The Market Theatre Laboratory is the brainchild of Barney Simon, the co-founder of the Market Theatre. The idea for the Lab was born in response to the needs of the community theatre sector for high quality training, and to provide a seedbed for the creation of new South African plays. John Kani, then Associate Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, raised funds from the Rockefeller Foundation to set up the Lab.

“I had a long held desire to create in platform in South Africa for young people who had fallen through the cracks of apartheid and who have been victims of Bantu education to find their voice to speak out about issues that concerned them and their communities – and to give them the skills to do this.” Dr John Kani

The Lab opened in October 1989 in a small warehouse under the highway in Goch Street, Newtown, where professional tutors ran practical as well as theoretical courses for aspiring actors. The Lab quickly became a platform for young artists to meet and engage creatively and collaboratively, first in apartheid South Africa and later in the new democracy. With the success of the drama school, other programmes were initiated, including the community theatre programmes which have resulted in the annual Community Theatre Festival and Zwakala Festival, which showcase performances from around the country and which have unearthed hidden theatrical talents.

Despite financial struggles, a tenacious team has made this humble institution a centre of educational and artistic excellence. Scores of Lab graduates are working in the theatre industry as actors, writers and directors, and many are household names in South Africa today.