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​Africa Day will be celebrated at the Soweto Theatre, which hosts its grand opening over the weekend with a packed programme of entertainment.
THE attractive Soweto Theatre, in the heart of the emerging Jabulani commercial node, is scheduled to open with a jam-packed programme on the weekend of Africa Day, starting on Friday, 25 May.

Colourful artwork adorns the walls of the theatre  Colourful artwork adorns the walls of the theatre The official opening ceremony will be attended by Executive Mayor Parks Tau, the portfolio head of community development, Chris Vondo, City officials, members of local actor and theatre guilds, playwrights, theatre producers, musicians, artists, the press and others.

At a media walkabout of the theatre on 21 May, Steven Sack, the director of Joburg’s arts, culture and heritage directorate, said about R5-million had been set aside to host the launch and the opening season. The theatre cost about R150-million.

The first production will be the duologue, The Suitcase, based on a short story originally written by Es’Kia Mphahlele and adapted and directed by James Ngcobo, with musical direction by Hugh Masekela and choreography by Gregory Maqoma. It stars Siyabonga Thwala and Xolile Tshabalala.

“It is an honour to stage the Soweto Theatre’s first production,” said Ngcobo. “To be able to pick up this great piece of storytelling by our giant Es’Kia Mphahlele leaves one with a lot of humility. There is poignancy about how he weaved this story that is still in conversation with contemporary issues.”

Poetry and dance

The City's arts, culture and heritage director Steven Sack outlines the Soweto Theatre official opening programme during a media briefing on 21 May.
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On the opening day, veteran poet and music activist Mzwakhe Mbuli will give a special tribute. It will be followed by a dance called Isiqalo – The Beginning, performed by Vuyani Dance Theatre and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma. The Soweto Jazz Orchestra will perform under the baton of Khaya Mahlangu, and Concord Nkabinde will collaborate with Gloria Bosman for a musical showcase.

Festivities will continue into the weekend, with West African musician Salif Keita lined up to perform with his acoustic ensemble on Sunday.

Sack said the annual theatre bill was oversubscribed. June will be dedicated to the youth, with the SA Comedy Academy hosting workshops through the month and house music sensation Zakes Bantwini performing at the Red Box Theatre on June 16, Youth Day.

The main theatre seats 420 patrons The main theatre seats 420 patrons The Gauteng Organisation of Community Arts and Culture Centres will host the grand finale of its regional director’s competition, while the Mnet franchise Idols will occupy the stage at the end of July for the eighth season of the television talent search.

August and September will be dedicated to Women’s Day events; the Miss Soweto pageant; a musical, Scenes from Soweto, by Soyikwa Institute of African Theatre; and the Soweto Comedy festival, to list a few.

Performers and artists
The theatre will serve primarily as a receiving house, where up-and-coming performers and established artists will be able to make their debuts, perform, and earn a living. In the long run, the theatre will also double as a production house, serving to promote the arts in general.

It comprises a 420-seat main venue with an end stage, furnished with wings and buttress; two smaller venues of 180 and 90 seats each; an indoor foyer that circulates around all three venues; quality lighting and sound facilities; multi-level change rooms, storage rooms and administrative offices; an art exhibition, decorative art, ablution facilities and parkland.

“We are a privileged number of people because in a 100 years’ time this theatre will still be here and we will have a major institution of the city. In the way that it has been designed, let’s hope that it has longevity as well and that it will stand as a beautiful structure,” said Sack.

He explained that the City had tried to build a theatre for posterity – “I hope it succeeds.” His personal impression of the building was that it was “wonderful”. “They’ve managed to do it in a functional way. There’s nothing is this building that is strenuous; it’s not sort of decorative for the sake of it, it’s all very functionally designed.”

The endangered Rhino, made out of recycled material, is one of the public exhibits at the theatreA sculpture of a rhino made out of recycled material is just one of the exhibits in the theatreIshmael Mkhabela, the chairperson of the board of the Soweto Theatre, said the biggest challenge was stretching performers and everyone associated with the institution to perform above average.

Architecture and design
Tau issued a statement saying the theatre was a stunning piece of architecture inspired by the idea of a black box theatre, a flexible multifunctional space. “It’s magnificent,” he said.

“This theatre won’t only provide the people of Soweto with an innovative and culturally relevant theatre programme, incorporating traditional African arts forms as well as European productions, but it will also serve as a platform for the community to ensure the participation of previously disadvantaged companies and individuals in the operations of the organisations.”

On the opening night, Tau will also launch the Jabulani Heritage Project, which will seek to collate stories about the historic amphitheatre and the history of theatre in Soweto.

The Soweto Theatre is on Bolani Road in Jabulani, near the Koma Road intersection, in the heart of Soweto. Tickets for the opening show range in price from R30 to R60 and are available through Computicket.

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