Loves and life on the Garden Route in South Africa

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KAROO DIARY: Show Time in Prince Albert! September 19, 2014

Filed under: Explore,Karoo,Movie,Out & about,PrinceAlbert — shadreyer @ 8:01 am
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Love this blog on Prince Albert’s theatre

Karoo towns are never the first choice for those seeking the bright lights.

Prince Albert, though, is an exception. It’s worth waiting until dark to drive down the main road and wait until the magic moment just after dusk, when the neon outside the Showroom Theatre flickers to life, highlighting its distinctive Art Deco lines.

Prince Albert's brand-new Showroom Theatre - Art Deco in the Karoo.

In fact, this entire theatre is something of an anomaly. What is something this sophisticated, this classy, this cutting edge, doing in a Karoo town? More to the point, why is a 140-seater theatre thriving in a small dorp when professional theatres in big cities are struggling?

The Showroom is the dreamchild of Johnny Breedt, a movie designer whose work you may have seen in Hotel Rwanda, Paljas, Catch a Fire, the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency and most recently, the award-winning Long Walk to Freedom.

Co-owner Johnny Breedt in his country theatre dream-come-true.

He has just finished on the first film he has directed, Die Ontwaking, starring Gys de Villiers.

But Johnny’s first love was the stage. He started in theatre long before he got into movies, and he’s always dreamed of having his own.

Johnny bought a house in Prince Albert 17 years ago. He had been shooting Paljas in Oudtshoorn and drove over the Swartberg Pass on a day off. He fell in love with the little town, and returned to the Karoo house often for holidays. Six years ago he moved there full time.

Three years ago, the obsession re-awoke in him to build a theatre, the perfect theatre. One that artists and audiences would love.

He and his business partner Charon Landman, previously from the construction industry and the woman behind the success of the Swartberg Hotel, started looking for land.

Initially they looked for property in the industrial area, but for a number of reasons, the right location never presented itself. But then an old building on Prince Albert’s main road came onto the market.

The foyer of the Showroom Theatre - elegant to the max.

It wasn’t anything you’d look at twice. Originally built in Victorian style nearly a century ago, the building had been changed with each new owner over the decades and its various incarnations as a tractor repair shop, filling station, general dealer, restaurant, home and Toyota dealership. By the time it came onto the market, its Victorian lines had pretty much vanished. There was a faint hint of 1940s elegance though.

Johnny and Charon picked up on the crude remnants of the Art Deco look.

“To me theatre and Art Deco are synonymous,” said Johnny. The name is a nod to its previous function as a car showroom.

The theatre is a visual wonder, thanks to Charon and Johnny intense personal attention. They hunted for the right furnishings, including the chandeliers and gorgeous mirrors. It is built for legendary status.

Johnny made sure the acoustics, sound and lighting are state of the art. With his experience of greasepaint and backstage, he made the loveliest ‘green rooms’ for performers, with well-lit mirrors, cupboards, toilets, a fridge.

“The performers arrive early because it’s such a great place to prepare for a show. You should see what artists have to cope with normally. A little curtain covering a spot in the corner of a room or sometimes even worse.”

At first they were approaching singers and performers. Nianell was their first, when they launched the theatre in November 2013 to a capacity crowd. Now performers are approaching them.

“We take 30% of the door and the refreshments. The performers take 70% and can sell CDs. It works pretty well.”

The show is not over until the luscious lady dances...

The Showroom opened in November 2013 and has eclipsed all expectations, attracting a steady stream of musicians, comedians and performances, from Valiant Swart, Matthys Roets, Chris Chameleon and Heinz Winckler to Daniele Pascal, Barry Hilton, acclaimed plays, classical pianists and violinists.

Once or twice a week, the Showroom Movie Club screens classic and art movies for R30 a ticket, which includes a drink.

The secret to the Showroom’s success is not only the audiences it draws in this town, or its unexpected glamour in a Karoo street, but also the fact that Prince Albert is an easy drive for a weekend away from Cape Town and George.

City people come and combine a show at the theatre with fine dining, visits to olive farms and local vineyards, and stargazing.

But Johnny doesn’t only want the larnies to benefit. Recently he brought in a group called the Jaloers Bokkies and gave away some complimentary tickets to policemen, hospital and prisons staff too.

And there are lots of plans. The Showroom people are plotting a Great Karoo Film Festival. And workshops on experimental theatre and film. The theatre is perfect for fashion shows and launches. Watch this elegant space….

Prince Albert village - always full of surprises.

About Julienne du Toit
Julienne du Toit and her husband Chris Marais run, the definitive website on the Karoo region of South Africa. They are also the authors of Karoo Keepsakes I and II (print) and have just launched their e-Bookstore on Karoo Space. They live and work in Cradock, in the Eastern Karoo.

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The Knysna Elephants

Great blog from the Knysna Woodworkers

The Knysna Elephants

DNA analysis has revealed the existence of five previously unknown, female Knysna elephants in the southern Cape, South Africa. This discovery provides cautious optimism for the world’s most southerly elephant population. Thought by many to be doomed to extinction, with fears in recent years that only one Knysna elephant, an elderly female was still surviving, the findings of a population study conducted using faecal DNA has revealed that the Knysna elephants continue to survive, despite formidable odds. The results ofthe population study, undertaken by conservation geneticist Lori S. Eggert of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Gareth Patterson, Knysna Elephant Project, have just been published in a paper in African Journal of Ecology, OnlineEarly version, 02 June 2007.

The decline of the Knysna elephants occurred over many decades due primarily to ivory hunting. In 1876 several hundred of these elephants were thought to exist, but under heavy pressure of ivory hunters were reduced to 20-30 individuals by 1908. In 1970 the Knysna elephant population was estimated at 11. In 1994 only one Knysna elephant was known to be still surviving, the elderly female.

In 1994, in an experiment to boost numbers three young elephants from the Kruger National Park were introduced into the range of the elderly female. One of the young elephants died of stress related complications soon after release. The remaining two elephants joined up with the elderly female for only short periods before choosing to spend 80% of their time in mountainous fynbos habitat beyond the Knysna forest. In 1999 the two young elephants were recaptured and relocated to the Shamwari private reserve in the Eastern Cape. The Knysna elephants were then declared by some to be almost extinct.

Lori Eggert’s conservation research focuses on using non-invasive techniques to provide information needed for the effective management of declining species, secretive or dangerous animals in particular. During her work in West Africa she developed a genetic censusing method for forest elephants usingDNA extracted from dung samples. Gareth Patterson has undertaken field research into the diet, range and distribution of the Knysna elephants since 2001. Knysna elephants are elusive and extremely difficult to see. To obtain important population data on these endangered animals, Eggert and Patterson teamed up to undertake the non-invasive genetic survey of the Knysna elephants.

Because fibrous vegetation eaten by elephants continuously scrapes cells from the intestine, dung is a good source of DNA. Genotyping of DNA from dung samples can determine numbers of individuals, sexes of individuals, the relatedness between them and the level of genetic diversity present in the population.

‘The Knysna elephant study identified that at least five females exist within the population, and two of the animals identified appear to be first-order relatives and that several others may be half-siblings. The results also suggest that the surviving Knysna elephants are closely related to the elephants of the Addo Elephant National Park’ says Patterson.

‘The genetic diversity of the Knysna elephants is lower than that found in most African savannah populations, and being such a small population this is likely to be a serious problem in the future unless measures to encourage out breeding are undertaken’ cautions Eggert.

Since the completion of the study, there is evidence that a Knysna calf was born. This and other evidence gathered in the field by Gareth Patterson, indicates that at the very least, one breeding Knysna bull is or has recently been present in this population.

The Knysna elephants are the only unfenced elephant population in South Africa. They range on National Park, provincial, commercial and privately owned land. Contrary to popular belief, the Knysna elephants are not confined, or restricted, to the Knysna forest, but also utilise mountain fynbos, successional and plantation areas.

Researched and compiled by Gareth Patterson

Photo Credits: Hylton Herd/Wilfred Oraai, SANParks


Fresh Knysna forest elephant dung, when found, is sold for about R300 a heap to community members who use this to cook a soup which is believed to have miraculous health benefits.

The elephants favour well-defined paths when moving from one area to another.  These paths are usually along ridges and always cross valleys and river beds by the easiest route.  The skill of the elephants has been envaluable to foresters who have frequently followed elephant paths when making tracks and roads.  The road through Bloukrans Pass followed an elephant track.

In 1920 only 20 animals remained.  Major P.J. Pretorius received permission to shoot one Knysna elephant “for scientific research” to determine whether or not these elephants belonged to a separate species.  The hunt went terribly wrong and after the hunt it is said only 15 elephants survived.

Sources:  The Elephants of Knysna, Nick Carter;  The Knysna Elephants and their Forest Home, Margo Mackay