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The Market Square

Market Square
The Market Square PHOTO Mpho Mokgadi – a graduate of the Market Theatre Photo Workshop

The newly built Market Square has brought an interesting new dynamic to the arts hub in Newtown.

The award-winning architecture, with stunning interior murals created by Artist Proof Studio, is the new home for the Market Theatre Foundation as well as a campus for students at the Market Theatre Laboratory and Market Photo WorkshopThe Market Square, the new addition to the Market Theatre complex, features ultra-modern spaces that include a theatre, library, auditorium, rehearsal rooms, dance studios, boardrooms and offices. It is appropriately located between streets named after two of the country’s foremost vocalists – Miriam Makeba and Margaret Mcingana. The latest addition to the Newtown cultural precinct also stands adjacent to Mary Fitzgerald Square in the middle of Lilian Ngoyi and Rahima Moosa Streets. Former Bree and Jeppe Streets were renamed in memory of the historic 1956 Women’s March. The Market Theatre Laboratory has always trained actors and theatre-makers. Founded by Barney Simon and Dr John Kani in 1988, it is the educational arm of the world-famous Market Theatre and was the brainchild of Barney Simon, co-founder of the Market Theatre. The idea for the Lab was born in response to the need of the community theatre sector for high-quality training, and to provide a seedbed for the creation of new South African plays. John Kani, then Associate Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, raised funds from the Rockefeller Foundation to set up the Lab.

‘I had a long-held desire to create a platform in South Africa for young people who had fallen through the cracks of apartheid and who have been victims of Bantu education to find their voice to speak out about issues that concerned them and their communities – and to give them the skills to do this,’ says Dr John Kani.

The Market Theatre’s training and developmental wing was seen by the founders as an artistic and academic space where tutors and students could imagine and create theatrical works that reflected their vision of a free and decent society for all. It also offered an intellectually stimulating environment where students from underprivileged backgrounds could interact with some of their role models in the theatre world. The Lab opened in October 1989 in a small warehouse under the highway in Goch Street, Newtown, where professional tutors ran practical as well as theoretical courses for aspiring actors. The Lab quickly became a platform for young artists to meet and engage creatively and collaboratively, first in apartheid South Africa and later in the new democracy. With the success of the drama school, other programmes were initiated, including the community theatre programmes that have resulted in the annual Community Theatre Festival and Zwakala Festival, which showcase performances from around the country and which have unearthed hidden theatrical talents.

Market Square
The Market Square PHOTO Mpho Mokgadi

Today the Market Theatre Lab has developed into one of the premiere training facilities of its kind in Southern Africa. It has trained exceptional performers and theatre-makers including Olive Schreiner Award winner Phillip Dikotla; three Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year winners, Monageng Motshabi (2016), Prince Lamla (2013), and Mncedisi Shabangu (2014); and SAFTA award winners Harriet Manamela, Warren Masemola and Lindiwe Ndlovu. Scores of Lab graduates are working in the theatre industry as actors, writers and directors, and many are household names in South Africa today. 

‘Work started on the Market Square in 2011 and we moved in in December 2016,’ says Christine McDonald, Chief Financial Officer of the Market Theatre Foundation. ‘Five long years, but worth the wait. 2016 was also the year that the Market turned 40 and the Market Square was a special gift to the Market for a special birthday. The gift was made possible by National Treasury through the Department of Arts and Culture who funded the R100 mil project. The Market Square was the result of the collective effort of a talented team of professionals who put in far more that what was expected and contracted for: Badat Developments – Project Manager; KMH – Architects; Walker Marè- Quantity Surveyors; Protection Projects – Fire engineers; ADA – Structural engineers; Interiors for Change – floorplan design and furniture layout.’

The latest addition to the Market square has been a state-of-the-art resource centre, the Vanessa Cooke Computer Room, named after the actress who starred in the Market Theatre’s first play, Anton Chekov’s The Seagull in 1976 and was for many years the head of the Lab. Cooke officially retired from The Lab in 2008. She was succeeded by Matjamela Motloung, who left in 2011. Dan Robbertse took over as education officer until 2013, when he handed the reins to Clara Vaughn. Cooke is still a member of the Market Theatre family and continues to contribute to the creation of new productions. The most recent play she directed at the Market Theatre has been a revelation. Written by Siphiwo Mahala and starring Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, The House of Truth (2016) has been sold out since its premiere at the National Arts Festival.

‘We want our alumni and the teachers that they work with to take full advantage of arts education through the digital space,’ said Chief Executive of the Market Theatre Foundation, Ismail Mahomed, at the time of the opening of the Vanessa Cooke Computer Room.

The Market Photo Workshop is now also housed in the Market Square and continues to play a pivotal role in the training of South Africa’s photographers, ensuring that visual literacy reaches neglected and marginalised parts of our society. Since it was founded in 1989 by world-renowned photographer David Goldblatt, the Photo Workshop has been an agent of change and representation, informing photographers, visual artists, educators, students and broader communities of trends, issues and debates in photography and visual culture. The alumni of the Market Photo Workshop include some truly impressive names like Jodi Bieber who studied at the Market Photo Workshop in the early 1990s and has gone on to win countless awards, most notably the 2010 World Press Photo of the Year award for her portrait of Bibi Aisha that featured on the cover of Time Magazine. Today Bieber also mentors students with their grants to produce projects, and she gives lectures and photographic workshops all over the world.

Market Square
The Market Square PHOTO Mpho Mokgadi

Zanele Muholi, who completed an Advanced Programme in Photography at the Photo Workshop, has gone on to become one of the most acclaimed female artists in South Africa. Muholi’s interest lies in the black female body in a frank, yet intimate, way that challenges the history of the portrayal of black women’s bodies in documentary photography. She has won numerous awards, including the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International; a Prince Claus Award (2013); the Index on Censorship – Freedom of Expression art award (2013); and the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009).

Sabelo Mlangeni studied at the Photo Workshop from 2001to 2004. He won the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts in 2009. In addition to Stevenson Gallery, he has held solo shows at Aula der Akademie der Bildenden Kunste Wien, Austria (2014); Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg (2013); and Iceberg Projects, Chicago (2012). Notable group exhibitions include Public Intimacy: Art and Social Life in South Africa at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2014); Apartheid and After at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam (2014); Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2013).

Musa Nxumalo, who studied at the Photo Workshop in 2008 and 2009, was the fourth recipient of the Edward Ruiz Fellowship. Nxumalo has had four solo exhibitions and a range of group exhibitions both locally and internationally, including For Those Who Live In It in the Netherlands, 2010; Space Between Us in Germany, 2013; My Joburg at Maison Rouge Gallery in Paris, 2013; In Search Of… which showcased two bodies of work Alternative-Kidz (2008); and In/Glorious (2012) which travelled between SMAC Stellenbosch and the Goethe Insitute, Johannesburg, 2015.

The Market Theatre is currently conducting weekly 90-minute tours of the precinct on Wednesdays and guests can hear about The Market’s four-decade history through anecdotes gleaned from the playhouse’s anniversary coffee-table book, 40 Years of Storytelling: 1976-2016.

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