The Market theatre: Where the stories begin

By Thembelani Mkhize

1976 is remembered as a turbulent year in South Africa. The month of June spawns flashbacks of a country in the midst of the Soweto uprising, but few realise it was the same year the country’s foremost theatre also shot for the stars.

Before it was known as The Market Theatre, the location was used as a fruit and vegetable market commonly known as the Indian market, in the now colourful Newtown, Johannesburg.

The Market Theatre venue before its heyday.

In 1974 the run-down produce facility was renovated when a group of theatre performers, namely the late Barney Simon (honoured with a theatre named after him) and Mannie Manim banded together to raised funds to turn the place into a performance theatre. Little did they know that their vision would grow and the facility become one of the most prestigious performance centres in SA.

Barney Simon.

Inaugurated on June 21, 1976, the 43-year-old theatre has hosted many of the country’s finest acts and first-rate theatrical shows and plays, including Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina, Sophiatown, and Woza Albert to name a few.

Musical legends such as Hugh Masekela and Lira have also graced the Market’s stages with memorable performances, and actors like John Kani are still honoured for their contributions to this day. His performance in Janet Suzman’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Othello was a radical game changer in the history of SA theatre.

The group Teargas had a memorable first appearance at the Market Theatre.

One of my fondest experiences at the Market theatre was when I got to take part in a job shadowing project when in 11th grade back in 2010. I got to work closely with the people at the foundation, where a friend and I had to select, call, and book an artist for a music festival which featured the likes of the before-mentioned Lira. Heady stuff for an impressionable teenager.

We chose one of the most popular groups at the time, Teargas, who gave an awesome live performance. This experience exposed us to a workspace that not only embraced creativity but welcomed new ideas. Teargas were honoured to perform at such a historic location for the first time. We discovered a whole new world, with endless possibilities in the entertainment industry.

These days the theatre is still one of the most welcoming youth and art-friendly environments in the City of Johannesburg, with the Windybrow Art Centre, the Market Photo Workshop and the famous Market Theatre Laboratory.

This article was first published on droppedinkcom

Some of the shows the Market Theatre will be showcasing this month: