Lusaka playhouse celebrates 50 years

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By Ackson Tembo LUSAKA – June 9, 1958 marked the birth of one of Zambia’s renowned theatre houses, commonly known as the Lusaka Playhouse (LPH). Though it is difficult to credit any single person with its establishment, construction was facilitated by an initial grant of ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚£5 000 from the Beit Trust through its then chairperson Sir Alfred Beit and a further financing from the Roan Consolidated Mines (RCM), which made its own substantial donation for the construction of the Lusaka Theatre Club. Lady Benson, wife of Sir Arthur Benson, the then Governor of Northern Rhodesia, laid a foundation stone for the building of LTC at the vacant plot allocated by the Lusaka Municipal Council to the Garrison Theatre, next to the then Ridgeway Hotel (now Holiday Inn) at stand number 2637 Church/Nasser. Thereafter, construction started, culminating in the official opening on June 9, 1956 by Joyce Grenville, a British movie star whose brother was the chief executive officer for RCM. The club officially opened with an inaugural play, And So To Bed, which was produced by Dorothy Martin. Over the years, the club has had its own experiences and was never spared from the effects and impact of colonialism – which made the place exclusively white populated until the 1960s when the emerging black leadership found ways of opening it up to multi-racial representation. Former President Kenneth Kaunda, who once served as patron for the club led emerging black Zambians – albeit mostly being civil servants to patronize the theatre club before the early 1970s when there was a jump-start on locally produced productions. In recent years, the club has gone through different management and experiences – some inspiring, others not. The economic decline that characterized the country spanning over two and a half decades did not spare the club as well as its mostly youthful membership. There was no support to the arts for a long time and this has impacted on both the theatre club’s performance and its infrastructure. Ironically, this is an important historic piece of architecture, which has played host to various memorable occasions – including the hosting of the Cultural Night for the Commonwealth Heads of State in 1979. It is also fair to state that in the absence of a cultural centre in the city of Lusaka, this could be one of the areas to be given the highest consideration. As the patrons prepare to celebrate its Golden Jubilee therefore, the Lusaka Playhouse would want to recall the glorious moments over the past 50 years and possibly honour those who have contributed greatly to the success of the club. It is also an important occasion to look more to the future and start to explore the abounding potentials that the club can provide to economic development within the context of cultural tourism. An array of activities are in the offing to commemorate 50 years of the existence of Lusaka Theatre Club, and artistic activities will culminate into a week-long mix of events during August 20- 26, 2006, with an all-day event being hosted on August 26. Though there is a departure from the date of its “birthday”, the additional time is vital to ensure a more inclusive and elaborate celebration of theatre in Zambia, particularly the contributory role that the Lusaka Playhouse has played and continues to play.