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FOR DECADES, the performing arts in Soweto were restricted to community halls and open-air venues like the 60-year-old Jabulani Amphitheatre and the colourful Mofolo Park Cultural Bowl.
But this is set to change with the launch of the township’s first formal playhouse, The Soweto Theatre, a state-of-the-art performance arts centre of international standard, which will be officially opened on Friday.
The R150 million theatre towers over the Jabulani Amphitheatre, to which it is almost linked by a huge white tent structure. From a distance, three bright yellow, red and blue cubes, flanked by elevated and curved sides that lead to its impressive glass façade, capture the eye.
Its acting chief executive, Steven Sack, said expert opinions were sought to make the theatre something special.
“Our brief to architects was that we wanted a building that is iconic, photogenic and one that will become a symbol; and their design was inspired by the black box concept. We were told that if you want to get good acoustics, you begin with a shoe box shape,” Sack said.
“With this design you do not need microphones to be heard from the stage because of its design. The three boxes are the main venue, which is a 420-seat auditorium, with an orchestra pit, and two smaller venues of 180 and 90 seats respectively, all of which are multifunctional and flexible to host various types of events.”
Sack said the three boxes were central to the design, with all other elements of the theatre wrapped around them.
He said the theatre would also become a gallery where artworks would constantly be exhibited.
“The theatre also gives beautiful views of Soweto from many sides. The Soweto Theatre is part of the broader Jabulani precinct development project, which will have shops, office parks, residential developments and many more as one of the city’s projects based on the vision to turn townships into neighbourhoods,” Sack said.
Plans are afoot to refurbish the Jabulani Amphitheatre, which was built in 1952. It played an important part in the country’s history as the venue where Zindzi Mandela read out a defiant letter from her imprisoned father in 1985.
The Jabulani Heritage Project will be launched on the day of the Soweto Theatre’s official opening.
“The plan is to remove the steel benches around the amphitheatre, leaving it surrounded by garden and lawns to make it a great outdoor family spot,” Sack said.