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THE CATALINA (article first published : 2002-10-5)

Durban theatre fans have very exciting times ahead - a stream of varied, quality entertainment is being scheduled for Durban's newest theatre, The Catalina, currently being built on the new Wilson's Wharf development at the Yacht Mole and officially opening in December. The brainchild of local theatre personality Themi Venturas, The Catalina Theatre and Conference Company, to give its full title, is named after the catalina aircraft that were common in the area in the 1930s. It will be a 180-seater theatre featuring sloped seating and a stage 10m long, 6m deep and 3m high.

Positioned above the Zack's restaurant being built on the wharf, the Catalina will feature a bar and balcony area with floor-to-ceiling windows, offering stunning views of the yacht mole and city skyline. Venturas envisages decor as being upmarket, predominantly timber, with aircraft-like seats. All going to plan, he hopes to feature a 3D cut-out of a catalina aircraft which will run at the back, and across the full width, of the theatre. The catalina cut-out's wings will house the theatre lighting rig and the cockpit will accommodate the lighting control booth. The Wilson's Wharf development, incorporating a craft market, various restaurants and al fresco dining areas, is set to open on the weekend of December 6 to 8.

The theatre will open soon after with a week-long return season of Green Mamba, the excellent, refreshingly un-PC comedy by John van de Ruit and Ben Voss. The production is currently packing in the crowds at Durban's Square Space Theatre, where ticket demand is such that the season there has been extended until Sunday.

Running simultaneously with Green Mamba at the Catalina will be a new children's play about frogs, directed by Peter Court and set for matinee performances. After Green Mamba, the Catalina is likely to spotlight Andrew Buckland and Lionel Newton's highly acclaimed physical theatre classic, The Well Being.

Thereafter scheduling is loose, although Venturas is confident about gaining the acclaimed Baobabs Don't Grow Here and also Decadence, both popular at the recent Natal Witness Hilton Arts Festival. Later next year, he hopes to stage an American production of the acclaimed drama Art directed by former Durban theatre personality Murray McGibbon, who is now based in the US.

Also in the pipeline are a Venturas-directed production of the gay drama Torch Song Trilogy, likely to star Peter Court; the Kevin Feather musical revue Duet 2 Me One More Time and an original show, The Bushveld Train, which Venturas describes as "a sakkie sakkie musical".

Peter Court would also like to direct Equus at the theatre later next year. Venturas is also planning regular intimate concerts featuring the likes of Syd Kitchen and Madala Kunene, the Aquarian Quartet, Steve Newman and Tony Cox.

"Another concept I want to explore is Breakfast With a Beat, offering breakfast and entertainment." Late-night independent film screenings are also on the cards, along with a wall of remembrance honouring contributions to theatre by local personalities.

And plans are afoot for the Catalina to introduce the Youth Theatre Institute, offering youngsters tuition in the arts every Saturday morning, with a view to them staging two productions a year at the waterfront venue. Top priority, however, is to negotiate for sponsorship of seating in the theatre. Venturas is appealing for sponsorship, at R2500 a seat, from companies and/or individuals. "In return for their patronage they will have their name on a plague on the seat and will be entitled to a season ticket for three years, as well as preferential booking for selected productions."

Anyone keen to sponsor a seat in the Catalina should contact Venturas's offices on 031 201 9242. Billy Suter




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