Makukhanye Shack Theater

Makukhanye Shack Theater

From its beginnings in Caracas, Venezuela, Urban-Think Tank has always been interested in operating at the peripheries, including where art, architecture, and other socially engaged disciplines meet. As a diverse team of architects, designers, writers, researchers, and artists now based within ETH Zürich, but pursuing projects throughout Latin America, Africa, and Europe, we seek to draw attention and resources to places and thinking that support a more diverse and equitable city.

Having worked for four years within Cape Town’s informal settlements, our theatrical production ‘Holy Contract’, a 2016 collaboration with the non-profit group Theatre4Change staged as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival, was the result of real stories that emerged through interactions with residents in the township of Khayelitsha. We approach theater as an alternative means of making and activating city spaces, and ‘Holy Contract’ was conceived as a form of artistic activism, intended as the first step towards building a new theater for the community.

Residents are currently rehearsing and performing in a small, self-built ‘shack theater’—the Makukhanye Art Room. Though modest, the venue is an increasingly important gathering space for dramatic productions, dance recitals, educational workshops, mentorship programs and community meetings. Despite its obvious deficiencies, it provides for an ever-growing audience and network of actors, musicians, dancers, writers, directors, and artists based in Khayelitsha, who find it difficult to access the cultural infrastructure that otherwise exists in Cape Town’s city center.

Initiated via a series of workshops run at the Makukhanye Art Room with Theatre4Change, and rehearsed in the same space, the production of ‘Holy Contract’ provided us with a behind-the-scenes perspective on the physical requirements for a new theater, in particular the need for a larger, safer, and more controllable space. A better-equipped and flexible facility has the potential to greatly expand the impact of the programs already underway, as well as improve access to the arts for all the residents of Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest informal settlement.

Our vision for a new theater and arts complex includes a 250-seat multipurpose theater space, a 100-seat performance pavilion, as well as integrated market stalls, offices, and rehearsal rooms. The lightweight, low-cost design seeks to remain sensitive to the surrounding area, while at the same time offering a visible symbol of hope and ambition for the community. With our fundraising campaign launched at the Schauspielhaus Zürich at the end of March, we aim to reach our total goal of 350,000 CHF within one year.