Maynardville Open-Air Theatre
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The Maynardville Open-Air Theater is an outdoor theatre in Maynardville Park, Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa. It seats 720 people and is known for its annual Shakespeare in the Park plays.
Before it was named Maynardville, the land where the park now sits was government ground, first administered by the Dutch East India Company and after 1795 by other British authorities. In July 1807 two young officers of the Cape regiment, Lieut. Louis Ellert and Lieut. Ernst Egger, married two sisters named Gertruida and Catherina Baartman. Just prior to his marriage, Ellert was granted a piece of land adjacent to the camp, where he built a cottage named Rosendal. The uneven ground was levelled and cultivated by slaves on either side of a stream known as the Krakeelwater, which flowed through the small estate. For several years Ellert and his wife shared the house with her sister and husband until, in 1810, Egger decided to purchase a piece of ground adjacent to Rosendal for his own use. Ellert was later killed in the war on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony, but because he had transferred ownership to his wife, the widow Ellert continued to manage her small farm after her husband's death.
Her brother-in-law was not so efficient in his farming operations and this, coupled with his extravagant life style, forced him into bankruptcy. His land was not lost to his family, however, because his sister-in law purchased his property. To do this and to support her large household, the widow Ellert took a bond on the property from a Cape Town businessman named James Mortimer Maynard.
In 1836, Maynard took over Rosendal from the widow Ellert, who had become insolvent. He later bought another property from her to make up the site for his home, Maynard's Villa. Maynard died on 9 September 1874. As he failed to produce an heir, his estate went to his nephew, William Mortimer Maynard Farmer, who was already an established business man.
Farmer married the daughter of Major Richard Wolfe, then resident magistrate and civil commissioner of Wynberg. Their daughter Enid married John Bernard, a major in the Royal Marines; they had two sons, Gerald and Brian. Enid Bernard died in 1949 and Maynardville was immediately sold to the Cape Town City Council, to be preserved as a public park. The historic but dilapidated homestead was later demolished by the municipal authorities in 1954.
The theatre had its origins in late 1949, when an influential Cape philanthropist, Margaret Molteno, submitted an application for municipal permission to convert the little-used park into an open-air theatre for ballet performances. She had been inspired by a recent visit to Regents Park Open-air Theatre in London, and intended to use the project as a means of funding schools and teacher-training colleges for underprivileged children on the Cape Flats.
A successful approach to the then Mayor of Cape Town, Mr Abe Bloomberg, resulted in permission to use the premises. Mrs Molteno had the grounds overhauled, and facilitated the pro bono services of the Municipal Orchestra, Principal Dulcie Howes of the UCT Ballet School and Dean Erik Chisholm of the College of Music as conductor. The theatre officially began operation with the successful performances, in December 1950, of Les Sylphides, St Valentine's Night and Les Diversions. The money raised from this and later performances went to fund a pre-primary school in Athlone as well as the establishment of the Athlone Teachers’ Training College – the country's first college for coloured teachers of pre-school children. Unusually for South Africa at the time, Maynardville had also been successfully preserved as "Open to All" and free from segregation, a possible reason why the theatre's strongly anti-apartheid founders had chosen it in the first place.[note2 1]
In 1955, after five years of successful fund-raising ballet performances, Mrs Molteno approached the well-known South African actresses Cecilia Sonnenberg and Rene Ahrenson, and invited them to establish Shakespearean seasons. After initially declining, the actresses eventually agreed to accept the project on her insistence. Rene and Cecilia then enlisted the support of the Councillor A.Z. Berman for the necessary infrastructure. With a new and renovated stage and raked auditorium, Rene and Cecilia contacted Leslie French, an English stage and film actor, whom they had invited to South Africa only months before, to come to Cape Town to direct and act in the theatre's first play. The play chosen was The Taming of the Shrew, which opened a few months later in 1956.
In the ensuing years, the Shakespearean seasons grew into the immensely popular annual tradition of "Shakespeare-in-the-Park", which has made Maynardville famous. After decades of serving as the public face of the theatre, Cecilia and Rene retired in the mid-1990s, and most of the theatre's drama department closed when they left. However, the park still maintains its ballet performances and Shakespeare series through the Maynardville Theatre Trust, which was created after Cecilia retired.
The park today
Maynardville has been designated as a "priority park" by the City of Cape Town, which means it has a development framework in place, spearheaded by the Maynardville Park Action Committee. This includes repairs to the facilities, incorporating the Wynberg library, creating a new gateway entrance, upgrading Rosendal Cottage, developing the historic avenue around Wolfe Street, and constructing a new pavilion.
- P. Chrimes (2 December 1950). "Crit & Pic, page 16.". Cape Times.
- "Arts Page, Official Opening of the Maynardville Ballet". Cape Times. 27 November 1950.
- "Arranged for Athlone Nursery School". Cape Times. 1 December 1950.
- Cape Times, Arts Supplement. 1950–2012. p.14 (var.)
- Athlone Training College was established under the auspices of Barkly Training College for Nursery Education. Structural alterations were undertaken and courses began in February 1952.
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