South African theatre

The theatre scene is buzzing in South Africa, with over 100 active spaces across the country offering everything from indigenous drama, music, dance, cabaret and satire to West End and Broadway hits, classical opera and ballet.

Venues range from the monolithic homes of the former state-supported performing arts councils to purpose-built theatres, a converted fruit market, country barns, casinos, and urban holes-in-the-wall.

Add to that a multitude of festivals, and any time of the year in South Africa offers the full range of theatrical experiences.

The annual National Arts Festival in Grahamstown – which has showcased the cream of the country’s creativity in the performing and graphic arts for over 30 years – has spawned a variety of smaller festivals all over the country, each with its own particular personality.

The past

But this artistic explosion is a relatively new phenomenon. Apart from a few early productions – notably the ground-breaking musical King Kong in the late 1950s – theatre created in South Africa by South Africans only really began to make an impact with the advent of Johannesburg’s Market Theatre in the mid-1970s.

This was just as the apartheid-inspired cultural, sporting and academic boycott was taking hold, cutting South Africa off from world developments and trends.

Ironically, the outpouring of local talent was a direct result of the cultural boycott. In the absence of work and influences from abroad, South African theatre makers were forced to draw on their own resources, and they did so with huge creativity and singular success.

SAinfo reporter

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