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DEATH OF DENNIS RUBIN (article first published : 2003-05-6)

Well-known playwright, director and producer Dennis Rubin died this morning aged 61 after a long and courageous battle against the ravages of diabetes.

One of the stalwarts and most pro-active members of the Durban theatre industry, Dennis was born in Durban in 1941. He attended Penzance and Highbury primary schools and eventually matriculated from Northlands Boys High.

Close friend in Dennis’s early years, chartered accountant Tony Berman fondly remembers that as a youngster he was always arranging “song and dance shows on the lawn and even found hard board material to use as a stage.”

Dennis Rubin lived in Durban all his life and played under-18 Junior Tennis for Natal when his mixed doubles partner was Virginia Wade who went on to become a Wimbledon Champion. In 1975, he won the Natal Bowls Men’s Fours Tournament and was also chairman of Circle Bowling Club. He was very active in the heydey of the Durban Jewish Theatre Club which invariably put on top quality productions.

For 20 years, Dennis Rubin ran the Durban Theatre Academy which was based at DHS and up until the time of his death, at least 1,000 children benefited from his generous teaching.

The Durban Theatre Academy grew from the Durban Theatre Foundation’s Academy run by Sandra Herrington under the auspices of the Little Abbey Theatre spearheaded by Pamela Perry. Founded in the early 1980’s when fringe theatre was at its peak in Durban, the Little Abbey was situated on the corner of Commercial Road and Albert Street.

“Dennis was a father figure to all of us, always totally focused on the students he was dealing with and ready to spend endless time on any problems we might be experiencing - not only in acting but in our personal lives, too,” says Peter Barnard (15) who was one of Dennis’s top pupils and had been with him since he was 10 years old. “He is irreplacable and I will miss him terribly. The actors who passed through The Academy have done wonderfully well and now where will we go?”

In 1982 Dennis Rubin became insulin dependent. Six years later, he went into renal failure and had to be dialysed three times a week. In October 1999, he had his left leg amputated. However, the spirited energy that once saw him as an active and successful sportsman continued to the fore despite the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair.

His wife of 35 years, Esmè, was a tower of strength to him by assisting in the running of the Academy and offering support in all his projects. Dennis’s trusty assistant Wiseman Mthembu, who invariably accompanied him on any outings such as major theatre functions, worked closely with him in a programme Dennis had started recently at Westville Prison, teaching Drama and English.

“Dennis’s strongest points were his sense of humour and the fact that he just opened his heart to the whole world – anybody and everybody no matter age sex, colour, creed and religion. He was just there for every single person,” says Esme. “I think his most successful production was The Rope which went to the Grahamstown Festival followed by Freddie the Frog which had performances for 10 years in Botanic Gardens.”

The Rope was a one-woman show which starred Michelle Driman. The first time she met Dennis was to audition for the production.

“I was terrified!,” she admits. “Within five minutes he had me feeling like I had found an old friend and we chatted endlessly about ourselves, the show and life in general. He gave me an incredible belief in myself and the confidence to get on stage and perform a piece of work that he had so artfully constructed. His warmth, determination and strength of spirit were so apparent in everything that he did and our first three months together were a myriad of invaluable pep talks, sometimes 'risqué' jokes and brilliant discussions on life, love & Esme's cooking. My love life became one of his favourite topics, to be discussed with me and anyone else in a 100m radius!

“His sense of humour and enthusiasm were contagious and he gave me a sense of courage that I will carry with me always. Esme and Dennis became like a family to me and for that I will always be grateful. I will miss this extraordinary man dearly and hope that one day I can pass on some of the profound lessons that he taught me."

Well-known actor and director Garth Anderson of the Actors Co-Operative also paid tribute to Dennis Rubin’s considerable talents: “Dennis was a very dear friend of mine and I held the greatest respect for him as an educator, dramatist and director,” he says. “He had a love for the theatre which transcended all his physical problems and many, many young people who went through the doors of the Durban Theatre Academy certainly benefitted from his generous spirit and his vast knowledge of the theatre. We shall miss him.”

Dennis leaves his wife Esmè, daughter Toni-Lynn and son Richard (nominated at the age of 13 for a Vita award for March of the Falsettos) as well as two grandsons. His funeral will be held at the Red Hill Cemetery in Durban North tomorrow (Wednesday, May 7) at 10h00. – Caroline Smart




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