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UTEL saves historic theatre productions for the archives

October 31, 2018

This may interest drama graduates...

The recently created University Television (UTEL), a project of the University Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO) and headed by experienced media director, Mr Jasper Cecil, was pivotal in preserving for posterity two iconic productions that played in the then vibrant Asoka Theatre on the Westville campus when it was known as the University of Durban-Westville.

Discovered by Professor Kriben Pillay in a cabinet after almost 30 years in storage, the tapes were about to reach a stage of being unusable due to mould that attacks the sensitive material.

The first production, Mr Bansi is Dead, dates back to November 1997 and is an adaptation by Pillay  of the acclaimed South African play, Sizwe Bansi is Dead, by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona. It featured theatre stalwart Dr Satchu Annamalai and the late Sherwin Christopher.

The second saved production is Side by Side Masisizane, which was the first original, full-length musical produced by the Department of Drama at UDW. Created by Merle Caminsky (director and choreography), the late Siva Devar of Isidingo fame (music) and Kriben Pillay (book and lyrics), Side by Side premiered on 9 May 1989 and was such a phenomenal hit during its 12-day run, that it was decided to have another run later in the year. This was another first for the drama department and this happened in August 1989.

The musical was ground-breaking in that it reflected on the changing racial demographics of UDW in the late 80’s and on a society in transition from the deep-rooted ideology of apartheid.

A third version entitled Coming Home, which now told the story in the context of exiles returning home, premiered at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 1993 as part of the main festival.

An off-shoot of this fortuitous preservation is that a revised version of the book The Drama of South Africa by Professor Loren Kruger, who is based at the University of Chicago in the US, will include a mention of the Mr Bansi production in its overview of the impact of the original, Sizwe Bansi is Dead.

‘After creating a YouTube channel dedicated to the theatre works of the UDW Drama Department and the Asoka Theatre, there has been a phenomenal response to the material posted there, which I hope will grow as we find more,’ said  Pillay, who lectured in drama at the former UDW for more than 14 years until its closure.

The YouTube channel can be accessed here:

If you require any further information, please contact Prof Kriben Pillay on email:

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