The Cape Town Gilbert and Sullivan Society serves the community theatre of Cape Town by staging both Gilbert and Sullivan operas and West End Broadway musicals to critical acclaim, both in Cape Town and overseas, thereby providing opportunities for young performers, singers, dancers and technical crew to develop and hone their skills in a high performance environment.
The Society is entirely reliant on ticket sales for funding and has no subsidies from government or private sector. Its business model for the last fifteen years has been to present two musicals and one Gilbert and Sullivan opera in every three year cycle, using the income surplus gained from musicals to cover the opera costs, and to allow occasional participation in a competitive overseas festival, thereby publicising Cape Town to an international audience and raising both technical and performance standards.
The Cape Town Gilbert and Sullivan Society was founded in 1947 with a staging of The Yeomen of the Guard in the Cape Town City Hall. The Mayor of Cape Town at that time agreed to be appointed, ex officio, as the Honorary President of the Society, and all subsequent Mayors of Cape Town have held this position.
Since its inception, the G & S Society has produced at least one, and sometimes two operas or other musical works per year in and around Cape Town. For many years it performed in smaller venues such as the Labia Theatre, the Hofmeyr Theatre, and various Civic Centres, but since 1983, when on the strength of the high standard of its productions it was offered a season at the then relatively new Baxter Theatre, it has done its main production each year either there or at Artscape. We now alternate Broadway musicals with the G & S genre in order to cater for wider tastes, and have achieved great success with recent productions such as My Fair Lady, Annie, and Fiddler on the Roof, all three of which played in the Artscape Opera House. Productions are done entirely on a community theatrical basis, that is, no performer is paid, and directors and specialist technicians are given honoraria only. Except for the annual donations which the Society makes to such enterprises as the music programme of the Amy Biel Foundation Trust, to the Cape Amateur Theatre Awards, and to the Cape Eisteddfod, any surplus income from productions is retained and put towards the costs of future productions.
In 2005, the Society was invited to bring its production of The Pirates of Penzance, which played to 97% houses in a three-week season at the Artscape Theatre in June of that year, to the annual International Festival of Gilbert and Sullivan in Buxton, Derbyshire, England. It won the award for the most animated chorus, and generated great interest in South Africa from the international audience, which gave a standing ovation to the performance after we sang the Xhosa song, Bawo Thixo Somandla at the curtain call. Our High Commissioner, Her Excellency Ms Lindiwe Mabuza, flew up from London for the performance as the guest of honour of the Festival Director, and was so impressed with the production that she found sponsorship for the Society to return to Buxton in 2007. On that occasion, the lead singers in our production of The Gondoliers won the award for the best duet. In 2012 we travelled to Buxton again, this time with our production of The Yeomen of the Guard. We were honoured to be placed second in the overall international competition, as well as gaining the awards for the best costumes, and for the best concerted item – a four voice madrigal in the second act.
However, the really important aspect of the Society’s work is that over the years it has given opportunities to Capetonians throughout the community, several of whom have gone on to make a career in professional theatre, i.e. variously becoming leading theatrical performers, singers, designers, technicians and arts managers in their own right.It is also pertinent to mention that we have in many of our productions we have given practical opportunities to students from educational institutes such as Northlink College and the Waterfront Theatre School. In addition, we have, in an attempt to expose and interest young people in more classical forms of music, sent small groups who have given illustrated lectures to various high schools in the Peninsula.
Since our founding in 1947 our auditions and membership has been open to all, and although we do not keep records of the ethnicity of our members, we can confirm that over the years, many of our members have been artists and technicians from previously disadvantaged communities.
We are very proud of the fact that in 2007, our diamond jubilee year, we were given a “Molteno Gold Medal” by the Cape Tercentenary Foundation for our lifetime service to the performing arts in the Western Cape.