Durban’s theatre community to celebrate the life and career of Themi Venturas

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Themi Venturas

THE KwaZulu-Natal theatre community will be coming together on Tuesday, September 26 to celebrate the life and career of stalwart, Themi Venturas, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer two weeks ago.

Curtain Up will take place in the Playhouse Opera Theatre from 6 pm. The celebration will include performances, memories and tributes celebrating his life, featuring many of his colleagues and friends.

The term ‘curtain up’ has a myriad theatre references, based on the moment when the front curtain is raised and the show begins. In this instance, however, the organisers are referencing the first show Venturas staged for the Young Performers Project in 2001.

They want to remember the past, and acknowledge that it is not the end of an era, but that his influence will continue well into the future through his work and legacy, and through all the lives he has touched.

Colleagues, supporters, family and friends are invited to attend and to bring a plate of eats to share after the performance in the Playhouse foyer. The Playhouse bar will be open.

Those who attend are also asked to bring a stone or pebble, which will be fashioned into a stone memorial to honour Venturas at a place which has great personal significance to him. Guests are welcome to write a message or tribute onto the stone should they wish.

Entry to Curtain Up is free. In lieu of flowers, there will be a donation box to support the work of the Highway Hospice.

Venturas had a long and impressive career, during which he managed theatre houses, established production companies, supported local industry, created employment opportunities and provided crucial up-skilling in the arts and culture sector in Durban and South Africa.

In 1984 he was employed by the then University of Natal as the head of productions and theatre manager of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

During this time many young performers were set on the path to working professionally in the industry including Thabo Mnguni, Tiki Nxumalo, Bongani “Pillay” Ngwenya, Mthunzi Namba and James Ngcobo (award-winning stage and TV star currently the artistic director of the Market Theatre).

Six years of teaching and management at UKZN saw the establishment of the EST Theatre Company which saw him actively involved in creating work with many disadvantaged students including jazz musicians, Lulu Gontsana, Zim Ngqawana, Feya Faku, Jerry Kunene, Brian Thusi, Concorde Nkabinde, Johnny Mekoa, Victor Masondo and Andile Zwane and established theatre professionals Alfred, Patti and Tu Nokwe, Brenda Radloff, Celeste Litkie, Mark Faith and many others.

During this time he was also an active member and treasurer of the erstwhile Theatre Alliance of Natal (TAN) – an organization created by the UDF and COSATU to look after the underground interests of the disadvantaged theatre community.

From 1990 to 1993 we worked as the community programme co-ordinator of the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC), later to become The Playhouse Company, creating the Kwasa internship programme which trained many of South Africa’s successful black performers.

In September of 1993, Venturas took voluntary retrenchment from the Playhouse Company and started his own company, Themi Venturas Productions, which is in its 25th year of existence.

As an artistic director he worked on the historic Zulu opera Princess Magogo Ka Dinuzulu, composed by Mzilkazi Khumalo from a book by Themba Msimang and adapted for the opera stage by Venturas. The production toured to the United States, Norway, and the Netherlands.

More recently he directed Ziyankomo, And The Forbidden Fruit composed by Phelelani Mnomiya from a book by Themba Msimang and adapted for the opera stage by Venturas.

He also created the first ever Gospel opera, The African Passion that toured South Africa in 2013, and most recently directed the world premiere of Mashu, the musical written by Lucky Cele at the Playhouse in Durban.

Venturas is survived by his wife Trish and his two sons, Matthew and Alexander.

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