Theatre on the Bay is closing its doors on Saturday, April 21, for four months of renovations. The theatre is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Reflecting on the past 30 years, theatre veteran, Pieter Toerien, has expressed his immense gratitude and appreciation to the patrons who have been supporting them.
“I have been so fortunate and privileged, the loyalty of the audience in the past three decades is something I do not take for granted,” said Mr Toerien.
Having started his career at the tender age of 17, Mr Toerien has brought numerous productions to South African theatre stages during his illustrious career.
One of his fondest memories is the night the theatre opened in Cape Town. Everyone came wearing formal attire with bow ties.
“I get goosebumps thinking about the day, it was one of the most phenomenal nights, it was magical, it’s extremely special out of a lot of very special moments, it was a dream come through,” beamed Mr Toerien.
He said he has been very fortunate because he has liked everything he’s done and has been privileged to not have to do certain shows.
“I started theatre at a very dark time in South Africa, during the apartheid regime, so many of us wrestled with our consciences, many white people fled the country and I decided to stay because I believed running away would not help and I wanted to be part of the change.”
Mr Toerien said so many writers overseas did not want their shows to be produced in South Africa because of the political situation at the time.
“It was a very dry period theatrically, we couldn’t get shows and many writers throughout the world correctly called for an end of apartheid in South Africa.”
Touching on highlights in the past three decades, Mr Toerien said there are key plays and musicals that stand out.
“I remember on opening night of Equus, the show ended in dead silence. I panicked for a few seconds because I thought the audience didn’t like it, but no, they were stunned and there was this sudden pause before they started clapping, cheering and screaming, even the actors were stunned by the reaction,” said Mr Toerien.
On challenges that he’s encountered over the years, Toerien admits that there have been periods where he thought the theatre wouldn’t survive.
“When we started the theatre in 1988, it had 400 seats but because of the large audience that we lost due to politics in the country, we ended up reducing seating capacity to 250 in 1998 and made a restaurant to fight a declining audience.”
Mr Toerien said the arrival of M-Net and DStv was also a slap in the face. He said there were nights where they had to close the theatre because people stayed at home and watched TV.
“There was a show called Dallas, it showed on Tuesday nights and every Tuesday theatres across the country were closed,” recalled Mr Toerien.
Looking back at the shows and musicals he has staged, Mr Toerien said he has had the privilege to work with only the best of the best.
He said even though there have been a few mistakes here and there where they’d cast a wrong actor for a certain role, he is proud of the work he has done.
“At the age of 20, I worked with the famous actress, Marlene Dietrich, she was the ultimate professional, she taught me timing and professionalism, only the best was good enough for her and this is one lesson I’ve been applying to this day,” he said.
Thirty years later, Theatre on the Bay is opening a school for drama students. Mr Toerien said artists nowadays need to learn what he calls the triple threat: singing, dancing and acting.
“Directors from overseas always get disappointed when an artist can only do one out of the three. An artist should be able to do the three in order to have a brighter future.”
Toerien said drama schools in South Africa are not bringing out the finished product that is needed by theatres, so they will offer a three-year course that’s going to teach the students all aspects of theatre.
The school will start in January 2019 and they will take 40 students.
Mr Toerien said the school and the theatre are his gifts to the Mother City. The theatre will be refurbished in the next four months to make it look more exciting for the audience.
Mr Toerien has promised the audience entertainment, a mixture and diversity as they plan to encourage a young audience to come when they reopen.
“Theatre on the Bay will still be alive and kicking in 30 years to come, but I worry about the future of theatre in South Africa; that’s why I want to
make it ‘cool’ for young people to come in and enjoy the theatre experience.”