Young Men's Institute

Revision as of 05:58, 30 September 2021 by Satj (talk | contribs) (→‎The company)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Young Men's Institute (YMI) was an organization founded in Cape Town in the 1860s.

The club and venue

Young Men’s Institute was probably a division of the Cape Town Institute and Club (CTIC), founded in ***. In 1868 the Cape Town Institute and Club Ltd opened their own new building, the Cape Town Institute and Club in Burg Street, where the Institute Assembly Hall could be used for performances.

This was used as a performance space by inter alia the Amateur Coloured Troupe, the Young Men’s Institute Amateur Christy’s and the Young Men's Institute and Club Dramatic Company.

By 1872 the CTIC building had unfortunately proved to be a financial liability, so it was decided to convert the entire building into a "Theatre, Concert and Lecture Room", the plans drawn up by the architect Freeman in 1873. However the theatre was eventually only completed and ready for hire in 1875, initially referred to as the "New Theatre" in Burg Street, then as the New Theatre Royal.

Theatrical activities and entertainments

The Young Men’s Institute hosted a popular entertainments (mainly "Literary" and "Musical" and at one time known as Saturday Evening Entertainments) in Cape Town from 1867 to 1870. They initially met in the Mutual Hall, but later used the Institute Assembly Hall of the Cape Town Institute and Club.

See also the entry under Entertainment

Young Men’s Institute Amateur Christy’s


During the heyday of the minstrelsy period in South Africa (circa 1860-1870), the YMI club hosted a very active amateur dramatic society which was informally known as the Amateur Christy's, The Christy Minstrels or Young Men’s Institute Amateur Christy’s. Also on occasion referred to as the Y.M.I. Amateur Christy's, Y.M.I. Christy's, the Amateur Christy's, or the Christy Minstrels by various sources.

It was one of three Christy's companies active in the city at the time. They initially performed in the Mutual Hall, but when the Cape Town Institute and Club Limited opened their own new building in Burg Street on 15 July, 1868, they shifted their activities and used that as their normal venue.

Among the people involved appears to have been a Mr Toogood, possibly one of the leading figures, E. Clifton, Mr Trevenen, Mr Vincent and Mr Charlton.

See also Minstrels

Performances of the Amateur Christy's

Their performances consisted of minstrelsy shows and so-called Ethiopian burlesques or Negro farces. Among the presentations mentioned were:

The "negro farces" included The Returned Volunteer from Abessynia; The Young Scamp (White) and The United States Mail, Music Lesson.

In November 1868 they did The Nervous Cures and The United States Mail as a benefit for the Oddfellows Library and Reading Room.

In 1869 they were active once more, a highlight being their involvement in the great Juvenile Fancy Fair and Grand Fête organized in the Cape Gardens on 25 February by the Cape Town Institute and Club in support of the victims of the great fires in Uitenhage and Knysna and a performance of Music Lesson in the Garrison Theatre, in an evening of entertainment in collaboration with the Lanarkshire Glee Club.

The Young Men's Institute and Club Dramatic Company (YMI)

This appears to have been an offshoot of the cultural activities of the general Young Men's Institute, and in particular the success of the Young Men’s Institute Amateur Christy’s (1867-1870).

Founded by Mr. Thomas Brazier as a progression from the Christy's activities, since the interest in Christy's style performances seemed to be on the decline, it would become the major company active in the Cape in 1870, and according to Bosman (1980) the most important amateur company, besides the Garrison Players, for the entire period 1863-1873.

Origins: a company made up of Members of the Legislative Assembly

The origins of the new company apparently lie in a unique event where "Members of the Legislative Assembly" gave a performance on 30 March, 1870, "for the purpose of aiding in the establishment of a dramatic club in Cape Town" (Bosman, 1980: pp. 274-5). They performed As Mad as a Hatter (Anon./Marshall?) and The Irish Tutor (Butler). The Brass orchestra of the 11th Regiment also played.

It seems this occasional parliamentary group may even have done other performances in the year, including a benefit performance for the widow and children of Mr T. Brazier in July, 1871.

The company

The company was led by Thomas Brazier as actor and "stage director", and they performed at the Institute Assembly Hall. The club solely utilized members of the Institute, including the actor John Stonier. Also mentioned on occasion were the members Mr Vincent, Mr Waller, St. Geo. Bossard and Mr Smith. Since it was an all male club, the female roles were therefore often played by men. However, it appears the club also involved women on occasion, some of them professional (most notably Miss de Courtney, a seasoned actress and staunch supporter, but also for one performance only, Miss Cathcart and Miss Reed). A number of amateurs also made the occasional appearance, among them Mrs Brazier, Mrs Henderson, Miss Peverill, Miss Berrall, Miss Dudley and Miss Irvin.

Performances of the YMI Dramatic Company

Unless otherwise stated, the company normally performed in the Institute Assembly Hall, Cape Town. The company seemed particularly fond of the farces of Thomas J. Williams (1824-1874)[1].

In 1870:

30 March: Founding performance of the YMI, done by some "Members of the Legislative Assembly". Performed were: As Mad as a Hatter (Anon./Marshall?) and The Irish Tutor (Butler), while the Brass orchestra of the 11th Regiment also played.

4 May: Living Too Fast (Troughton), The Silent System (Williams).

11 May: No mention of the plays performed.

24 May: Time Tries All (Courtney) and Found in a Four-Wheeler (Williams).

28 May: Repeat of the same programme

14 June: A Bachelor of Arts (Hardwicke), the song The Slave Ship[2] and A Terrible Tinker (Williams).

18 June: A programme that includes a speech from Hamlet by T. Brazier.

29 June: The Wilful Ward (Wooler) and A Terrible Tinker (Williams).

5 July: All that Glitters is not Gold, along with scenes from King John (Shakespeare), in the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Cape Town, on this occasion. It was apparently a joint effort by the YMI, in association with the company of Benjamin Webster. The performers included Benjamin Webster, T. Brazier, Mrs Brazier, Mr Devere and James Leffler, who all appeared in the main play. The evening was a bit of a fiasco however, since a Mr Illford, who was make his Cape Town debut by playing the lead, had not turned up and Leffler had to take on two roles.

9 July: In another joint effort by the YMI and Webster's company, scene from Henry VIII (Shakespeare) and parts of acts 3 and 5 of Hamlet (Shakespeare) performed by the company in the St Aloysius Hall, Cape Town. The performers again included Benjamin Webster, T. Brazier, Mrs Brazier, Mr Devere and James Leffler, with Mr Yorke and Mr Davenport as guest performers.

26 July: A Charming Pair (Williams) and My Dress Boots (Williams)

25 August: The Jeweller of St James (Suter/De St Georges and De Leuven) and Match Making (Poole)

2 September: The Scholar (Buckstone) and The Waterman (Dibdin). A benefit evening for Miss De Courtney.

Also planned for September was the first performance of a new, specially written "Three-Act Drama" called Lisnamoe, by "a young lady of Cape Town". It was to have been a farewell benefit for T. Brazier, but was not done because of his illness.

19 December: A "Sick Benefit" was held for Brazier, with performances of The Scholar (Buckstone) and A Terrible Tinker (Williams).

In 1871:

28 July: The "members of the Legislative Assembly" (undoubtedly in association with members of the Club) presented a benefit performance for the widow and children of Mr T. Brazier, who had died in January. The plays performed were A Charming Pair (Williams) and To Paris and Back for £5 (Morton). The latter play was apparently repeated in August, 1871.


W.J. Mahar. 1999. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. Volume 442 of Music in American life. University of Illinois Press, 1999

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 225-6, 243, 251-5, 266, 272-281, 291-4.

P.J. du Toit, 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.


Return to

Return to South African Theatre Venues, Companies, Societies, etc

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page