I was a small child when I first visited the market. Back then it really was a market. As a family we went to the market once a month, usually mid month when the prices were lowest. My mother bought her seasonal fruit and veg in large quantities. Some we shared with neighbours, but mostly my mother processed the whole lot. We had a lot of canned fruits and frozen vegetables. I particularly remember canning pineapples and freezing huge quantities of green beans.
In 1976 I was a student in Cape Town and the opening of a new theatre in Johannesburg passed me by. In 1977 I returned to Johannesburg and was filled in by theatre loving friends. From time to time I attended theatre performances at The Market Theatre.
My family of origin were non-political, so much of the awareness of politics was drawn from my attendance at The Market Theatre. Pieter-Dirk Uys was probably the most political engagement I ever experienced back then. I found theatre more interesting than the politics behind it.
In 1981 I purchased a “city block” outside The Market Theatre for the vast sum of R50. I was a patron of the arts.
I met real life thespians at The Market Theatre, and became friends with some of them, usually the younger ones – I was very much in awe of the most established crowd.
My relationship with The Market Theatre ebbed and flowed as I lived out of Johannesburg at times, in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Kimberley and Mbabane, Swaziland. This was always interspersed with months of living back in Johannesburg where I simply picked up where I had left off.
In 1991 I started a project called “Caring for the Carers”, which was designed to give a break to those people who were caring for people with what we then termed “AIDS”, an incurable condition which almost invariably led to the death of their patients. It was a difficult task both physically and emotionally. My little project grew in popularity and escalated from monthly outings to weekly ones and by 1996 I regularly arranged theatre outings for these wonderful men and women (often with their patients if they were well enough to enjoy a trip to the theatre). Theatre managements were exceptionally generous. Percy Tucker, Daphne Kuhn, Pieter Toerien, Bernard Jay (with Big Concerts at the time), Janice Honeyman (at the then Civic Theatre) and many others generously gave us tickets. The Market Theatre was no exception.
In February 1999 I discovered the internet. I started writing about my experiences on the South African Google Group under the pseudonym Moira, the Faerie Godmother, then on Artslink under my own name and now for my own blog, Artscomments. I loved documenting the productions I had enjoyed.
Sometimes I would persuade my father to see a show with me, and when he died I often felt bereft as I remember places we visited together, but never more so than at The Market Theatre where I first walked hand in hand with him back before it was a theatre as we bought bags of oranges and boxes of naartjies in winter, apples in autumn, carrots and beans and gemsquashes and soft, ripe plums in summer (or worse, just under-ripe ones to tempt one to risk a tummy ache). We never visited the City Deep market together for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that my mother died in 1975 and the last years of her life were not filled with bulk produce processing.
My memories of The Market Theatre include the Gramadoelos Restaurant and the wonderful hospitality of Brian Shalkoff and Eduan Naude.
Most recently I attended the launch of a history book of The Market Theatre. The esteemed panelists were chaired by Robyn Sassen, theatre journalist, with people such as John Kani, Malcolm Purkey and one of the co-founders of The Market Theatre, Mannie Manim. They discussed interesting things. What a privilege to still have Mannie Manim with us to make his contributions to the legacy reverberate down through the decades.
Forty years is a respectable length of time in the brash new city of Johannesburg, but it is still a young entity. Newtown, the area in which The Market Theatre is located is earmarked by the city planners as a cultural precinct. The reality is that it is not the most sought after piece of real estate. Newtown Junction has helped with the provision of safe parking for The Market Theatre, and also provides a place for patrons of the theatre to get a bite to eat before the show. Degeneration of a suburb can take place bit by bit over time, but the regeneration of an area needs massive commitments and huge investments. I sometimes wonder if Newtown will make it. I fear not. It is too widespread for comfortable hopping from one venue to another. The city either hasn’t got the capital or the will to turn it into a truly wonderful precinct that oozes excitement. The Market Theatre is a critical factor in whether the area will live or die. We still need huge amounts of funding to make the rest sizzle – particularly in the fields of contemporary dance where the Dance Umbrella and New Dance Festivals should be taking place.
The Market Theatre is a happening place. I hope Newtown will follow suit, spurred on by The Market Theatre, which will, in turn, benefit from a revived cultural precinct.
I take this opportunity to wish The Market Theatre management and staff well in the present and into the future.