prinsloo, Lerina Erasmus, Jana Cilliers and others. Breytenbach himself announced that he would be prepared to walk the streets with actors and actresses to gather signatures for a petition.

Later years: As educational theatre venue

They later let it to the Technikon Pretoria, before selling it to them in 1997, since when it has been used as a training centre by the Performing Arts departments of the Faculty of Arts (i.e. Dance, Drama, Opera and Theatre Technology) of what has become the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). Used for student productions as well as professional and amateur productions. Since the mid-1990s it has become part of the Oeverzicht Village of restored Victorian houses. The village also housed Carel Trichardt's theatre venue called Die Teaterhuisie ("The little theatre house").


Michal Grobbelaar, 1985

Rinie Stead, 1985b

For more information

See National Theatre, National Theatre Organisation PACT, State Theatre Pretoria

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