- Arts, Cultural History, Human Rights, and Society
In 1972 a young South African photographer named Brian Astbury decided to look for a bigger studio so his actor friends could do plays: he would name it The Space. The â€œslightly bigger studioâ€ became a three floor building, which would evolve to become the first professional non-racial arts venue in South Africa and during itâ€™s seven year reign win international acclaim and commission over 300 plays. It didnâ€™t come without a price and the sacrifices were many. Through in depth interviews, archive footage of the time, Brian Astburyâ€™s beautiful photos documenting life inside the theatre plus the vibrant music of the underground jazz and funk artists of the day we aim to craft a powerful documentary that celebrates its achievements and asks the question, â€œCan the arts be a force for change and what role does it play in todayâ€™s global community?â€
- Show treatment
Using archive footage, photos and interviews we define Apartheid and its segregating laws. We hear what it was like growing up under such a violent regime from both sides of the colour line and the post war generationâ€™s growing unease with the brutality of their government. In 1963 a white teacher named John Harris set off a bomb in Johannesburg station.
â€œThat was in a sense a voice from white south Africa about the injustice that was prevalent in the whole country under Apartheidâ€ â€“ Athol Fugard.
In Response to this act of violence Athol Fugard began working on his adaptation of Orestes with Brianâ€™s wife and actress Yvonne Bryceland. Orestes changed Brianâ€™s life forever and laid the seeds for what would become The Space.
This young sheltered â€œcountry boyâ€ then follows his wife out to London immersing himself in the cultural freedoms and excesses enjoyed by the 1970â€™s emerging artists at that time. He would go back to South Africa with his mind made up and give the creativeâ€™s what they continually pined for: â€œA space to work inâ€
â€œI never forget that period of time it taught me an awful lot about what happens inside societies when the idea whose time has come arrivesâ€ â€“ Brian Astbury
Brian comes back to South Africa and is amazed by everyoneâ€™s enthusiasm. We talk to people around Brian at that time as they remember this old three-story building slowly evolving into a fully functional arts venue. Fatima Dike who championed and sponsored by The Space would become South Africaâ€™s first black woman play write to have her work published remembers her disbelief at seeing all these white people â€œworking for nothingâ€.
1972, The Space Theatre opened its doors to mixed race audiences and mixed race casts. Athol Fugard who at first was sceptical about Brianâ€™s idea would end up writing a play especially for the opening night entitled â€œStatements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Actâ€ a play based on a law that forbid people of different colour having sexual relationships. It would hammer The Spaceâ€™s colours to the mast and set it on a collision course with the authorities a battle that would last throughout its seven years.
â€œThis was theatre in the raw!â€ â€“ Dermod Judge
We look at these first three years and celebrate the artistâ€™s positivity under the severest conditions of censorship and political oppression. British playwright Donald Howarth remembers championing the work coming out of The Space and instigating a run of their work at Londonâ€™s Royal Court along with the subsequent Tony awards in the US for â€œThe Islandâ€ and itâ€™s all African cast all of which went on to increase awareness of the brutality under Apartheid.
There is a distinct change in tone now as we move through to the late seventies and what Athol Fugard called â€œ South Africaâ€™s darkest daysâ€¦â€ We cut to brutal images of the 1976 riots. Brian remembers the production of Beckettâ€™s Endgame and a realization that when times were harsh audiences wanted to escape from reality. We look at the various tactics The Space used to get bums on seats and the increasing tensions amongst the company as passions rose.
Ultimately in a non-subsidised theatre, no government money, ever increasing violence on the streets, TV growing in popularity along with the relaxing of the segregation laws, due in part to the risks The Space took, the tensions began to take their toll on Brian and the company. We explore the enormous dedication that The Space demanded of its company and ask â€œWas the artistâ€™s burn-out inevitable and is it the responsibility of each generation to pick up the baton?â€
â€œWhere people are gathered together because they want to say something, they want to tell a story they believe inâ€¦ if you leave that there is inevitably a sense of betrayalâ€ â€“ Brian Astbury
In 1979 Brian Astbury left to follow his Wife and actress Yvonne Bryceland to London and The Space closed. We hear from others about Brianâ€™s massive contribution and the man himself on his painful decision to leave.
â€œBrian was the space and what Brian had in abundance was courageâ€¦â€ â€“ Athol Fugard
Brian Astbury recalls the play Imfuduso by the Women of The Crossroads that attracted international interest and grew spontaneously from a community with no previous theatrical experience or urge.
â€œIt was the closest I have ever been to the roots of theatreâ€ â€“ Brian Astbury
Fatima Dike and Brian Astbury visit the townships today as we ask the question â€œCan theatre still be a mouthpiece for the people?â€ â€œCan theatre be a force for change?â€
â€œThe space helped me to dissect and understand my role I had to be strong I had to fight to keep on talking that gave me that confidence and ability to be able to say what was in my heart without fearâ€ â€“ Fatima Dike
- in development
- Prod. Co.
- Mark Street Film and Time Bomb Pictures Ltd
- United Kingdom
- Years of Production
- London, Cape Town, Johannesburg
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