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CATALINA CELEBRATION (article first published : 2003-12-10)

Friday, December 12, is a very significant day for hardworking Durban theatre personality, Themi Venturas. It is the official opening of the three festive season shows at the Catalina Theatre in Wilsons' Wharf, the Catalina Theatre itself celebrates its first birthday and it is ten years since Themi left the Playhouse Company to start his own production house, Themi Venturas Productions.

The busy Catalina Theatre will have three shows running over the festive season - a daytime family show, an evening musical comedy and a late night adults-only production.

FOUR GUYS NAMED JOSÈ: Four Guys Named Josè opens on Friday. It is billed as "an Hilarious Hysterical Hispanic Musical Comedy Romp!" The hysterical Gonzalez family from the former smash-hit Cantina Tequila is back with a new festive season offering which involves the making of a budget Latino movie with the Four Guys Named Josè playing a cast of thousands!. The show combines great festive family fare with a wacky story-line and the swinging rhythms of the Gypsy Kings. Sultry, passionate flamenco dancing is provided by the Linda Vargas Spanish dancers and there is some side-splittingly funny comedy and song. The show features members of the original cast: musical comedy favourites Arnie Field and Clinton Philander are joined by Lwazi Mkhize and Alan Bowen as the four Josès with Marion Loudon as Josita. The live musical accompaniment will be led by acclaimed Spanish guitarist, Demi Fernandez.

THE BOY WITH A CLOWN'S HEART: During the day, Aldo Brincat will stage his new production: The Boy With A Clown's Heart, a fresh, new show full of fun and excitement, that opens for the holiday season on December 11 with two performances daily at 10h00 and 12h00. This delightful new work pools the mime and acting skills of multitalented Aldo Brincat (CaveBrats) with the ace musical innovations of Anton Cawthorn-Blazeby (Landscape Prayers), under the creative and zany direction of David Gouldie (Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company). The play brings to life a tender yet contemporary story about a dull man who crosses paths with a mysterious, tiny (really tiny), little boy. It's a bit like Tom Thumb meets Bart Simpson meets Grumpy Old Men, all on the way to self-discovery! "We encourage families to come to the Wharf for breakfast, catch the show and perhaps stay on for peddle boat ride or a mime workshop with Aldo," says Themi. Tickets R25 include a boat ride.

UNCUT: THE PENIS MONOLOGUES: The third show that the Catalina is presenting is a late night adults only production: Uncut: The Penis Monologues, from December 12 to 28. Perfect for a post-dinner jol or pre-clubbing buzz, it stars Clinton Marius and is directed by Garth Anderson. This entertaining, raunchy and sometimes contentious staging from Copy Dog Productions offers a frank look at male sexuality and the differences between men and women. It has been revised and shortened since its opening season in September. The production, for adults only, includes nudity and graphic language, and is not for the faint-hearted. Performance times are Wednesdays to Saturdays at 10h45 and Sundays at 20h45.

CLASSICAL CHAMPAGNE CONCERTS: The final production on the Catalina Festive Season calendar is the Catalina Christmas Classical Champagne Concerts scheduled for December 21 at 12h00 featuring Durban opera singer, soprano Stacey Almond, who heads a cast of seven superbly talented classical musicians in a feast of Christmas music old and new. Tickets R50 include a glass of champagne and finger snacks.

"We have consciously wanted to offer something for everyone this festive season," says Themi who has carefully created his festive season package to cater for family audiences and late-night festive season revellers. The Catalina Theatre has had a wonderful first year having had 25 productions on the boards over a 12-month period. Artistically the shows have all been of an excellent standard with the reviewers giving them between 8 and 10/10 in their theatre ratings. We have consciously varied the genres - from comedy to music, from drama to musical theatre. We have managed to source an eclectic mix of quality productions and we intend to do the same for next year."

Among the highlights of the first year was the Greek Festival, the delicate two-hander Baobabs Don't Grow Here, and the high-energy raucous The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr Abridged. This was so popular that the Catalina is bringing it back again next February with the same talented handsome cast of Steven Stead, Neil Coppen and Michael Gritten.

Themi has had a busy decade. Since being retrenched from the Playhouse Company where he initiated their then-comprehensive community outreach project, Kwasa, which staged monthly community arts festivals in the suburbs in and around Durban, he runs one of the key theatre and events production companies in the region. Themi Venturas Productions have been responsible for some of the major corporate events seen in this city over recent years - from the opening of the ICC to the International Ports and Harbour Convention to the Africa Peace Awards where Nelson Mandela was honoured.

Themi himself has also developed a reputation for directing opera in association with Opera Africa and has brought with him his theatrical experience and musical theatre knowledge to put a distinctive stamp on those operas which he has directed. This has allowed them a distinctive new, often contemporary and African feel with a strongly cross-cultural context. He has been involved in productions of The Magic Flute, Carmen, Faust and the much talked about Princess Magogo. Themi is facing his biggest opera challenge next year when he directs La Traviata with Angela Gilbert and Jannie Moolman.

In his years in operation, Themi has worked with virtually all the leading figures in the Durban theatre industry: Lisa and Aaron; Natasha Sutherland; John Vlismas, the Gee Jays; Jerry Pooe; Garth Anderson; Nathi Kunene - the list is endless. Themi has also been active in nurturing emerging talent and many of the current generation of arts practitioners have risen through the ranks of Kwasa and early TVP - including the late Collin Nhlumayo; Hamish Kyd and Thabane Ngubane. Themi has been responsible for some of the productions which have become synonymous with theatre in Durban - from the ever-popular Good Vibrations, to the watershed Guitar that Rocked the World; to an array of impressive Shakespeares.

Themi's commitment to theatre in this region is immense and multi-faceted - apart from staging shows and directing productions, he is also an arts activist campaigning to improve the situation for the performing artists in a non-subsidised environment. Themi has been the chairperson of the KZN Chapter of PANSA (the Performing Arts Network of SA) for the past year, and has been involved in the launch of the umbrella body for performing and visual artists countrywide - NACSA (the Network of Arts and Culture South Africa).

For more information and to book for all Catalina Festive Shows phone 031 305 6889.




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