Tribute as Sybil’s star dims

Sybil Sands with entertainer Alvon Collison at this year's Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards.

The Cape Town theatre community has lost a mother, a mentor and a legend.

Camps Bay resident and artist agent Sybil Sands, who passed away on Friday October 14, will always be remembered for her passion for the arts.

Her son Russel Sieff said his mother always had time for everybody.

“It was an honour and a privilege for me to share my mother with so many people. She was like a mother to the theatre world.”

Mr Sieff said his mother’s artist agency started at a venue just off Long Street called The Space Theatre 45 years ago.

It was a place where people from all walks of life would gather even during the days of apartheid.

“It was a place that used to get raided by the police many times. She had been helping with a documentary about The Space Theatre before she passed away,” said Mr Sieff.

“She was a mother to all and honest as the day is long. She was a brilliant negotiator and always got the best price for her artists,” added Mr Sieff.

He said that he was incredibly proud of his mother’s achievements in the theatre industry. He thanked The Fugard Theatre for always keeping his mother in the loop.

It just takes one look at her list of awards to see the impact she had in the industry.

Among Ms Sands’ list of awards is a Fleur du Cap lifetime achievement award and a Cape Film Commission lifetime achievement award. She was also a lifetime member of the Personal Managers’ Association.

At any given time, Ms Sands would be managing over 80 artists.

Pieter-Dirk Uys said he got to know Ms Sands during the 1970s. He said that The Space Theatre between Bloem and Buiten streets, just off Long Street, was where a generation of young and not-so-young South Africans cut their theatrical teeth on the hard realities of finding freedom of expression in apartheid South Africa.

“A heartbeat of the Space Theatre was the little coffee bar where we could all sit a bit and gather our breath and courage to climb every new dangerous mountain. And there would be Sybil Sands sitting at her usual small table, with her big grey phone with the maroon handle, plugged into the treasured link to Telkom and the world.

“That’s where she started her theatrical agency and we were all her first clients.

“That was 45 years ago. Since then Sybil and I would meet at opening nights of other artists and huddle together in the foyer and remember those old days of the struggle to be brave.

“And while Sybil seemed to get tinier by the year, her spirit and her love for theatre and all who sail in it was gigantic. I treasure the beaded wire stars she presented me after a new show’s opening.

“In a world of today where most dreams end after a few years of disappointment, Sybil proved that hard work, commitment and guts allow dreams to come true. That’s when the work starts to create new dreams with energy, courage and a sense of fun. Sybil Sands showed us how and never demanded her 10 percent!”

Vredehoek actress Terry Norton said she worked for Ms Sands for a short period when she came back to Cape Town in 1995.

“I had big respect for Sybil.

“She never seemed to age and was always at opening nights and was a wonderful supporter for actors.

“An agent like her is gold. She was tiny but she’s been a giant in the industry.

“You could always phone Sybil and she had time for everyone. She was enormously caring and genuine.”

Mike de Beer, who handles the publicity at Theatre on the Bay, said Ms Sands was a formidable, strong, yet demure figure.

“In the early 1980s, Sybil sat behind a table on the first floor of The Space Theatre, Long Street, right next to the lift shaft.

“To view at a glance were all our CVs and then early Z-Cards for reference.

“Extreme early morning hours regardless of weather, ensured her selected cast members arrived on time for transport to their location and destination. We were always paid on time immediately regardless. Sybil was no ordinary agent.”

Ms Sands is survived by her children Russel, Rozelle Abramson, her daughter-in-law Tayana, and grandchildren Julian, Alexia and Tai Abramson together with her theatre family.