Feather in cap for Soweto
Soweto's first state-of-the-art theatre will open on Friday - in commemoration of Africa Day.
Situated on Bolani Road; between Jabulani Mall and Jabulani train station; the Soweto Theatre - which looks like an assortment of colourful boxes - stands out from its surroundings.
It's a complex made up of three venues. The biggest is a 436-seater auditorium equipped with an orchestra pit, an end stage, wings, a fly tower and buttress. It is attached to two smaller, flexible venues that can seat 90 to 150 people each.
The two-storey theatre also has plush change rooms on each floor, storage facilities, a green room and artworks by artists from the township exhibited throughout.
According to Steven Sack, director of arts, culture and heritage for the City of Johannesburg, the theatre was designed with a "shoebox" shape because research conducted at top theatres in the UK and Canada reveals that "the shoebox shape is great for acoustics and sound insulation".
The theatre was first envisioned in 2007 by former Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo and his mayoral committee as a Fifa World Cup legacy project.
Now the R150-million theatre - semi-subsidised by the city and property development company Inkanyeli - is part of an ambitious redevelopment plan for Soweto.
"This theatre is also aimed at being a catalyst for new civic development in the area . The land surrounding the theatre will be developed into retail and office space and housing estates will also be built," Sack said.
He is confident the theatre's location, the township's population as well as its rich political and cultural heritage will prevent it from becoming a white elephant.
"Forty percent of people in Johannesburg live in Soweto so it only makes sense to bring the theatre to them.
"Soweto is also appealing to tourists, because of its political history," said Sack.
The theatre already has an opening season programme until October. It includes local and international productions as well as material produced by up-and-coming artists. The first production to be staged is James Ngcobo's adaptation of Es'kia Mphahlele's The Suitcase.
The venue will also host music, dance and choral performances.
On Sunday, legendary Malian musician Salif Keita will perform with his acoustic ensemble at the Africa Day Concert at the venue.