The old Fugard Theatre will open its doors again, this time as part of a bigger Homecoming Centre, which will include the District Six Museum, the current District Six Homecoming Centre and the office space above.
The new Homecoming Centre will launch as a cultural hub on Wednesday June 1 with an exhibition by Beathur Mgoza Baker and Sara Bint Moneer Khan, called Salon Afrique – a Homecoming Reimagined.
The building and the exhibition will then be open to the public on the First Thursdays event on June 2.
The iconic Fugard Theatre closed its doors in March 2021 after it was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and was handed back to the District Six Museum Trust.
The acting director of the District Six Museum, Chrischené Julius, told the CapeTowner that since the Fugard Theatre closed its doors, the museum had been approached by a number of prospective tenants, however, they decided to bring Neighbourgood onboard in the beginning of 2022.
Neighbourgood are the developers who turned the Old Bank Hotel and the Old Townhouse Hotel into co-living and working spaces called Neighbourgood Reserve and Neighbourgood East City, respectively.
She said the theatre section of the building was returned to the museum at a financially difficult time for the institution, which also faced a threat of closure due to the pandemic. “The experience of nearly having to close our doors in 2020 meant that we have been very clear that our goal is to remain sustainable and to generate an income that covers operational costs; creates a secure working environment for staff; and keeps our doors open so that our public programmes and work with District Sixers, local schools and universities continues.”
She said they were relying on Neighbourgood’s experience as property managers to ensure that the building is filled with tenants, events and productions. “The museum’s network is extensive and they bring along their own network. They work closely with us in identifying prospective tenants who speak to the museum’s values, but also our need to become sustainable.”
The aim of the new Homecoming Centre is to be a cultural hub, providing space for artists of all forms to hire. “The building provides the opportunities for new tenants, productions and events to use the space in ways that support the performance and events industry in Cape Town, but at the heart is a cultural space that reminds us of what District Six was – a culturally rich area in which ballet, opera, theatre and performance was a part of daily life.
“We would love to hear the sounds of the Malay Choirs and Klopse resonate through the building, which is still very much located in what was District Six. We would love to see younger audiences and businesses, who supported the museum during the lockdown, make use of the space and draw on this rich legacy of inclusion and creativity.”
On a tour of the building, Jon Inggs, co-owner of Neighbourgood, told the CapeTowner they wanted to help the District Six Museum turn the precinct into a multi-cultural centre while keeping the essence of the institution’s educational programmes and culture of the people of District Six.
“We want to make this space one for everyone without getting in the way of the core value of the District Six Museum Trust.”
He said the building benefited from minor renovations to open up the space to make it more versatile and accessible.
He said after the Fugard Theatre’s owners left, they had donated most of the equipment to the museum, so a complete overhaul was not needed.
In the lobby of the theatre, Societi Cafe was brought in as a tenant to provide food and snacks. The space was also revamped and opened up to create informal seating areas. The cafe will cater for all events at the precinct.
The spaces inside the Homecoming Centre have also been rebranded, using names reminiscent of District Six. The theatres will be called the Star Theatre and the Avalon Auditorium, after the bioscopes of District Six.
The studio and gallery spaces will be called Bits and Pieces, after a klopse group from District Six, also known as the Odds and Ends.
Kitchenettes on each floor will also be opened up to service events in the different spaces, and the community lab studio will also be revamped. There is also a recording studio that will be made available for hire.
The hall which was previously known as the Homecoming Centre will also undergo some renovations to make the space more accessible from Buitenkant Street. The space will be called Tafel – named after the phrase “gooi ‘n tafel”, referring to the tables that were laid out by families for celebratory occasions, symbolic of coming together and sharing.
“We chose names that are reminiscent of District Six and we want it to directly link it to the culture.”
Ms Julius added that the building precinct has always been called the Homecoming Centre and it spoke to the homecoming of former District Six residents through the restitution process, and the ongoing intention to use the space to support that process.
“It also speaks to a broader need to create a space of welcome and homecoming in a city that can still feel alienating.”
While the space is yet to be launched, Mr Inggs said there were shows already booked till the end of the year.
He said all work done to the building has been done around the history and core values of District Six. “We have to fit the programme of the District Six Museum around the theatre. First and foremost, this is a heritage site and a place for spatial redress.”
He said all the money generated will go to the District Six Museum Trust.