Theatre’s History

1955 the Welkom Management Board got together and decided that Welkom needed a civic centre and ran a national architectural competition for the design of this centre. It was to have an office block, Banqueting hall, Town hall and a clock tower. Later in 1961 Mrs. Marie de Plessis, wife of the administrator of the Free State at that time convinced the Board to build a fully equipped theatre rather than just a town hall. In 1964 construction started. The constructors were Lofty’s and Architects were Jake Bernett & Roy Kantorowich. The whole complex cost in the region of 3   1/4 million rand. The Ernest Oppenheimer theatre was named after Welkom’s founder, and was designed to meet the needs of a modern theatre production. It was indeed one of the most modern theatres in our country at that time. It was the first theatre in the southern hemisphere to have a toilet for paraplegics as well as space for a wheel chair on either side of the auditorium. The ticket office was originally operated from the clock tower, then from the municipal building, none of which were successful. Then finally the main foyer’s tuckshop was converted into the current booking office. The wood for the foyer was imported from Austria as well as the glass tubes in the foyer and the chandelier in the auditorium. Once again a another competion was held but this time it was for the design of the Tapestries, the theme being  “birth of the arts through diamond and gold”, as that is what Sir Ernest was known for. The two main tapestries were designed by Eleanor Esmondè White from Cape Town and woven and manufactured in France. The top foyers tapestries were designed by Cecil Scottness, also depicting Diamonds/Gold The Spotlight Bar was originally the bottom foyer where the tuck-shop was situated, but the manager of 1995 had it converted to the Spotlight Theatre Bar as it is known today. Before the theatre was opened the shows were performed at Welkom Club. The theatre was officially opened on 15 February 1968 by Mrs. Martie du Plessis. The opening production was a well known Operetta “Bedelaarstudent”, lead roles were played by Gê korsten and Leanor Veenemans. The theatre manager was Mr. Ernest Henrico, Dennis Emmenis was the lighting technician at first and in 1976 he became the new theatre manger. Mr Peter Murrell in 1995 and Dulcie Holtzhausen who later became Harris took over in January 1996. The whole complex has copper roofing, which looked very beautiful and maintances its beauty as it gets older. The only problem with copper is that with our extreme seasons the copper expands and contracts which in result the sealing becomes a problem and thearfore leaks badly, damaging all the beautiful woodwork etc. The council replaced all the copper roofs in the complex in 1999  The civic centre is built on water, the reason being that of tremors, shakes and even earthquakes are absorbed in the water. In 1976 Welkom suffered a severe earthquake and many buildings were damaged and even collapsed. But the Theatre had very little damage, if any at all.   The theatre seats 708 people, 172 in the balcony and 536 in the stalls. The auditorium was specifically designed round without a centre aisle and wood paneled walls for acoustic reasons. The black mahogany wood panels don’t touch the concrete wall. The upholstery and thick carpets also provide ideal sound conditions. Above the opening of the stage one can see slits, there once were speakers positioned there for surround sound purposes. But as technology advances other technologies become obsolete. Siemens were the company that designed the sound for the theatre. A very unusual feature for a theatre built more than 30 years ago was the little seat lights, although today more and more theatres are using them. They are mainly used for program reading, The follow spots were originally inside the crystal chandelier (which is the most dominating feature in the auditorium) but turned out to be impractical, as the angle was too sharp, so they were moved right to the back were they are now. Special provisions had being made in the auditorium to allow both hard of hearing and paraplegic to enjoy the performances. Special places provided for wheelchairs and headset in row F for the deaf. The fire curtain is a safety curtain, which by theatre rule should be let down an hour before the show starts and taken out 5 min before, as the majority of your audience should see the curtain going out. It should come down during interval and again after the show. The fire curtain was one of the first in the world to have a design painted on it. This together with the tapestries is what Anglo, as a company contributed to the theatre. The orchestra pit is designed with 2 individual moving lifts, so if you prefer you can only use one of them. The pit is large enough to accommodate a full orchestra of 50 members with instruments. To this day the theatre has never had a fatal accident

%d bloggers like this: