The Roodepoort Theatre was built in 1980, back when Roodepoort was a different municipal entity to Johannesburg. At some point its name was changed to the Pro Musica Theatre. Since 2013 it has reverted to being called the Roodepoort Theatre. The reasoning behind the name change brings the municipal theatres of Johannesburg under one management system, the Joburg City Theatres, and the renamed Joburg Theatre (formerly the Civic Theatre), the brand new Soweto Theatre and the Roodepoort Theatre are all managed by CEO Xoliswa Nduneni Ngema.
The main thrust of the Roodepoort Theatre is to develop youth in theatre. I hope that this actually translates to some quality productions aimed at children and young people. I have severe reservations about the general programming of the Joburg City Theatres based on what I have seen over the last few years with Joburg Theatre offering a poor diet of tribute shows and overseas productions, relying heavily on the annual pantomime to sell well (which it never fails to do) to come close to balancing the books. The Soweto Theatre seems to have little or no appeal to the people who live in Soweto and there is no obvious audience development programme. Let’s hope that Roodepoort Theatre does better.
Stefan Louw of Aria! Opera for Everyone, has been using the Roodepoort Theatre for his opera programmes for a while now, and he certainly meets the youth development mandate in his innovative partnership with the Outreach Foundation’s Hillbrow Theatre Project, making arrangements for these young people to be bussed in to experience opera, not on a once off basis, but regularly. It is fitting that Aria! Opera for Everyone was used to relaunch the Roodepoort Theatre on 7 March 2014. The evening began with Stefan Louw singing Nessun Dorma and it stayed on that high note (pun intended) for the rest of the evening.
The Johannesburg Youth Orchestra was under the baton of Eddie Clayton. I have had several opportunities to hear the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra in the last year or so and I am truly positively impressed with these young people, as well as those professionals who have dedicated their time to developing the youth orchestra. It was fitting that this orchestra was used for the relaunch of the Roodepoort Theatre.
The Voices of the Nation Choir trained by Xolani Frazer Gqasana was also impressive. This choir will be working with Stefan Louw later in the year in appearances at the Roodepoort Theatre. The soloists were Alexandera Wald (soprano), Antoinette Olivier (soprano), Elizabeth Lombard (Mezzo-soprano), Stefan Louw (tenor), Aubrey Lodewyk (baritone) and Otto Maidi (bass). The narrator was Marisa Louw.
In the audience was Weiss Doubell who also wrote a very brief article on Pro Musica and opera in the programme. Since 2008 there has been no opera other than the concerts presented by Stefan Louw and Aria! Opera for Everyone. Opera all over Gauteng has been terribly neglected these last few years, with funding for this very expensive art form simply not being available. The year’s planned concerts by Aria! Opera for Everyone includes gala events on 11 April, 20 June and 10 August with “mini-operas” on 24 October and 5 December 2014. I am looking forward to these and hope this marks a turning point for opera in the Johannesburg, for what is a world class city without regular performances of both the opera classics and new operas? Roodepoort Theatre has a long history of presenting operas and the opera loving audiences have always been willing to support the events there.
Ultimately Roodepoort Theatre is a user friendly theatre with adequate parking, nice acoustics, a functional bar, sufficient toilets (although a hand basin in the toilet for disabled women would have been a nice touch) and a restaurant which is part of the “Stages chain” operated by the city at Joburg Theatre. I hope the service and food is better in Roodepoort Stages Restaurant is better than at Joburg Theatre Stages Restaurant which can be disappointing, and I will report on this as the year rolls on. Opening night catering which ran to served snacks before and after the show was promising.
All in all the relaunch event was a charming evening.