The Alhambra Theatre is one of Johannesburg's oldest buildings and it has been closed for 20 years.
The theatre was previously owned by Pieter Toerien, who bought it back in the 1980s and had to sell it because it wasn't making enough money to keep its doors open. Now, the theatre is planning to reopen as another addition to Johannesburg's blooming creative culture.
Renney Plit, Gordon Cook, and Thobile Chittenden are working hard to bring the old building back to life, and we spoke to Thobile about what they're planning to do with the gem.
Joburg then and now. The once grand Alhambra Theatre and the fully revived Ponte residential building. Beautiful colour by @eugeneulman #Repost #discoverjoburg #johannesburginyourpocket #johannesburg #joburg #architectureJoburg then and now. The once grand Alhambra Theatre a… pic.twitter.com/LTTGnkIrSL— Johannesburg In Your Pocket ?? (@JohannesburgIYP) June 15, 2018
Thobile explains that the project started off when property mogul, Renney Plit decided to buy the theatre to use it as an arts and culture hub. She describes Renney as a man who "believes in uplifting communities and inner cities". He realised during his work in the inner city that there weren’t enough youth centres or even schools, so he partnered with Thobile and Gordon to the very space that the city needs.
“Gordon and I cover background, advertising and marketing; and we believe in creativity and the impact that creativity brings in our nation and specifically to the youth," Thobile says, explaining the dynamics of their partnership. "We met with Renny and all three of us aligned of the vision of perhaps turning Alhambra which has been closed for 20 years, and creating a space for youth to express their creativity and to develop their creative entrepreneurial skills. So that’s the focus: creative and entrepreneurial thinking for the youth of Johannesburg.”
The trio found that over 93% of public high schools don’t have access to arts education. There are a number of issues that learners have to deal with, so the last thing they think about is art; especially when it's not offered as part of the curriculum in school.
Thobile says that they decided to open up Alhambra as an after-school centre. This program is part of their ReimagiNation Foundation which focuses on art education for high school learners, and it will run a pilot at the end of July 2018. Kids can come to Alhambra and have access to a multi-disciplinary, Afrocentric curriculum that exposes them to art subjects like music, drama, arts, and design.
Apart from the ReimagiNation program that will run in the afternoons, the team hopes that Alhambra will bring to life the creative aesthetics of Johannesburg by making the space available to corporate organisations, schools, and the community to use as a venue for various events. Because it was originally a bio-scope, Thobile says that they plan to host movie nights on a monthly basis to showcase upcoming African filmmakers.
"We want the space to really be a collaborative space and we really wanna interact with other developments, specifically in the inner city," says Thobile. “We still have a lot of renovations to do, but we see us having a café, and a music and dance studio, so there’ll be lots of different spaces.”
A number of things still need to happen before the grand opening of the theatre. According to Thobile, they're hoping to officially open the theatre in September 2019. If all goes well, the theatre will open in the year that it turns 100 years old, but this all depends on the funding that goes towards the theatre's revamping. The focus for now, however, is to kick-start the ReimagiNation program.
Here's a video of what the theatre looks like inside:
If you would like to make a donation or contribution to the renovation of the Alhambra Theatre, email Thobile Chittenden at email@example.com
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