Arts and culture

The Market Theatre

The Market Theatre, was the brainchild of writer/director Barney Simon and producer/administrator Mannie Manim, both of whom had had wide experience of theatre before forming The Company - an independent company committed to non-racial theatre - in 1974. Looking for a home, they were led to the site of the former "Indian" fruit market in Johannesburg's Newtown.

The building was converted and turned into a complex consisting of four theatres and two galleries - one for graphic arts, one for photographs. Both the conversion and the subsequent running of the complex were funded entirely by donations from the private sector. It was not until the 1990s, with the demise of the apartheid regime, that the Market would receive state funding.

Like the Space, it defied the Group Areas Act, which restricted theatres in "white" areas to whites only - both as audience and as actors. From the start the trustees of the Market Theatre Trust opened the stages and the auditoria to all who wished to come there, regardless of race.

Although the Market Theatre was to host the work of a variety of international playwrights who were happy to have their plays presented there because of the commitment to non-racialism, it was its encouragement of local playwrights, local performers, and local work that would bring it its international reputation and a string of awards as the most exciting and entrepreneurial management in the country.

It was to the Market that Fugard would bring 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 would develop in workshop, Cincinatti - Scenes from City Life, Call Me Woman, Black Dog Inj'emnyana, Outers, Born in the RSA, and Woza Albert!

It was at the Market 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, P G du Plessis, Kessie Govender, Bartho Smit, Maishe Maponya, Percy Mtwa, Deon Opperman, Reza de Wet, Matsemela Manaka, and a myriad aspirants.

Closely linked to the Market was the Baxter Theatre Centre which opened in 1977 under the enthusiastic direction of Irishman John Slemon. It wasn't long before Slemon, Manim and Simon were discussing collaboration and many of the Market's successes, some of them directed by Simon, went on to play at the Baxter. In 2001 Manim took over as director of the Baxter.

The Baxter also built a relationship with a local township group, the Cape Flats Players, who mainly performed their own original work which would open at the Cape Town theatre and then play the Market.

SAinfo reporter

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