A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

drama
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MCMURTRY TRIBUTE TO PROFESSOR SNEDDON (article first published : 2005-11-30)

Tribute to Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Sneddon by Professor Mervyn McMurtry, head of the Drama and Performance Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal:

In 1925, The Natal Mercury reported that a “young Durbanite won a distinction as an elocutionist which is worth recording”. For three consecutive years she won the highest honours in the elocutionary section of the London College of Music examinations, and in that year had “excelled herself by obtaining the maximum marks (100) in the Associate Section, which entitled her to the Gold Medal yearly awarded to the highest placed student in the Dominions”. She was 17 years old, attending the Ladies’ College, later to become Durban Girls College, where she was Head Girl and Dux. That pursuit of excellence was to characterise her life and career.

In 1972, a praise poem was composed for that “Durbanite” by Mrs Victoria Sefatsa of Umlazi. The following lines, extracted from that praise poem, aptly describe her ability to use her expertise for the benefit of others, whether a member of a royal house denied access to higher education or a young child with a speech impediment: O Patient and valiant One…/You are the fountain which is always/Brimming with cool water, to quench/The thirst of princes and their subjects,/Who drink with joy, laughing and/Shaking their heads with pleasure…/You are the bush which will bear/Roses and never be killed by the sun./You are the flame which burns/When others cannot…

That “young Durbanite” was Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Sneddon, who passed away on November 24, 2005, a woman frequently, and fittingly, described as a doyenne of theatre, and a forerunner in education, in South Africa.

Professor Sneddon began her career as a teacher, with an MA in English from Glasgow University, a Postgraduate Diploma in Pedagogy from London University, and a Licentiate from the Royal Academy of Music. Between 1935 and 1946 she was, with Mabel Palmer and Florence MacDonald, amongst the first to initiate university classes for black, coloured, Indian and Chinese students at Sastri College, for a BA degree from the University of South Africa. In addition to teaching, she opened her own speech studio, which she ran for 15 years, and soon became increasingly involved in the city’s theatrical activities, directing a succession of plays at the Theatre Royal, the Criterion and Arthur Smith Hall.

In 1935, she founded the Shakespearean Society, the Durban Drama Society a year later. She was a co-founder of the National Theatre Organisation in 1947, and established the Durban Theatre Workshop Company in Durban in 1951. When the NTO was dissolved in 1962, she assisted in forming the Performing Arts Councils, and was on the board of the Natal Performing Arts Council until 1972. During her lifetime, Professor Sneddon founded, built or adapted eight theatres and directed more than 70 productions in Durban, particularly plays by Shakespeare, the playwright she most loved.

In the firm belief that Speech and Drama is “a basic tool in the development of all children’s powers of thought, imagination and communication”, she established the Speech and Drama Association in 1943; the Association is still active, and more than 50,000 young people participate, annually, in its festivals in Junior, Primary and High Schools. After lecturing part-time at the then Natal University College, she was, in 1946 appointed to the headship of the Department of English.

By 1949 she had established the Department of Speech and Drama; to its credit and owing to her indefatigable energy and relentless persistence, the now University of KwaZulu-Natal was the first tertiary institution in South Africa, indeed in the whole of Africa, to recognize drama as an academic discipline. The department opened in 1951 with seven students and one small room on the third floor in City Buildings. The basic syllabus she developed was adopted by other institutions, and many of her former students became heads of drama and leading academics at national and international universities. Her manual Speech Training for You is still in use, as far afield as universities in the United States of America.

She taught much more than ‘speech’ and ‘drama’; she focused on humanity, on what she regarded as ultimate values, on each individual’s potential to use communication to develop into a full and complete being. Her influence was enormous, the range of work she undertook daunting, from her input into the production of Umabatha, which opened at the Open Air Theatre she helped to build on campus, before its record-breaking run at the World Theatre Season in London in 1972 (which inspired Mrs Sefatsa’s praise poem), to the International Communication in Action conferences she organised, to her 20–year service as Lady Warden of the University residences, to her many, and mostly unknown, humanitarian efforts.

She retired as Head of the Department of Speech and Drama in 1972, but retirement did not mean she retired from promoting the cultural life of our city and the value of drama in education. Largely through her endeavours, Speech and Drama was first accepted as a matriculation subject by the Joint Matriculation Board in 1977. She was a founder member, and chairman from 1984 until 1993, of the Durban Arts Association. She initiated the Face to Face Youth Festival in 1989, replaced by the National Creative Arts Youth Festival, which she headed from 1994.

Among the numerous awards she received were the State President’s Order of Merit, Civic Honours of the City of Durban, and a D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) from the University of Natal; our University also named its largest theatre after her in 1981. Perhaps, however, she found other accolades even more significant. On her retirement, she said:

“One of the most charming tributes I ever received came from a clergyman who in presenting a token of his appreciation inscribed in the book the following: ‘I asked her to teach me to speak. She taught me to think, to feel, to live,’ and concluded with an extract from Ecclesiastes – ‘Judge no man before you hear him speak. For speech is the trial of man.’ Mine [she continued] is in fact the oldest profession in the world, even older than the so-called ‘oldest profession’, and I am delighted to say: If you love life, then it’s the field for you. It will lead you, as it led me, because I love people, and I care about the quality of what they do, and what they make of their lives, to a far deeper appreciation of life’s possibilities than I might otherwise have had.”

Her “flame” will continue to burn on through many, many people of all ages and races in whom she instilled that “deeper appreciation of life’s possibilities”. For establishing the Department of Speech and Drama in 1949, for inspiring so many people to think, to feel, to live life to the fullest, for a life devoted to fostering communication at the highest level, our humblest gratitude, and deepest sympathy to your loved ones, Mervyn McMurtry and staff, Drama and Performance Studies, UKZN.

Professor Mervyn McMurtry, University of KwaZulu-Natal. 24 November 2005




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart