As a theatre genre
Volksteater ("folk theatre", "theatre for the people" - also referred to sometimes as Volkstoneel): As a general term it is normally used to refer to the kind of popular plays which were written and produced for white audiences in which the values of the Afrikaans nation were realistically and somewhat simplistically often sentimentally presented - and occasionally questioned, satirised and/or comically portrayed. These plays were often created by companies to be taken on tour in the rural areas. Perhaps the most emblematic example of such a play is Jochem van Bruggen's classic Ampie. Gradually, in the face of new theories and practices of theatremaking, it slipped into being a term of derision.
However, in the 1970's, Pieter Fourie sought to revive the notion, giving it specific content and stature by defining it as a realistic, sympathetic yet critical approach to the everyday lives of South Africans - as opposed to the highly politicised, abstractionist works being produced by the playwrights of the time. His plays Faan se Trein and Faan se Stasie are perhaps his most coherent and persuasive arguments for this, for they paint an endearing and enjoyably theatrical portrait of small-town life.
As the name of a company
The term was also used to refer to three specific theatre companies over the years.
An amateur dramatic society called Volksteater existed in Pretoria from 1936 till the 1970s. Originally founded in 1935 as Ons Teatertjie Toneelgroep, it was renamed Volksteater on 12 December 1936, when it officially became a non-profit organisation for fundraising and administrative reasons, registered under the existing Company's Act (1921). Like its predecessor, it had a complex and apparently efficient management system, headed by a committee of patrons and a committee of directors, (the first of which which included W.H. van der Merwe as chair, J.H. Botha, Chris Neethling, Anna Neethling-Pohl, Leonie Pienaar, A. Hauptfleisch, M.L. du Toit, with S.J. Kritzinger as business manager.) It also had a toneelkomitee (theatre committee) and a finansiële komitee (financial committee). It was in effect a continuation of the earlier Organisation, so the ethos of daring displayed by Ons Teatertjie was kept intact and later productions.
The numerous productions by Volksteater Pretoria included many translations of classical European works such as Maurice Maeterlinck’s Catholic miracle-play Suster Beatrys ("Sister Beatrix", 1937), August Hinrichs's Bohaai oor Jolanthe ("Fuss about Jolanthe", 1937), Koning Oidipus (Oedipus Rex, Tr Theo Wassenaar, 1938), Raynal's Die Soldaat ("The Soldier", 1939), Karel Çapek's R.U.R (1939), Friedrich von Schiller’s Maria Stuart (1941), *
These translations were interspersed with productions of original Afrikaans works, including the premiéres of P.W.S. Schumann's Katrina (1937), Hans Rompel's Aletta gaan Speur (1938), Fritz Steyn’s début work, Grond (11-12 August, 1938) and his Hugenot-festival play Hulle sien die Kruis ("They see the cross", 1939), N.P. Van Wyk Louw’s Die Dieper Reg (9 September, 1938), Uys ''Krige's Die Arrestasie ("The Arrest", 1939), Most of these were specifically commissioned by Volksteater.
The society also became involved in various festival activities over the years, e.g. putting on pageants, particularly in the 1938 Voortrekker Festival year , which became a year of lustre for the society. The war itself brought out nationalistic political undertones in the organisation, visible both in some of the plays that were performed during this time and the formation of the informal and independent, though affiliated company called Die Katdorings in 1941 (the "Cat Thorns", a politicised theatre group led by Jan Pohl and Anna Neethling Pohl.). In the same year a children’s theatre group was established, and from 1942 to 1945 an annual Christmas pageant was staged.
All in all they did 24 productions during the war, including Liefdesvuur (Südermann, 1940), Ruwe Erts (Fagan, 1940), Mara (Grosskopf, 1940), Moeder Ierland (Yeats, 1940), Dagbreek (Wynand du Preez, 1940), Noodlotskind (Duval, 1940), Maria Stuart (1941), In 'n skewe straatjie (194*), and Die Laaste Aand (Leipoldt, 1941).
In 1944, Anna Neethling-Pohl and two other members, Jan Cronjé and Gert van den Bergh were retained by a professional company under Pierre de Wet and the professional standard of their performances under him did much to promote Volksteater (and themselves!) throughout the Transvaal. Many of the smaller towns, including Benoni, Brakpan, Potchefstroom and Ermelo followed the example of Pretoria in establishing their own “volksteaters”. Volksteater from the start continued to strive for an own theatree, so in 1937 they sought the support of the city council, with the first plans for a theatre of its own already drawn up in 1938 by E Schwartz, and a plot of ground in Van Boeschoten Avenue allocated. However, with the war in 1939, the plans were aborted, even though supported by the government. They then used the improved Pretorius Hall in the City Hall, along with the Pretoria Repertory Society. In 1945 however, Neethling-Pohl – long the driving-force behind the organisation - left to join the SABC, and by 1947 several other of the organisation’s stalwarts had also left. The founding of the NTO also undermined its status as the torchbearer for Afrikaans theatre in the North, and the company never again reached the same heights, although it continued to exist into the 1970s. Among its other prominent members over the years were Chris Steenkamp, Casper Bakkes, H.J. Oberholzer, D. Odendaal, Bettie Gründlingh, J. van Rensburg, *
Du Toit, 1988
Du Toit, 1988
Founded in 1945, based on the Pretoria model, and inspired by Bosman de Kock (a former member of the Pretoria society), ***
Du Toit, 1988
Kannemeyer 1983, 1988
Ludwig Binge, 1969
P.J. du Toit, 1988
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