Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 17:01

In or around 1970, when the Department of Dramatic Art was about to open the following year, I was visited by John van Zyl and Art de Villiers, who had been appointed to the staff of the Dramatic Art Department.  They were in a bit of a panic because notwithstanding that the Department was opening in a matter of a few weeks, no provision had been made for a performing venue.

 


Braamfontein Roman Catholic Church (The Heritage Portal)

 

The then Vice Chancellor, Bozzoli, had provided the church hall but it was necessary to make it more suitable for performances.  The representatives of the Department came to see me in the hope that I would be able to do a design for the space.  (I was teaching in the Department of Architecture.)  I prepared a design and took it to Professor Bozzoli for his consideration.

I cannot remember exactly what the estimated cost was, but it was very little.  However, Bozzoli was appalled and told me that I must ""be mad"" if I thought that the university would spend that amount of money for the few months that the venue was intended to be used.  I asked how much  he was prepared to spend and he named a figure of about R2 000 or R3 000.  I said I would do what I could.

It so happened that at that time Malcolm Purkey, who subsequently became a Professor in the Department of Dramatic Art - and later still a Director of the Market Theatre - was a student and he came to me and said that he would be interested to help with the conversion of the space.  I then approached various building suppliers and obtained from them, scaffolding at no charge and glue-lam timber at a very reduced price.

Malcolm and I met on a Saturday morning and stood in Amershoff Street and, as men came by, we accosted them and asked whether they were looking for work.  We put together a gang of workers, all unqualified, and started erecting what I believe is still in place, at the Nunnery.

 

The Nunnery (The Heritage Portal)

 

The concept was as follows: to create a narrow gallery on two sides of the auditorium; to create a bank of seats at the entrance end and, by so doing, created a small foyer at the west end of the auditorium.  On the existing stage we put seats that were removable so that in effect we had a theatre-in-the-round configuration, but which could, by removing the seats situated on the stage, be a proscenium type configuration.

I believe that after 40 odd years, the so-called temporary theatre, is still used by the Dramatic Art Department, who now have a theatre immediately across the road from the Nunnery.

Thanks to Malcolm and the off-the-street labour that were paid by the day, and those who were generous enough to donate materials, we built the Nunnery on Saturday and Sunday.

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