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BRYAN HILL FOR TEATRO (article first published : 2007-01-28)

The theatre industry is abuzz with news of the most exciting development in four decades – the construction of a 1,900-seat Lyric theatre in the suburban area of Fourways, which will stage one of the world’s largest and most successful shows in history as its opening production – The Lion King. Appointed General Manager of the Teatro, Bryan Hill will be responsible for the management and commercial success of the Teatro at Montecasino.

Bryan Hill has been actively involved in the South African theatre industry for the last 25 years as a performer, director and choreographer. His career took him from the Department of Musical Theatre at the Natal Performing Arts Council in Durban, based at the Natal Playhouse, where he cut his teeth working behind the scenes on major musical productions over an eight-year period, to his appointment as Artistic Manager of The Playhouse’s supper theatre venue, to his return to Johannesburg, where he directed Stages Of Love, Circle Of Life, Sophisticated Ladies In Concert and Sondheim on Sunday for SAAFA & AIDSLINK.

During this period he worked closely with local and international directors and choreographers on several productions including Showboat, Crazy For You, West Side Story, Buddy, The King And I, Fiddler On The Roof, Summer Holiday, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar In Concert and The Wizard Of Oz. He then spent six years as Dance Director for Richard Loring’s African Footprin, travelling to the four corners of the globe with one of the most successful touring productions ever to come out of South Africa. On his return, he was appointed Resident Director of We Will Rock You, which played to audiences in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban last year.

Commenting on his appointment as General Manager of the Teatro at Montecasino, Bryan says, “It’s a rare privilege to be involved in a new theatre in South Africa, and particularly in a commercial theatre that will create such incredible opportunities for the theatre industry of which I have been a part for two decades.”

“The Teatro brings to South Africa a completely unique theatre environment. It will be a receiving house for productions, and part of my responsibility will be to source suitable productions from around the world. It’s incredibly exciting, because the theatre is essentially a blank canvas, with no inherited infrastructure. Today’s productions are so technically advanced and specialised that everything, from sound to lighting to equipment, is brought in. The Teatro will provide a basic rig that will accommodate certain events, and in the case of theatre productions, technical teams will simply be able to plug in the specialised equipment required for each show.”

This will provide enormous opportunities for growth in technical expertise in South Africa. “There is a big gap in the market in terms of technical personnel, and, through the skills transfer that will happen on highly technically advanced productions such as The Lion King, our technical expertise in this country will be expanded. The Lion King is very exciting for South Africa, as it requires extremely specialised skills, which currently don’t exist in South Africa. Through these learning opportunities our local technicians will become internationally competitive.”

Bryan is proudly passionate about the theatre, which is the largest in South Africa and one of the 10 largest Lyric theatres in the world, conceptualised under the direction of renowned international theatre consultant and designer and an ex President of the Society of London Theatre, Martin McCallum, and designed by London-based The Arts Team.

“The Teatro is an incredible venue,” Bryan adds. “A South African theatre with 1,900 seats is very unique and, even more unusual is the fact that, despite the number of seats, the proximity of the furthest seat to the stage is no more than 30 metres. This represents an incredible feat of design, and I believe that the comfort and finishes of the Teatro will prove to be just some of its talking points.”

As an industry stalwart, Bryan has seen theatre evolve over nearly three decades and believes that a new theatre will be a catalyst for growth for the entire industry. “Theatre is an interesting phenomenon. Despite the odds, the Civic Theatre has survived in Braamfontein and helped to build a new generation of theatre-going audiences. I believe the same will be true of the Teatro at Montecasino. We will see people coming to The Lion King who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre. Your first experience in theatre is one you never forget.”

Commenting on the prospects for theatre in South Africa, Bryan says, “Theatre faces the same challenges in New York, London or South Africa. It’s an ever-evolving animal which can surprise one with its capacity to adapt. In New York, theatre took a knock after 9/11, but today Broadway is doing the best business it has done in 20 years. The success of a theatre is based on its location and the product it offers. I have great faith in local theatre and I believe that we need to educate audiences and bring them in; find a product to stimulate and encourage audience growth and they will come.

“It’s been very interesting to watch the move to provide entertainment out of the city centre, moving from urban to suburban. As an entertainment destination, the Teatro is unsurpassed, allowing people to come to an all-encompassing destination – offering the visitor secure parking, a wide choice of entertainment options, a variety of restaurants, and a show.

“I believe the Teatro will be a tourism generator. Many of the productions that will be seen on the Teatro’s stage won’t be seen in the rest of Africa, and will undoubtedly be promoted north of South Africa. The two hotels on the property – one offering five-star accommodation, and the other offering business class facilities – make it a perfect leisure destination in its own right, and a stopover en route to other destinations in South Africa. Jo’burg will truly become an international gateway and the theatre will allow the province to tap into the tourist market and domestic travellers.”

Bryan has been tasked with the critical job of sourcing and securing suitable productions for the Teatro. “I’ll be liaising with local producers and, understanding the uniqueness of our market, looking to source productions from the theatre capitals of the world. The challenge will be to procure productions that will bring large numbers of people into the culture of theatre. People have become more discerning about how they spend their money, given the myriad of choices open to them, and the product we offer at the Teatro has to be of the very best quality. Our vision is that the Teatro becomes known for the quality of the shows it offers. The casino industry is far removed from its former reputation for simply putting on a show. The entertainment in Las Vegas is among the finest in the world, and the same will be true of the Teatro, which will host productions that you can’t see anywhere else in Africa. Cirque du Soleil has almost become synonymous with changing the face of entertainment in Las Vegas, and we would like to see the Teatro do the same for Johannesburg.”

While the Teatro looks set to become renowned for large-scale international productions, the local theatre and music industry will play an important role in the success of the theatre and will provide opportunities for commercially viable local productions. “While we’re looking to source the best of the productions on the West End and Broadway, they won’t be staged back-to-back. Musicals have a specific appeal, but there are extraordinary types of shows that will appeal to different audiences. In between the big shows, the Teatro will provide a venue for smaller events, from launches and concerts to comedy, television specials and even ice shows. The more variety we can offer, the bigger the target audience we can attract to become theatre-goers. We are even looking at providing children’s theatre during the day during peak holiday seasons,” says Bryan.

In conclusion, Bryan says, “The investment of R100 million by Tsogo Sun into the Teatro at Montecasino has ensured a bright future for the theatre industry in South Africa, with increased job opportunities for performers and technicians and the potential to expand our theatre-going population through the strategic acquisition of varied and diverse productions that will appeal to many different markets of all ages and demographic groups.”




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