Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reps Theatre

No self respecting theatre is without it's resident ghost. Reps in Harare is no exception - I outline below a history of the theatre written by Gillian West who was chairman of the committee for some years.

The Repertory Players have been in existence for over 70 years - proudly flying the theatrical flag. Initially, four people formed a play reading group but in February 1931 performances began at Duthie Hall. Over the next five years, sixteen plays were produced under difficult conditions, with minimal stage facilities, inadequate lighting, uncomfortable seating and no money for improvements!
In 1936 Reps was given the use of the Prince Edward School Beit Hall. The stage was larger and better equipped and patrons were able to hire cushions at 3d each. During their 11 year occupancy, some 38 plays were presented but in 1947 their tenancy was terminated as the Hall was needed for school purposes.

Eventually, accommodation was found in the show grounds, in a ramshackle hall built as a cinema for the RAF in the second world war. There was a small stage, two small dressing rooms, a concrete auditorium with no ceiling and two bucket toilets! Volunteer members worked unceasingly painting, cleaning, decorating and laying more than 2000 concrete blocks to provide a raked auditorium. And then carpeting them. The buckets were replaced by chemical closets. The new home was named the Belvedere Theatre. It seated 240 people and opened in September 1947. The little theatre became immensely popular, mainly because of the improved standard of play presentation. During the Society's 12 year occupancy, 74 plays were produced, mainly to packed houses.

Two men had a profound effect on the fortunes of Reps. The one was George Barnes and the other was Adrian Stanley. (Adrian passed away on 10th August 2006 - read an obituary). In 1952, Reps celebrated its 21st birthday - a time of growth and excitement. Plans to build a new theatre were taking shape. Barney came up with the suggestion that a theatre foundation membership scheme be launched. The idea was to ask 500 people to contribute 50 pounds each. By 1957, the bank showed a healthy balance of 25000 pounds.

The new Reps Theatre on Sam Nujoma Street extension opened to the public in January 1960 with a gala production of Romanov and Juliet. This included a fanfare of trumpets from the BSAP band, incidental music from a section of the municipal orchestra, corsages for every lady in the audience, a formal opening ceremony by the Governor General of the Federation, Lord Dalhousie, and after the show a champagne party in the foyer for the entire audience - a glittering occasion.

Since 1960, Reps has produced over 400 of its own shows, the great majority of them under the directorship of Adrian Stanley. Adrian was appointed as the Society's first paid director and he took up his post in 1964, wasting no time in bringing Reps out of the financial doldrums. Records were broken and the future looked optimistic.

The Repertory Players is a unique amateur society operating with paid staff - a theatre manager, secretary, book-keeper, wardrobe mistress, workshop, security, bar and cleaning staff. But all actors, actresses and technical personnel are unpaid volunteers. Many valuable members have left for pastures new, but this is not a new situation. Reps will survive though new acting and backstage members would be warmly welcomed to help us through the next 70 years.
Acknowledgement: Gillian West, Chairman, 2003.

The resident ghost is George - and I am trying to find out more about him. I did have one encounter some years ago - my father was directing the National Ballet and produced a production of La Sylphide with my mother playing the Sylph. She had to go off stage on one side and appear on the other - on several occations - it was quite a run without any hindrances but on one particular occasion she found the door between the back of the stage and the wings not only shut but mysteriously locked!!!!!!! No one had been in the area and the only person with the keys was in another part of the building! Was it George?

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