Curtains go up at Soweto Theatre

2012-05-18 13:54

It may be two years later than scheduled, but the new Soweto Theatre is finally opening its doors to the public this week.

The state-of-the-art performance centre was first envisioned as one of the seven 2010 World Cup legacy projects by the Joburg mayoral committee.

With a R150 million price tag, the complex in Jabulani includes a 420-seater main auditorium with an end stage, wings, an orchestra pit, a fly tower and buttress.

In addition, there are two smaller venues that can seat 180 and 90 people, respectively.

The theatre is also fitted with multilevel change rooms, storage quarters and a green room. The outdoor area has a covered space that will serve as an informal performance yard.

To entrench it into a lived experience for Sowetans, the complex lies in the thoroughfare between Jabulani Mall and the Jabulani train station, a shrewd effort to prevent it from becoming a white elephant.

James Ngcobo, the director and actor whose play The Suitcase is the opening production at the theatre, celebrates the new venue.

“We’ve been crying about getting performance spaces where our people live. The government has heard us and it’s built this world-class theatre in Soweto.”

He says that although it’s built in Soweto, it belongs to the whole country.

Acknowledging a new opportunity in audience development, Ngcobo says that “for years people from Soweto and the surrounding townships have been going to The Market theatre in town. It’s time to bring people from the suburbs to Soweto, just as Sowetans have been going into town.”

Steve Sack, the acting CEO of the Joburg Promusica Theatre in Roodepoort, under whose care the new centre falls, agrees.

Sack says “40% of people in Joburg live in Soweto, so it makes sense to bring this kind of facility to where they live”.

But he also says that the city is yet to appoint full-time staff for the new theatre.

“The city is going through an institutional review. We are looking to create one theatre company that will run the Promusica, Joburg and Soweto theatres.”

Though the budget to hire new staff is expected to be approved by July, the Soweto Theatre already has an opening season programme that runs until October.

The opening play by Ngcobo is an adaptation of a short story of the same name by the late E’skia Mphahlele, who wrote it in the 1950s and set it in Sophiatown.

Ngcobo has transposed the story to Umkhumbani, a similar township in Durban.

When he first took it to the boards at The Market theatre in 2006, the work scooped multiple Naledi Theatre awards.

So the centre is opening with a fitting standard.

As Ngcobo says: “We hope it sets the tone for things to come.”

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