On 19 April, the dynamic Dawn Lindberg celebrates her 70th birthday, five days after the staging of the Naledi Theatre Awards, her brainchild and one of the highlights of the South African theatre calendar.
Durban-born Dawn Lindberg is one of seven children. She was educated at Parktown Girls’ High School and after matric, she won an AFS scholarship and spent a year in Detroit, Michigan. A highlight of the trip was meeting the late President John F. Kennedy on the lawns of the White House.
She studied Fine Arts at Wits University, and in 1962 she met her husband and long-time partner in music and theatre, Des Lindberg, who was studying Law at the time. ‘He was like a gentle Viking,’ she recalls, ‘tall, with blond hair falling over his eyes, and a guitar slung over his back.’
By the mid-60s, Des Lindberg had already established himself as a fine folk singer, and he achieved enormous success with an Afrikaans song, ‘Die Gezoem Van Die Bye’, which went to number one on the South African charts where it remained for 20 weeks.
In 1965, Des and Dawn Lindberg were married; they then hit the road (literally) when they bought a caravan and toured South Africa and the then Rhodesia, visiting dorps and towns with their legendary show, Folk on Trek. Remembers Dawn: ‘There was no TV in those days, so to get known you had to go on the road and meet the people.’
Their first album, Folk on Trek, was promptly banned on the grounds of obscenity because of dubious lyrics to the nursery rhyme, ‘Mary had a little lamb’, and the Negro Spiritual, ‘Dese bones gonna rise again’. They went on appeal but lost the case and all copies of the album were ordered to be destroyed – but some die-hards hid them and thankfully, there are still copies in existence today.
The couple then embarked on a plan to help make a significant change to the country’s political thinking and in 1973 they produced the ground breaking musical, Godspell, the first multiracial show to be staged publicly in SA.
With a segregated South Africa still existing, the show’s multiracial cast was forced to rehearse on the lawns of the Lindberg’s magnificent Victorian mansion for the grand opening at a theatre specially built for them at the Holiday Inn in Maseru, Lesotho.
When they decided to bring the show to SA, it was promptly banned by the censors on the grounds of blasphemy. Des and Dawn Lindberg took the case to the Supreme Court and they won after the show was allowed one performance so that Judge Lammie Snyman and the censors’ legal team could view it. Godspell went on to triumphantly tour the country for 18 months. It spearheaded the opening of theatres to all races in 1977, the first bastion of apartheid to fall.
The success of this production prompted the Lindbergs to move more into the theatrical arena and over the years staged a succession of musicals and plays that included Pippin; The Black Mikado (the first West End musical to premiere in Soweto); The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, (when the title was banned!); and The Vagina Monologues about abuse of women.
The Lindbergs have enjoyed a successful career as entertainers, punctuated by many hits that included ‘The Seagull’s Name was Nelson’ in 1971, which topped the charts for 20 weeks.
Their influence in the SA Theatre Industry has been far reaching and significant: Des Lindberg was Chairman of the Theatre Managements of SA for 22 years, and he was on the Boards of the State Theatre and the Joburg Theatre for 5 years each. He crafted the new Standard Theatre Contract with the theatre Agents and Actors’ Union in 1998, which is still in use today. Dawn Lindberg’s greatest achievement has been the creation and nurturing of the internationally recognised Naledi Theatre Awards, which has honoured over 300 artists and theatre makers, and awarded over 60 Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Primarily though, Des and Dawn Lindberg are down-to-earth family people. They have two sons, Joshua (44) and Adam (42). Joshua is married to television personality Zuraida Jardine and they have two children, Zaria, 6, and Shia, 4. Adam lives in Cape Town and has his own rap group, Afbotz.
Icons in South African theatre, Des and Dawn Lindberg continue to strive to make a meaningful and uplifting contribution to our country and we salute them on this landmark occasion.