In 1970 Brian Astbury, a Professional Photographer, was hired to take rehearsal photos of Athol Fugard, Yvonne Bryceland, Val Donal and Wilson Dunster who were working on a production called ‘Orestes’.[i] Astbury ended up spending more time with the group and followed them as they performed in various venues.[ii] He was inspired by the work they did and felt the desire to open up a theatre space where similar plays such as Orestes could be performed.[iii]
After partnering up with the Architect, Maciek Miszewski, Astbury’s idea grew bigger and soon they were looking for Buildings and working on Theatre design plans.[iv] Finances were a struggle, but Astbury was fortunate enough to have had contacts in the right places and funding for the Theatre was collected under a Charity Foundation called the Foundation for Art and Theatre.[v] After a long search, they finally found a venue - the Sebba and Co building on Bloem Street in Cape Town.[vi] An abandoned building which was previously used for chrome and electroplating work [vii] and owned by Raymond Sebba, a Theatre enthusiast, met with Astbury and Miszewski who then offered them a deal for the top two floors.[viii]
On the 1 January 1971 they moved into the Building and three months later opened their first Production ‘Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act’ on the 28 May 1972.[ix] In 1973 they added an Art Gallery in the Building and in 1974 they opened a second venue on the ground floor. In 1976 The Space moved to the YMCA building in Long Street and became known as the first non-racial Commercial Arts venue to operate during the plight of Apartheid.[x]
In order for The Space to play to Non-Racial Audiences it used the guise of being a ‘Club’ where people could sign up and become Members, making it legal.[xi] The Space hosted regular Visitors such as Pioneers in the Arts like Athol Fugard, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Barney Simon, John Kani and Blaise Koch, to name a few, and whom also performed and showcased their works at the Theatre.
The Argo Film Circle lent a helping hand in this endeavour and enabled The Space to successfully operate as it desired too.[xii] The Space was also one of the very first stages that hosted the collaborative productions by John Kani, Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, ‘Sizwe Bansi is Dead and The Island.’
It was recognized as the first Pioneer Fringe Theatre. It was taken over by Moyra Fine and Rob Amato and became known as The People’s Space. In 1979, due to long-term financial challenges and ever dwindling audiences, The Space was Shut down. There had been more than three hundred productions staged.[xiii]
In late 2008, it Re-opened its doors with the support and encouragement of its’ Founding Members and supported by the Cape Town City Council, Inner City Development Programme.
Currently, The Space Theatre has released a Documentary depicting the stories of the People and Artists who fought to keep the Theatre running during the Apartheid Regime. The Space strove to Present and Host performances that challenged and defied the Socio-Political Conditions, in South Africa. The Documentary looks at the dangers of apathy, ignorance and the allowing of Governmental powers to strip away the rights of any individual. It also looks at the dangers of censorship and highlights the importance of all forms of arts as a means to educate, encourage and foster a community of open debate and discussion.
[i] Brian Astbury, “The Story of The Space”, Theatre of Survival, Accessed 17 April 2017, https://theatreofsurvival.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/genesis//a> ↵
[ii] Ibid ↵
[iii] Ibid ↵
[iv] Brian Astbury, “The Story of The Space”, Theatre of Survival, Accessed 17 April 2017, https://theatreofsurvival.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/a-bigger-photographic-studio/ ↵
[v] Ibid ↵
[vi] Ibid ↵
[vii] Ibid ↵
[viii] Ibid ↵
[ix] Temple Hauptfleisch and Miriam Terblanche, “ESAT Bibliography”, The Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance, 25 January 2017, http://esat.sun.ac.za/index.php?title=South_African_Theatre/Bibliography. ↵
[x] Ibid ↵
[xi] Brian Astbury, “The Story of The Space”, Theatre of Survival, Accessed 17 April 2017, https://theatreofsurvival.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/this-couldnt-have-cost-much-2/ ↵
[xii] Ibid ↵
[xiii] Brian Astbury, “The Story of The Space”, Theatre of Survival, Accessed 17 April 2017, https://theatreofsurvival.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/prequel/ ↵
Astbury, Brian. “The Story of The Space”, Theatre of Survival. Accessed 17 April, https://theatreofsurvival.wordpress.com/some-of-the-stories-of-the-spacedie-ruimteindawo/the-story-from-the-beginning/.|Hauptfleisch, Temple and Terblanche, Miriam. “ESAT Bibliography”, The Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance. 25 January 2017, https://esat.sun.ac.za/index.php?title=South_African_Theatre/Bibliography.|https://thespacetheatre.com/index.html (Accessed 4 April 2017)