The theatre scene in South Africa is vibrant, with many active spaces across the country offering everything from indigenous drama, music, dance, cabaret and satire, to West End and Broadway hits, classical music, opera and ballet.
South African theatre is internationally acclaimed as unique and top class.
Apart from early productions, notably the ground-breaking musical King Kong in the 1960s, theatre created in South Africa by South Africans only began to make an impact with the advent of Johannesburg’s innovative Market Theatre in the mid-1970s, just as the cultural, sporting and academic boycott was taking hold.
The Market Theatre was formally opened on 21 June 1976. It was here that Johannesburg theatregoers were introduced to the work of most of South Africa’s leading playwrights and directors, including Welcome Msomi, Zanemvula
(Zakes) Mda, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Gibson Kente, Paul Slabolepszy, Mbongeni Ngema, Adam Small, PG du Plessis, Kessie Govender, Bartho Smit, Maishe Maponya, Percy Mtwa, Deon Opperman, Reza de Wet, Matsemela Manaka and many others.
It was to the Market Theatre that Athol Fugard brought his A Lesson from Aloes, Master Harold… and the Boys, The Road to Mecca, A Place with the Pigs, My Children! My Africa! and Playland. At the Market, Barney Simon and his actors developed in workshop Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life, Call Me Woman, Black Dog Inj’emnyana, Outers, Born in the RSA and Woza Albert!
The performing arts marketed South Africa to overseas audiences most effectively during the 1980s, specifically through theatre and musical productions.
In recent years, South African theatre has taken the entertainment world by storm with commendable reviews for Umoja, The Lion King and Kat and The Kings. The reception these productions enjoy in capitals of the world testifies to the high quality of indigenous South African theatre.
In nurseries such as the Market Theatre Laboratory, the Liberty Theatre on the Square, Saturday Children’s Theatre Workshops, the Cape Town Theatre Lab and the National Children’s Theatre, new shoots of talent are burgeoning and blooming, nurtured by events like the Market’s Community and Young Writers’ Festivals. Many
new names are being added to the roll call of South African playwrights such as Lesego Rampolokeng, Xoli Norman, Mondi Mayepu, Heinrich Reisenhofer, Oscar Petersen, Mark Lottering, Nazli George, Craig Freimond and Rajesh Gopie.
In January 2011, the Ministry of Arts and Culture launched the New Plays Writing Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
The programme is a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, the university, the British Council and Sustained Theatre.
The objective of the programme is to equip a new generation of South African writers with skills that will enable them to develop dramatic work that resonates with the challenges of the world around them. The programme comprises a series of playwriting workshops, the development of new plays and the production of selected work, both locally and internationally.