It is with great sadness that The Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) bids farewell to it’s beloved former trustee, ambassador and award-winning Theatre Great, Themi Venturas.

Themi Venturas at the 2016 ACT Awards

Themi has been battling pancreatic cancer for the past few months. He was moved to the hospice yesterday (Monday 11th September 2017) where he passed away at 8pm. Themi is survived by his wife Trish and his two sons Matthew and Alexander.

Themi’s contribution to the arts and culture industry in South Africa have been paramount and even in his last few days, he was still an active supporter of the industry. According to Caroline Smart, fellow Durban theatre practitioner and ACT Trustee, Venturas attended the entire performance of Footloose on the opening night at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. He had initially directed Footloose in 2014 and was now  supervising director Daisy Spencer’s revival of it. “It was the last production he saw in a theatre he loved” says local arts journalist Billy Suter.

Themi has had a long and impressive career, where he has been active in the Kwa-Zulu Natal theatre industry since 1984. He has managed theatre houses, established production companies, supported local industry, created employment opportunities and provided crucial up-skilling in the arts and culture sector in Durban and South Africa.

Last year, Jackie Cunniffe of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre started a Go Get Funding Campaign in order to raise money for extensive and on-going chemotherapy treatments that could hopefully prolong Themi’s life. Although the fundraising campaign raised R 303 240, 00 the sustained cost of the radical new treatments proved to be too great. As part of her campaign, Cunniffe detailed Ventura’s extensive and fruitful career:

Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre – University of Natal: 1984 – 1989

In 1984 he was employed by the then University of Natal as the Head of Productions and Theatre Manager of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. During this time many young performers were set on the path to working professionally in the industry including Thabo Mnguni, Tiki Nxumalo, Bongani “Pillay” Ngwenya, Mthunzi Namba and James Ngcobo ( Award winning stage and TV Star currently the Artistic Drector of the Market Theatre). 6 years of teaching and management at the University of KZN, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre saw the establishment of the EST Theatre Company which saw him actively involved in creating work with many disadvantaged students throughout Durban including such current & deceased luminaries like jazz musicians, Lulu Gontsana, Zim Ngqawana, Feya Faku, Jerry Kunene, Brian Thusi, Concorde Nkabinde, Johnny Mekoe, Victor Masondo and Andile Zwane and established theatre professionals Alfred, Patti & Tu Nokwe, Brenda Radloff, Celeste Litkie, Mark Faith and many others.

During this time he was also an active member and treasurer of the erstwhile Theatre Alliance of Natal (TAN) – an organization created by the UDF and COSATU to look after the underground interests of the disadvantaged theatre community along with struggle colleagues Kessie Govender, Mi Hlatshwayo, and Nise Malange.

The Playhouse Company – Kwasa: 1990 -1993

Under the guidance of TAN he applied for and became the Community Programme Co-ordinator of the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC), later to become The Playhouse Company, for four years during which time he was instrumental in creating the Kwasa internship Programme which amongst other things trained many of SA’ s successful and landed Black Performers including, Thabani Ngubane (CEO of Ingonyama Productions), Nothando Mbanda (Mam Gobozi on Gagazi FM, now owner of Ishashalazi Productions), Kenneth Kambule (Starred in Oscar nominated YESTERDAY), Eric “Rasta” Hadebe, the late Collin Nhlumayo ( Playwright of SKWIZA), the late Lindani Ngwenya (presenter with Group Africa) Gugu Mzobe ( Recently starred in JIMBO and SOPHIATOWN) Hamish Kyd ( Playwright and Performer) Mzwandile Kamaung (Actor and Opera Singer) the late Thabani Tshanini (lead actor in worldwide tour of UMABATHA) Thami S’kosana (actor, director) Tutu Goge (singer, actor in the New York Production of THE LION KING) and many more.

Themi Venturas Productions: 1994 till today

In September of 1993 he took voluntary retrenchment from the Playhouse Company and started his own Performing Arts Company (Themi Venturas Productions) which is in its 25th year of existence. At a time when most other theatre practitioners were leaving Durban for greener pastures he stayed and dedicated his career to the development of a performing arts industry in Durban. He went out of his way to create products that employed local artists and the lists of names of artists that have benefited from his tutelage reads like the who’s who of the Durban Performing Arts Industry.

Artistic Creations and Exports

As an artistic director he has been instrumental in the making of many of South Africa’s cultural exports including the historic Zulu opera PRINCESS MAGOGO KA DINUZULU composed by Mzilkazi Khumalo from a book by Themba Msimang and adapted for the Opera stage by Mr Venturas which has toured to the USA, Norway, and the Netherlands. More recently he directed ZIYANKOMO, AND THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT composed by Phelelani Mnomiya from a book by Themba Msimang once again adapted for the opera stage by Mr Venturas. He recently created the first ever Gospel opera called THE AFRICAN PASSION that toured South Africa in 2013. Most recently he directed the world premiere of ‘MASHU, the musical written by Lucky Cele at the Playhouse in Durban.

Corporate Theatre, Project management & Eventing

In the realm of corporate theatre, events and project management, Mr Venturas has vast local, national and international experience and is widely regarded as one of the ‘best in the business’. Amongst his many achievements in this arena he can include:

  • the ‘first’ opening of the Durban ICC,
  • the Durban International Festival of Music in Africa which later evolved into the Awesome Africa Festival under the direction of Dan Chiorboli,
  • the AFRICA PEACE AWARD ceremonies for ACCORD in the last 20 years also at the Albert Luthuli ICC,
  • the Durban Millennium Celebrations and World show,
  • the Association of Olympic Committees (ANOC) Gala show in Bangkok, Thailand 2014,
  • and the opening ceremonies of many conferences at the Albert Luthiuli ICC and the CTICC over the last 25 years.
  • The first ever Freestate/Madeira international flower show
  • Mr Venturas has been instrumental in the creation and management of the DURBAN INTERNATIONAL BLUES FESTIVAL, now in its 13th year, and a variety of other music and festival events throughout SA. He founded the Catalina Theatre at Wilson’s Wharf in Dec 2002 and temporarily saved the Kwasuka Theatre from closing in early 2006. He co-founded the Limelight Theatre in Umhlanga. In addition to numerous awards for acting and directing both at home and abroad, he has been awarded three lifetime achievement awards in the field of Arts and Culture, namely: The Fools Award for Lifetime achievement, The Ariel Award for lifetime contribution to the Arts from the PESF, and the Durban Theatre Judges award for lifetime achievement.

Civic Involvement

As a member of the Arts and Culture Community of KwaZulu-Natal he has tirelessly worked in various civic organizations on a provincial, national and international level. Themi was:

  • The Chairperson of the Dance and Theatre Network of KZN
  • He was the former National Chairperson of Performing Arts Network of Southern Africa(PANSA),
  • the elected representative for KZN for the National Minister of Arts & Culture’s Task Team for Dance & Theatre,
  • an elected councilor for KZN of the 60 member General Council of the Cultural & Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA),
  • President of the Alliance Francaişe de Durban,
  • a director of KEEP THE DREAM 144 t/a Catalina UnLtd which is a performing Arts production Company in SA which also runs the Catalina Theatre,
  • is a former Trustee and now an Ambassador of the Arts and Culture Trust of the President (ACT).
  • He serves as an Arts & Culture consultant to several international organizations and was the World Vice-Chair of the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee of the Athens Olympics 2004.

Fellow trustee and lifelong friend Brenda Sakellarides, head of the National School of The Arts had this to say: “Themi Venturas was a man of extraordinary creativity and unique vision. He blazed many a magnificent trail for others to walk on and to follow. Extending an ever-generous hand to countless artists, he ignited the joy of creativity in the very core of their being. Themi was a wildly gifted man; a philosopher, a writer, a director, a shape-shifter, a voice of wisdom, a wake-up call, an honest reflection, a painter of big pictures, a broker of possibilities and dreams, an actor, a muso, a doer, a believer, a loving friend and just a wonderfully down to earth kind human being who spoke with one voice to all people. A tireless champion and defender of the arts, his was a voice of leadership and direction for many. We mourn his passing, but know that a degree of immortality lies in his extraordinary contribution to the world –  Themi Venturas has left an unstoppable legacy! “

“The Arts & Culture Trust is deeply grateful to Themi for his long-standing service to the arts and culture industry in South Africa. We are honoured to have had such a generous and well-respected theatre practitioner serve as a trustee and later an ambassador for ACT. His knowledge, expertise and credentials were an asset to those he worked with and uplifted. ACT would like to take this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathies to the Venturas family and friends.  Themi will be sorely missed” says ACT CEO Marcus Desando.