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​Arts practitioners, City officials and community members met at an imbizo called to plot the way forward for the soon-to-be-opened Soweto Theatre.
HOW best to administer the Soweto Theatre, in Jabulani, keep it vibrant and financially viable was discussed at an imbizo with City officials and performing arts practitioners.

Letta MbuluProud of the theatre: Musician Letta Mbulu The City hosted the gathering on Friday, 11 May at the theatre, which has recently been built and officially opens on 25 May, where issues that should be factored into the policy document being drafted for the theatre were discussed.

Talk centred on propositions for the renaming of the theatre, how best to administer the structure and turn it into a sustainable institution, and how to solicit productions.

Local actors, playwrights, theatre producers, musicians, budding artists, community members, and journalists attended the imbizo. Veterans like performance poet Mzwakhe Mbuli, musician Letta Mbulu, actors Kid Sithole, Patrick Shai and Motshabi Tyelele, and producer Jerry Mofokeng were there, as were members of the Creative Workers Union of South Africa, which sits on the board of the theatre, as well as ward councillors and the chairperson of the City’s section 79 committee.

The portfolio head of community development, Chris Vondo, said the City was pondering submissions made regarding a name change for the theatre. The meeting had been called also to notify people of the institutional review process in which Promusica Theatre in Roodepoort, Joburg Theatre Complex in Braamfontein and Soweto Theatre had been merged into one institution with one board.

The City wanted the Soweto Theatre to be a sustainable commercial venture, be self-sufficient and relevant to the needs of people living in Soweto, Vondo said.

Artists at the meeting all concurred that they would not like the theatre to turn into a white elephant. The imbizo was part of a three-phase engagement with performing arts practitioners on broad concepts related to the need for a theatre in Soweto and theatre policy consultation.

Eugene Mthethwa, a kwaito musician and businessman, commended the City for building the theatre. “In the management of the structure and its programmes, I would like to see 60 percent of women representation,” he said.

Arts and culture director Steven SackNeed to get operations going, says the City's arts, culture and heritage director Steven SackMbulu said she was happy and proud that Soweto had an aesthetically pleasing performing arts centre. “In terms of acoustics, is the theatre conducive to what performing artists require of a venue?” she asked.

Children’s theatre
Children’s theatre veteran, Khasu Nkatlo, said the City needed to demystify the notion that theatre was for the elite. “How do we empower audiences to know and appreciate theatre across the board? We need to get the culture of theatre in the township,” she pointed out.

Mbuli submitted that the three different venues inside the theatre should be given separate names in honour of theatre luminaries in Soweto. He said it should also be included in tourism promotion in Soweto.

Sithole said the theatre should have a facility management committee that monitored all productions hosted at the venue and ensured that they were successful. “We need to ensure that this theatre of ours does not crumble,” he said.

Tyelele said there should be a Soweto theatre marketing company that would spearhead a communications strategy to promote the theatre in the community. “Involve professional artists in your work and administration of the theatre,” she suggested.

She added that it should always be buzzing. “There’s nothing as sad as having a dark theatre.”

The City said the R150-million theatre would serve primarily as a receiving house, through which budding artists would have a platform to expose their skills and make their debuts. It also wanted to contribute to the promotion of the arts in general.

The SuitcaseMaking history: The SuitcaseThe facility 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, multi-level change rooms, storage rooms, a green room, administrative offices and ablution facilities. It has quality lighting and sound facilities.

It is in close proximity to public transport, a civic hub with a police and a fire station, a hospital, municipal offices and a shopping mall, and is easily accessible.

A fully fledged business and residential node is planned for the suburb of Jabulani. Once complete, it will comprise an amphitheatre, standalone cluster homes, a shopping mall and a residential area with three- to five-storey walk-up flats.

There will be 25 000m² of retail shops, 10 000m² of offices and 4 000 mixed income residential units, 30 percent of which will be for low income earners. The Johannesburg Property Company envisions Jabulani as a pedestrian-orientated development, with a high quality public environment focused on a public square and a park adjoining the amphitheatre.

Production company
Steven Sack, the director of Joburg’s arts, culture and heritage unit, said issues raised at the imbizo would be used in policy formulation. Theatre production companies could approach the City with their proposals.

He said Idols, the Mnet franchise, had booked the venue for July and was paying the City “a handsome some of money” for its use.

Construction of the Soweto Theatre is complete and as part of preparations for the official opening practioners gathered in Jabulani to discuss its future. Watch video.
The theatre would be programmed one venue at a time and not all at once as it only had a skeletal staff. “We need to get the operations going. We can’t overburden ourselves but as we progress, we can bring in other productions in the other venues.”

Sack pointed out that productions had booked the venue for the most part of the year, but that there was ample space to host other productions as well.

The theatre will be officially opened by Executive Mayor Parks Tau at a grand ceremony scheduled for the weekend of Africa Day, 25, 26 and 27 May. The opening production is a duologue, The Suitcase, originally written by E’skia 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.

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