Touring companies

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(Afrikaans: “Toergeselskappe”) This is a general term used to refer to any of a wide range of theatrical companies and performers that took shows on the road (or sea), to visit a range of venues throughout the country. Over the past 300 years there have been a number of specific periods when this was particularly active and thus became a crucial factor in the development of a local industry. For example, besides the travelling theatre (and storytellers) of the nomadic indigenous peoples who established much of what is today seen as particularly “African” about South African theatre, the first performances of European plays were done by sailors and the military, often en route to and from the East. In the 19th century the companies “playing the empire” and stopping at South African ports, often took a detour and toured the hinterland before rejoining a ship elsewhere. By the end of the century there were a number of local entrepreneurs who toured the country with repertory companies, later strongly supported by African Consolidated Theatres (ACT) as they played the key metropolitan areas. In the early 20th century the Afrikaans professional theatre established itself and also took to the road. By 1944 there were a great many of these Afrikaans companies criss-crossing the rural and urban areas. The travelling system was taken over by the bilingual National Theatre Organization (NTO) and - initially at least - by the four Performing Arts Councils (PACs). Then it fell away in the 1970s. However, a travelling system had by then developed in the various black and coloured urban townships, with plays constantly on the move, leading to the development of the township musical and urban performance styles. A national touring culture was resurrected with the collapse of the PAC system in the early 1990s and the coming of the Festival Circuit (particularly after 1994), as numerous small companies travel the country and play the various festivals.

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