The Junction Avenue theatre was formed in 1976, and it was organised and conceptualised by a group of White students from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in a bid to create historically informed plays about South African society. Organised in experimental theatre workshops, the theatre group spoke directly to a young, English-speaking audience and served as a platform to address the social injustices, exploitation and racism that black South Africa faced. 

The first play organised by the Junction Avenue theatre group was titled The Fantastical History of a Useless Man. Inspired by the 1976 Soweto uprising, the play was created as a response to the prevailing political tensions, whilst at the same time questioning white English speaking South African engagement with historical realities from 1652 to 1976. The play was performed at the Nunnery Theatre in Johannesburg in September 1976.  Devised collectively in experimental theatre workshops it addressed itself primarily to a young English-speaking audience, asking: in these days of injustices and crisis, and against the history of colonialism, exploitation, racism – what can we do to make a difference and change the course of history?

Other plays followed, created together with Workshop other 71 members, who had not gone into exile. Junction Avenue became the first non-racial theatre company in South Africa. The company created and scripted their own plays and composed songs that played an important role in all the productions. Songs spoke to underlying emotions and tensions, functioned as commentary, filled in narrative and set breaks in the action that encouraged audience reflection.

The songs from the plays Randlords and Rotgut, Marabi and Sophiatown, composed and sung / performed by members of Junction Ave Theatre Company, from 1976-1982. The main singers include Ramolao Makhene, Siphiwe Khumalo, Arthur Molepo, Patti Henderson, Patric Shai and Madidi Mapotho. This company created a space in which working-class subjects (as defined in Marxist discourse) could be used to facilitate confrontation with the prevailing issues, particularly regarding the state in the late 1970s. Other key participants were Ari Sitas and Astrid von Kotze. When Workshop '71 dissolved in 1976, many of its members joined Junction Avenue Theatre Company. Plays produced included; The Fantastical History of a Useless Man (1976), Randlords and Rotgut (1978), Will of a Rebel (1979), Security (1979), Ilanga lizophumela abasebenzi (1980), Sophiatown (1985), and Love, Crime and Johannesburg (1997). Among the protegés of the company who went on to play important roles in the industry are many members of the cast of Sophiatown, i.e. Patrick Shai, Arthur Molepo, Doreen Mazibuko, Gladys Mothlane, Madidi Maphoto, Siphiwe Khumalo and Ramolao Makhene.

Junction Avenue Theatre Company: Founded in 1976 by Malcolm Purkey. In collaboration with the Company they presented Sophiatown starring Minky Schlesinger and created by its cast at Upstairs at the Market in February 1986, the Market main house, abroad, with many return visits. The company became non-racial after Black members from Theatre Workshop 71 joined them. They produced many short stories from 1979 - 1983 that spoke to various social issues, and toured both Black townships as well as White suburbs. The Junction Avenue theatre scripted their own plays and wrote many of the songs, and one of the plays which was widely discussed was Marabi (1982), a play about urban culture and the forced removals in the 1930s and 40s. 

In 1986, the company was awarded the AA Life Vita Award for playwright of the year for Sophiatown. The play, based on the history of the lives of people in Sophiatown, opened at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in February 1986 with great success. It served a similar function as other plays produced during the apartheid era, which was one of protest and resistance. It looked back at the beginning of apartheid and gave audiences a sense of the legacy of destruction that the National Party was responsible for. The play was revived in 1993 and performed to celebrate the end of Apartheid.

References

The Playwright Database. Doollee.com URL: https://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsJ/junction-avenue-theatre-company.html|Junction Ave Theatre Company, Populareducation.co.za. Popular Education South Africa. URL: https://populareducation.co.za/content/junction-ave-theatre-company

https://populareducation.co.za/content/junction-ave-theatre-company

Junction Avenue Theatre