An invitation: South African Drama and Theatre Heritage Project

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An Invitation

Access to South African drama and theatre production material has become increasingly difficult, since we do not currently have an archive dedicated to this art form. Due to the ephemeral nature of performance, the South African drama and theatre researcher is thus considerably impeded and our heritage lost to posterity without an archive.

With this project we aim to firstly establish a network of institutions which hold drama and theatre collections, to provide the theatre researcher with a starting point in his or her search for material about specific productions. We plan to publish a list of collections on our departmental website with hyperlinks (where possible) to the collections’ respective websites.

Secondly, we want to provide a safe repository for drama and theatre material in the Unisa Library Archive. We thus invite any producers or individual artists to contact us if they have any material which they would like to preserve according to archival standards. This material will be professionally archived, indexed and accessible to researchers. The artist retains the copyright and performance rights to any material submitted. We will accept scripts, photos, posters, programmes, video or sound recordings, correspondence, set or costume designs, lighting designs, production notes, etc.

If you want to participate in this project by donating any material relevant to South African drama and theatre, or know of collections we could add to our network, please contact:

Prof. Marisa Keuris | 012 429 6319 |                                                                     
Mr. Andile Xaba | 012 429 6058 | 


Back: Thomas Smetjane, Andile Xaba, Marisa Keuris 
Front: Junior Makhoere
Photo: Facebook

The Project

In 2013 The Department of Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, in collaboration with the Unisa Library Archive, launched a South African drama and theatre heritage project.

Various institutions which have developed valuable collections in the past (inter alia the State theatre’s Archive in Pretoria, as well as the Centre for Theatre Research at the HSRC) have closed these collections, while access to these collections can also often be difficult. The important role played by the old Performing Arts Councils (PACOFS, PACT, NAPAC, CAPAB) in terms of preservation matters, has in most in disappeared. A new era of theatre practice was introduced with the establishment of a large number of arts festivals in the country. The matter of preservation is in most cases not a high priority for the management of these festivals and only the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is relatively well archived.

The Unisa project has the following main objectives:

  • To establish a database of current information, i.e. which performance arts archives and collections are still active, which is dormant and which is in dire need of intervention. This information will be placed and updated on our facebook page, as well as on our departmental website. This will include links to specific websites (institutions, production houses, individual artists, etc). Short descriptions of the various collections (“directories”) will be given in order to assist potential researchers to find information on a particular matter. We will insert as many relevant links as possible to make the information as comprehensive as possible.
  • To establish a network of interested people (academics, performers, archivists, etc.) We are collaborating with Prof Temple Hauptfleich on this project (and also see his ESAT project as complementary to ours), and colleagues from the Drama Departments of the Free State, Stellenbosch and TUT have also expressed their support for this project. We want, however, to enlarge our network of partners and thus invite any interested parties who want to participate in this project to contact us.
  • To establish a safe repository for any drama/theatre material in the Unisa Library archive. We thus invite any production houses, as well as individual artists, to contact us if they have any material (texts, photos, posters, programmes, etc) which they would like to preserve according to established archival standards. The invitation entails that this material will be professionally archived, indexed and made accessible for research purposes. The production house/ individual artist retains the copyright and performance rights of all material submitted.

For a fuller description of this project and how it envisages the future of theatre archiving in South Africa please read the two articles published in the South African Theatre Journal:

Collections already housed in the Unisa Library Archive:

  • Teaterhuisie ( material donated by Carel Trichardt and Petru Wessels)
  • Aardklop material
  • Innibos material
  • Nicola Hanekom donated material

Projects currently ongoing:

  • Nerina Ferreira (Afrikaans translations of European texts; received from Prof Petrus du Preez, US Drama department)
  • Mamelodi Theatre Organization (donation received from Mr Junior Makhoere)
  • State theatre archive to be moved to Unisa Library archive
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