National Theatre Organisation
The National Theatre Organisation, or NTO, was a state funded organisation founded to promote and produce theatre in Afrikaans and English in South Africa - the first such organisation in the British Empire. (In Afrikaans it was called Nasionale Toneelorganisasie),
It is perhaps best known and referred to in sources by its acronym: NTO
- 1 History
- 1.1 Pre-history
- 1.2 Founding and early days
- 1.3 The administrative structure
- 1.4 The office and production staff
- 1.5 Artistic staff
- 1.6 Funding
- 1.7 Offices, theatres and facilities
- 1.8 Specific production initiatives
- 1.9 The end of NTO
- 2 Productions
- 3 The Legacy
- 4 Sources
- 5 Return to
Over the years before 1947 a growing number of individuals, organisations and institutions had been agitating for a form of state intervention and the founding of some kind of "national theatre" in South Africa.
The culminating moment came with the advent of a rapidly growing indigenous professional theatre movement in the country, particularly in the years 1936 and 1947, when a strong and concerted thrust towards this ideal emerged. In this period the names of numerous prominent (white) theatre personalities and academics are found in the minutes of meetings and on petitions, among them: Muriel Alexander, S.P.E. Boshoff, F.C.L. Bosman,Hélène Botha,Myles Bourke, P.P.B. Breytenbach, John Connell, Hermien Dommisse, W.J. du P. Erlank ("Eitemal"), Gwen ffrangçon-Davies, Hendrik Hanekom, L.W. Hiemstra, André Huguenet, Margaret Inglis, Donald Inskip, Rayne Kruger, T.H. le Roux. W.E.G. Louw, Nan Munro, Anna Neethling-Pohl, Leontine Sagan and Marda Vanne. Among the organisations that involved themselves in this were FATSSA, the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns and the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge ("Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations"). (FAK).
However, given the nature of the society at the time, this push was coming from a very specific segment of the South African population, namely the white "European" citizens. On the other hand there was at this time also another lone, but compelling, voice with different message and interpretation of the notion of a "National Theatre" for the country. The playwright and cultural leader H.I.E. Dhlomo, wrote a series of articles expounding his notion of a national African theatre in **. While interesting at the time, these ideas were really only picked up much later , when Dhlomo's works had regained attention in the late 1970's, notably through the publications of Tim Couzens - when they informed much of the debate surrounding the notion of black theatre and indigenous theatre in the (coming) "new South Africa".
An important step forward came in 1945, when the then Minister of Education, Arts and Science (Mr J.H. Hofmeyr) instituted a commission of enquiry, led by Dr G.W. Eybers (chairman) and J.J.P. O'pt Hof (secretary), to study the educational and social needs of the country after the second world war. The so-called Eybers Commission of Enquiry, into post war social issues that a National Council for Adult Education (NCAE) be founded, under the chairmanship of Dr Eybers.
P.P.B. Breytenbach (principal of a prominent technical school and the founding chairman of FATSSA), was appointed as a member NCAE, and in this capacity persuaded the theatre-loving Dr Eybers to create a sub-committee devoted to theatre matters. The first such committee began work in 1947, chaired by Breytenbach, with Steve Naudé as secretary and Anna Neethling-Pohl of Volksteater, Major Myles Bourke of the UDF Entertainment Unit and Professor Donald Inskip of the University of Cape Town's Little Theatre as members. This committee immediately set about preparing and submitting an ambitious proposal for a sponsorship for all the performing art forms, based on an outline prepared by Myles Bourke, to the council.
In response Minister Hofmeyr, allocated £400 (plus a loan of £3 600) to the Federation of Amateur Theatrical Societies of South Africa (FATSSA), to organise bilingual tours of theatre only, in 1948. This was to be a preliminary experiment.
Founding and early days
The founding of the new company was officially announced on 21 June 1947. There was an outcry from the professional fraternity at the allocation to FATSSA, refusing to be "organized" by amateurs, thus the original idea was scrapped and the sub-committee, still chaired by Breytenbach, was now enhanced by the addition of two professionals, Leontine Sagan and André Huguenet. This committee became a mediatory body for the experiment, and later the controlling body of NTO. In the early days André Huguenet also acted as the Company Manager.
Actual work on productions started with the artistic advisors (Sagan, Neethling-Pohl and Huguenet), going on a national tour in late 1947 to muster support and audition potential performers, and in 1948 the first productions went on tour. (See below).
The administrative structure
The directorate met for the first time in Johannesburg on 7 July 1947 and gradually Breytenbach, Inskip and Bourke took over the day to day running of the organisation. In 1948 the board was enlarged with the addition of more professionals, academics, and representatives from interested parties. Thus Elizabeth Sneddon, Marda Vanne, F.C.L. Bosman, S.H. Pellissier, J.J.P. O'pt Hof (representing the Council) and P.J. Theron (Director of Adult Education) also became members. In 1952, Breytenbach became its full time Director, and also moved to Pretoria, with F.C.L. Bosman taking over as chairman (1952-1953), followed by Geoff Cronjé (1954-1961).
The office and production staff
In 1948 Doris Lancaster became the first formal appointment of NTO, as full-time secretary (initially working with Breytenbach in Krugersdorp, before moving to offices in Pretoria in 1950). In 1952, Breytenbach became NTO's full time Director, and also moved to Pretoria. Over the years the staff complement was to include Michal Grobbelaar (technical advisor, 1955-1962, and from 1958 production manager Afrikaans), Victor Melleney (production manager, English 1958-1962), Frank Graves and Doreen Graves (designers), and the press officers Piet Bezuidenhout (Pretoria), Nellie Kruger (Johannesburg) and Muriel Kavanagh (Cape Town).
Marda Vanne was appointed artistic advisor in 1950,
Below are the names (and links to entries on) some of the many creative and technical people who worked (longer term or ad hoc) for NTO as directors, actors, designers, stage managers, etc. They are listed in alphabetical order:
Among the directors who worked for NTO on a contract basis were Tone Brulin, Richard Daneel, Johan de Meester, Basil Dean, Hermien Dommisse, Gwen ffrangçon-Davies, Fred Engelen, Aletta Gericke, Jannie Gildenhuys, Leon Gluckman, André Huguenet, John Hussey, Margaret Inglis, Taubie Kushlick, Robert Langford, Victor Melleney, Robert Mohr, Anna Neethling-Pohl, Pietro Nolte, Truida Pohl, John Roberts, Leontine Sagan, Leonard Schach, Anna Richter-Visser, Bartho Smit, Schalk Theron, Elizabeth Sneddon, Laurie van der Merwe, Suzanne van Wyk, Marda Vanne, Margaret Webster, Clifford Williams,
B Patricia Baker, Tine Balder, Bryan Bales, Tanya Barron, Limpie Basson, Gabriel Bayman, David Beattie, Roscoe Behrmann, Fanie Bekker, Alec Bell, Ralph Bennitt, Piet Bezuidenhout, John Bier, Joan Blake, Ronald Bloch, Noël Borain, Felicity Bosman, Gracelina Bosman, Louw Botes, Bet Botha, Dawid Botha, Emsie Botha, John Botha, Kobus Botha, Lansbury Botha, Roelof Botha, John Boulter, Peter Boyce, Joyce Bradley, Pieter Bredenkamp, Bill Brewer, Andries Brink, Joan Brink, Leon Brink, Tone Brulin, Jan Bruyns, (or Jan Bruijns), Elspeth Bryce,
C Cecil Cartwright, Hazel Casson, Alan Cean, Esmé Celliers, Alan Chadwick, Robert Cheetham, James Christie, Hugh Claven, Anna Cloete, Bettie Coetsee, Marcia Colville, Philippa Conradie, Michael Coulson, Bob Courtney (also known as Robert Courtney), Lorna Cowell, Ben Cronjé,
D Richard Daneel, Aedwyn Darroll, Ted Darroll, Jocelyn de Bruin, (also Jocelyn de Bruyn), André de Jongh, Helene de Jong, Joey de Koker, Sann de Lange (also San de Lange), Zoë de Villiers, Michael Drin, Joanna Douglas, Vivienne Drummond (also known as Vivien Drummond), Matthys du Toit, Irene Durr, Casper Dyason,
G Eveline Garratt, Pieter Geldenhuys, Aletta Gericke, Jannie Gildenhuys, Walter Glennie, Leon Gluckman, Arne Gordon, Marjorie Gordon, Jill Gould, Peter Goxall, Leonard Graham, Joyce Grant, Jennie Gratus, Michal Grobbelaar, Anton Grobler, Philip Grobler, Martie Groenewald, Berdine Grünewald,
H Brian Haines, Arthur Hall, Mathilde Hanekom, Hendrik Hanekom, Tilana Hanekom, Lee Harris, Nigel Hawthorne, David Herbert, Mary Hewison, Innes Hirson, Anna Romain Hoffman, Hannes Horne, Don Howie, André Huguenet, John Hussey,
L Harold Lake, Babs Laker, Robert Lang,Barry Lategan, Ken Law, Virginia Lee, Rolf Lefebre, Georgie Linder, Lydia Lindeque, Heather Lloyd-Jones, Tossie Lochner, Alto Loots, Jacques Loots, Aubrey Louw, Helena Louw, Milla Louw, Joan Lovelace,
M Michéal Mac Liammoír, Marjorie Malan, Johan Malherbe, Harry Mann, Doreen Mantle, Danie Marais, Elma Marais, Francois Marais, Bella Mariani, Laurika Meerkotter, Victor Melleney, Jimmy Mentis, Esther Mentz, Helix Meyer, Mari Minnie, Mary Mitchell, Etrecia Mocke, Robert Mohr, Glenys Morgan, Pamela Murray, Patrick Mynhardt, Siegfried Mynhardt,
P Arnold Pearce, Ivo Pellegrini, Michael Perry, Jo-Ann Pezarro, Isabel Pienaar, Louis Pienaar, Truida Pohl, Jane Potgieter, Michael Preston, Billy Pretorius, Dalene Pretorius, Emgee Pretorius, Brian Proudfoot,
S Harry Sarber, Gottfried Scholtz, Hélène Scholtz, Jan Schutte, Molly Seftel, Diana Shahn, Hymie Shapiro, Ronald Shellton, Stephanie Shiller, Pat Simpson, Dulsie Smit, David Smith, Danie Smuts, Timothy Spring, Cornelia Stander, Joe Stewardson, Jobie Stewart, Wilma Stockenström, Charles Stodel, Alfred Stretton, Dale Swanepoel, Derek Swanepoel, Francois Swart,
V Oswald van Blerk, Enone van den Bergh (also known as Enone Murray), Enone van den Bergh, Gert van den Bergh (also Gert van den Berg), Kobus van der Colff, Eghard van der Hoven, Laurie van der Merwe, J.A. van der Vyver, Dawid van der Walt, Petro van der Walt, Jaco van der Westhuizen, Japie van Niekerk, Pikkie van Niekerk, Reenen van Niekerk, Ivor van Rensburg, Johan van Rensburg, Esther van Ryswyk, Francois van Wyk, Jan van Zyl, Johan van Zyl, Bryan Vanden, Marda Vanne, Hannes Venter, Leendert Verdoorn, Salie Vermaak, Louw Verwey, Eugene von Bülow, Vicki Vosloo,
X, Y, Z Peter Zander,
Designers and technical staff
Piet Bezuidenhout (stage manager), Nina Campbell-Quine (décor and costumes), Ann Case (costumes), Richard Daneel choreographer), Kobus Esterhuysen (décor), Athol Fugard (stage manager), Doreen Graves (costumes), Frank Graves (décor), Michal Grobbelaar (production manager), Harry Ligoff (lighting), Geoffrey Long (décor), Ronnie Philip (decor and costumes), Cecil Pym (décor), Jan van der Pauw (décor), Bill Walker (musical director), .
The funding also changed as they got under way, the initial loan being waived and becoming a straight grant of £10 000 in 1948 and £15 000 in 1949. By 1957 £10 000 had been added for the development of regional branches. Despite repeated entreaties due to rising costs, the grant of £25 000 remained at that level till the end, with occasional extra allowances of £5 000 for specific purposes.
Offices, theatres and facilities
Starting with offices in Krugersdorp, then temporary offices in Pretoria, before NTO finally purchased the old Marais homestead in Sunnyside, Pretoria, with the intention of ultimately converting it to a national theatre. They moved on in May 1957, and it was officially opened as the head office for NTO on 8 February by Mrs Susan Strydom, wife of the Prime Minister, J.G. Strydom.
The conversion to a theatre never happened and PACT eventually sold the building to a consortium to build the Marais Centre, a shopping mall.
In 1955 NTO also purchased the Harmony Hall in President street with a grant from the city council. The hall was converted to an experimental venue, the NTO Kamertoneel, in 1958-9, and in 1959 (after extensive modifications), became the National Theatre Pretoria, renamed the Breytenbach Theatre in 1967. At the same time the house next door was bought by Breytenbach and donated to NTO, for use as its offices, wardrobe, and as a training school (the latter another project that never materialised).
Specific production initiatives
Within this vast programme undertaken by the organization a few specific initiatives stand out over the years.
The bilingual company
In 1949 and 1950 an experiment was made with a bilingual (English/Afrikaans) company, performing a repertory of four plays consecutively. This was not popular and by 1951 the companies had parted company once more, with Afrikaans and English companies touring separately. This would last till the end of the existence of the organisation. Extended tours lasted up to one year at a time, with at times up to five companies on the road. The tours often took on dangerous or sometimes farcical dimensions, hampered by long distances, bad roads in the rural areas, lack of suitable venues, etc. However the NTO visits in remote areas were greatly appreciated.
NTO did much to foster international exchange, with Hassan going to Britain in 195*, and a number of companies performing locally under their banner. These include the Flemish national theatre company (1950, 1952), the Hogarth Puppets (1954), John Wright's Marionettes (1956-57), Nederlands Kamertoneel (1959), the Old Vic Company (19**).
Differences in taste between cities and the towns led to artistic advisor Marda Vanne starting a practice of doing "prestige" productions in the cities from time to time (e.g. Macbeth and Hassan in 1950), though this proved largely uneconomical and did not occur often.
The NTO Kamertoneel
Based on an idea of Kamertoneel (lit. "room theatre", i.e. "chamber theatre")which was brought to the country by visiting director Tone Brulin, the NTO plan was for an experimental company, consisting of a company of young actors, working in a venue housed in the converted Harmony Hall, at 145 President Street , Sunnyside, to produce smaller, more experimental work. The conversion was done by administrative personnel of NTO, led by Michal Grobbelaar, and utilizing private donations. The process started with plans being drawn up in 1957-1958, and actual work beginning on the 14th October 1958.
The theatrical part of the experiment lasted for two years (1958-9), during which they did ** productions of new South African plays or experimental adaptations of international work.
After 1959 the venue was revamped and extended to become the National Theatre, officially opened on 28 June 1960 and intended for use by NTO's main companies. After 1962 it was used by the PACT theatre company and was renamed the Breytenbach Theatre in 1968. After having leased it from PACT for a while, it finally became the property of the Pretoria Technikon drama department in 1997. (Later known as the Tshwane University of Technology or TUT).
The year 1952 was a period of glory for NTO, with the organization taking control of many of the main celebratory festivities surrounding the Van Riebeeck Festival, including the pageant in Cape Town (directed by Anna Neethling-Pohl). Their experimental theatre project, called Kamertoneel (lit. "Room Theatre"), lasted for about two years (1958-59) in Pretoria and Cape Town, but did some of the most interesting work, including new plays by local authors such as N.P. van Wyk Louw, James Ambrose Brown and Bartho Smit, as well as controversial work by visiting director Tone Brulin.
Another highly regarded initiative was the NTO's schools programme. This started with special matinee performances for schools, begun in 1951, and later - with grants from the various education departments - special performances of selected plays at schools throughout the province. Begun in Transvaal in 1954, this was extended to the Cape Province in 1955 and Natal in 1956.
In 1958 Jannie Gildenhuys, Cobus Rossouw and Leonora Nel returned from Europe, filled with ideas about educational theatre culled from Joan Littlewood and others, and suggested the formation of a youth company to do extracts from prescribed works in schools. Thus, in 1959, the NTO Youth Theatre (or also referred to as the NTO Youth Company) came into being with a grant from the Cape Province and toured schools in Cape with a panel van. In 1960 they did the same in the Transvaal. Their productions included Die Bruidskool (Moliere), The Prisoner (Bridget Boland). Nie vir Geleerdes (N.P. van Wyk Louw), Wie de Drommel is Paskwaal? (Goldoni)
In 1961 two formal companies were formed for this purpose, later becoming four, one for each province. In 1963 most of these performers were absorbed into PACT.
Initiated by in the Cape Town region by Laurie van der Merwe, the very popular library readings were offered throughout the province, and after 1957 resorted under the regional office.
The Western Cape regional office
Another kind of initiative was the founding, in 1957, of a regional office in the Bellville Civic Theatre, in the Cape. Managed by Laurie van der Merwe, it had its own regional advisory board and initiated some experimental work as well as the very popular library readings throughout the province. However, this move towards regionalisation signalled a change in fortunes for NTO, with the Cape gradually seeking to secede from the national body, a move which eventually hastened the end of NTO and the founding of the Performing Arts Councils in 1963.
The end of NTO
Gradually in the late 1950s and early 1960s troubles had begun to brew, and by 1961 the long-developing split between north and south had come to a head. This coupled with increasing financial difficulties, rebellion by artists against what they perceived as a bureaucratic control of their lives and art, national catastrophes (e.g. the Sharpeville massacre), etc, all had begun to make the board's position untenable. From 1957 onwards they sought some form of state intervention to clarify matters.
In 1961 the De Bruyn Commission of Inquiry was finally instituted, and studied the situation while all new activities were suspended. The report (never published) came as a bombshell, for it recommended the disbanding of NTO and the founding of four provincial Performing Arts Councils. With no other option, NTO wound up its business and disbanded in June 1962.
In 1963 the new system came into being, with the founding of Performing Arts Councils, Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal, Performing Arts Council of the Orange Free State, Natal Performing Arts Council and Cape Performing Arts Board. Most of the facilities of NTO and the remaining staff, were transferred to PACT, with P.P.B. Breytenbach as the first director.
(See further Performing Arts Councils, Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal, Performing Arts Council of the Orange Free State, Natal Performing Arts Council and Cape Performing Arts Board. Also South African Committee of Performing Arts Councils (SACPAC). )
All in all NTO mounted 103 productions (including children's plays, educational plays, imported and/or sponsored productions, experimental works, as well as repeat productions, etc.) in the period from 1948 to 1962.
The NTO run of plays began with Altyd My Liefste (Lessing, directed by Truida Pohl) and Dear Brutus (Barrie, directed by Leontine Sagan), rehearsed and launched by the English and Afrikaans companies at the Little Theatre, Cape Town on 2 and 12 February 1948, and ended with Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet as their final full production in 1961, and with three short plays in 1962, done by the Theatre for Youth company, as their swansong.
Of these events, 25 were of indigenous (Afrikaans or English) plays, a number specifically written for NTO by authors such as Gerhard Beukes, Guy Butler, W.A. de Klerk, D.J. Opperman, N.P. van Wyk Louw, James Ambrose Brown, Bartho Smit, Anthony Delius, Dolf van Niekerk and Harold Laite. The list also includes numerous translations of foreign language (and English) plays, a number of them by local author-translators such as A.J.B. de Klerk, W.J. du P. Erlank , J.F.W. Grosskopf, Uys Krige, N.P. van Wyk Louw, W.E.G. Louw, Anna Neethling-Pohl, Bartho Smit, A.F.H. van Dijk, Fred le Roux, .
Full list of plays produced by NTO
Below a list of the plays produced by NTO in their 15 years of existence, based on a list originally compiled by Rinie Stead (1985b). Most of the plays mentioned went on extended tours of South Africa.
Click on the title of the play in question to go to the entry and read more details about the text and production(s).
1953: Twelfth Night (Shakespeare), Die Ipekonders (Molière), Die Ryk Weduwee (Uys Krige), Nina, Verlief in Parys (Lengyel), Antigone (Anouilh), The Anniversary (Chekhov), Vlaamse Nasionale Toneel (visiting company).
1955: Gelukkige Dae (Dighton), The Winslow Boy (Rattigan), Verkiesing Sonder Politiek! (Gerhard Beukes), Die Wit Perde van Rosmersholm (Ibsen), The Dove Returns (Guy Butler), Die Twisappel (W.A. de Klerk), Tobias and the Angel (Bridie), Koning Oidipus (Sophocles).
1956: The Flashing Stream (Morgan), Candida (Shaw), Bohaai oor 'n Otjie (Hinrichs), Periandros van Korinthe (D.J. Opperman), Die Twisappel (W.A. de Klerk), Verkiesing Sonder Politiek! (Gerhard Beukes), Bell, Book and Candle (Van Druten), Dangerous Corner (Priestley), Gekonkel in die Nag (Molnar), Bitter Einde (Weber), John Wright's Marionettes
1957: Germanicus (N.P. van Wyk Louw), Bitter Einde (Weber), Oupa Kanniedood (Quintero Bros), Ai, Die Liewe Martha! (J. Nel van der Merwe), Periandros van Korinthe (Opperman), Die Pad van Suid-Afrika (C.J. Langenhoven), The Master Builder (Ibsen), Come Back, Little Sheba (Inge), John Wright's Marionettes, Voordragreis (Afrikaans poetry).
1958: Skrikkeljaar (Betti), Jakkalsstreke van Scapino (Molière), Tussen Twee Liefdes (Géraldy), The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (Lawler), The School for Scandal (Sheridan), Germanicus (N.P. van Wyk Louw), Voorlopige Vonnis (Josef van Hoeck), Seven against the Sun (James Ambrose Brown).
1959: Seven against the Sun (James Ambrose Brown), Uncle and the Jukebox (Brulin), The School for Wives (Molière), Waiting for Godot (Beckett), Saint Joan (Shaw), The Cave Dwellers (Saroyan), Morning's at Seven (Osborn), The Chairs (Ionesco), Voorlopige Vonnis (Josef van Hoeck), Bruid in die Môre (Claus), Mag Ek Saamspeel? (Achard), Hellersee (W.A. de Klerk), Moeder Hanna (Bartho Smit), Die Les (Ionesco), Meisies van Vervloë Dae (Bartho Smit), The Glass Slipper (Farjeon - presented in conjunction with Children's Theatre and the Johannesburg Reps), Nederlands Kamertoneel (visiting company: see their repertoire under Nederlands Kamertoneel).
1960: The Cave Dwellers (Saroyan), Die Vonkel in Haar Oë! (Gerhard Beukes), Romeo en Jeanette (Anouilh), A Moon for the Misbegotten (O'Neill), The Glass Slipper (in conjunction with Children's Theatre and the Johannesburg Reps), Comoedia (Richard Daneel), The Fall (Anthony Delius), Nie vir Geleerdes (N.P. van Wyk Louw)
1961: Time to Kill (Monté Doyle), Die Bruidskool (Molière), The King of Diamonds (Harold Laite), The Prisoner (Boland), The Judge (Branner), Kwart voor Dagbreek (Dolf van Niekerk), Wie de Drommel is Paskwaal? (Goldoni), A Touch of the Poet (O'Neill)
P.J. du Toit, 1988;
Rinie Stead, 1981[?*];
Rinie Stead, 1985b;
Percy Tucker, 1997. [JH, TH]
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