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DWR shines on a budget at Gibson Kente Theatre

DWR shines on a budget at Gibson Kente Theatre

DWR shines on a budget at Gibson Kente Theatre

South Africa:

With the final phase of new seating being installed, The Gibson Kente Theatre at Hudson Park High School in East London, in the Eastern Cape, is finally complete. The brainchild of head of drama teacher Pierre Perold, the ambitious project started off with a letter to the National Lotteries Commission including a commitment that the school would extend its outreach drama programme to Bhongolethu Secondary School. Construction commenced in June 2015, and after working around a pandemic and hosting fundraising campaigns, the stage is finally open to both the school and for hire to the public, while keeping to a smaller audience. Working within a very tight budget, the lighting rig was delivered and installed by DWR Distribution and comprises of a lighting bar, two Robe Robin LEDBeam 150s, three Robin Parfect 150s, eight Longman F4Ups and a dot2 by MA Lighting for control.

Romeo and Juliet presented by The Arts Theatre of East London in the new Gibson Kente Theatre. Photo courtesy Schuleeta Scholfield, SasiPix
Romeo and Juliet presented by The Arts Theatre of East London in the new Gibson Kente Theatre. Photo courtesy Schuleeta Scholfield, SasiPix

The 206-seater raked amphitheatre is named after the late playwright and director, Gibson Mthuthuzeli Kente, the father of Black Theatre and the township musical in South Africa, who is renowned for his role in addressing the injustices of apartheid through drama. Originally appointed as an English and Creatives Arts teacher at Hudson Park High School 15 years ago, Perold painstakingly went through a yearlong administration process to introduce drama as a subject. Once he had introduced drama to the school, however, he found it extremely challenging when putting on plays in the hall.

“The acoustics and lighting are normally a nightmare in a traditional school hall, and you are faced with many problems including how to execute scene changes and change backdrops,” Perold commented. “School stages really limit you to what plays can actually be performed. I am very adamant when directing students, to instil a sense of professionalism. I eventually knew that what I wanted, somehow, was to have a theatre built at my school so that I would no longer be hindered by the constrictive space of a school hall. I wanted an amphitheatre with raked seating, decent lighting and sound.”

Pierre Perold, head of drama
Pierre Perold, head of drama

With no budget to build a state-of-the-art theatre, Perold took a chance and applied to LOTTO, which also serves as a grant funder to non-profit organisations to establish projects that improve the lives of everyday South Africans. A year later, the school received news that it would be receiving over a million rand.

DWR Lighting designer Michael Taylor-Broderick specified the lighting, and along with Nick Barnes, installed the equipment just a few months before the Covid-19 lockdown was implemented in South Africa. A year later, when appointed to light Romeo and Juliet in the theatre and when presenting a lighting design workshop there, he sat as a practitioner instead of a supplier and realised how effectively the gear complemented the intimate space. The lighting offers sufficient flexibility and the dot2 platform is said to be easy to operate.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 has indeed thrown the proverbial spanner in the works,” added Perold. “But I am sure that once restrictions have relented enough, we will be able to mount a variety of productions.”

To date, the Gibson Kente Theatre has managed to have a few orchestra performances, two Disney productions, a DWR lighting workshop and a production of Romeo and Juliet presented by The Arts Theatre of East London. The greatest response to the theatre has been from the learners for whom it was made. Perold’s classroom is upstairs in the gallery which has a view over the theatre hall. “Mine are possibly the only drama learners in the country with a theatre in their classroom and I constantly remind them of this privilege,” he concluded. “Our aim is also to really reach out to communities that are not as privileged as we are and hopefully expose them to the arts, by having workshops and performances. Students from Bhongolethu will be given transport to the theatre as well as have a platform to share their talent under the mentorship of professionals.”



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