Celebrating 30 Years Of The Waterfront Theatre School Aiming #Higher
Updated: Mar 10
This year we are proud to celebrate the Waterfront Theatre School’s 30th Anniversary. Founder, Delia Sainsbury shares her amazing journey with us and explains how WTS has developed into a top performing arts training institution.
From the West End to sunny South Africa
I am always asked, “why did you and Keith (Galloway, my late husband) come to South Africa and what made you start a performing arts school in the first place? Well, the journey began way back after we had toured South Africa in the production of West Side Story and reluctantly returned to the UK after our working visa was up. Almost immediately we were asked to return to train dancers for the fledgling SABC, which had only one channel. In 1976, no one had experience of choreography for television at that time. We took a huge risk, as we were still under the British Equity ban of working in South Africa, and we both had been offered contracts for shows in the UK. We decided to take a chance however and with little fanfare arrived back in November 1976, ostensibly to choreograph and train dancers for the television medium.
The Universe had other ideas however, and within weeks we received a letter from Home Affairs stating our working visas had not been applied for by our sponsor in the correct manner, and we had” ten days to leave the Republic!”. By this time, Keith was already directing and choreographing for the SABC, and I was presenting the first youth programme on TV called Compass- hooray! Welcome to Super Star Status! We were in a state of despair as we had let our apartment in London and had nowhere to live and no job if we had to go back to the UK, so we had to find a way of staying. Keith suggested that we arrange a meeting with Home Affairs and take our teaching diplomas with us, to convince them that we were primarily here as teachers, not as performers.
Keith Galloway and Delia Sainsbury in early days at the SABC
And it worked! We were granted immediate permanent residence, on the proviso that we opened a dance studio as a business within six months! I remember standing outside the offices in Pretoria and asking Keith what we had just agreed to. Neither of wanted to actually teach. But, over a glass (or six) of wine, we decided to open a dance school for a couple of hours a week in order to fulfil the requirements. And so, the first Dance Workshop was born in a Church Hall in Parkhurst.
The escalation was ridiculous and literally after a few months we officially opened in smart studios in the Carlton Centre. After several years we moved to premises in Mutual Square, Rosebank, renaming the school The Waybury Arts Centre, (a combination of Gallo-Way and Sains-Bury, which we thought was brilliant, but nobody else understood) until we decided to relocate to Cape Town. Our Johannesburg journey is a story on its own, but as this is the 30-year anniversary of WTS, let me move on.
The Waybury Arts Centre in Rosebank
Slip Slops and Suits
In 1990 we were becoming restless and felt we needed a new challenge but were not sure in which direction to go. We had received an offer to take over an existing school in New Zealand and were even considering returning to the UK as we were suddenly missing performing on the West End stages and felt we were at a crossroads. It had been a long time since we had lived in London, and we were unsure as to whether we could resurrect our previous careers. We came down to Cape Town to present two productions at the Baxter Theatre and our PR was the wonderful Gillian Lindner. I casually mentioned to Gillian that the alternative to returning to the UK might be to relocate to Cape Town as there was clearly a gap in the market for a full-on school of Performing Arts.
A few days later, I received a phone call from a gentleman called David Jack who stated he was the MD of the new V&A Waterfront and would like to discuss Keith and I becoming anchor tenants at the Waterfront. I literally laughed out loud, as I thought it was a joke call, so to play along I agreed to a meeting at the V&A offices the following day. I informed Keith of the phone call, and convinced we were going to a “set up” for a radio or TV programme, we arrived in shorts, and slip slops straight from the beach, to be greeted by a team of men in grey suits and ties sitting solemnly round a long oval table in a board room!
To fast forward, we were shown numerous buildings at the Waterfront and the premises that we now occupy thirty years later, was shown to us two days before we were due to return to Johannesburg and possibly the UK. I remember throwing my arms around David Jack and Derek Van Der Merwe in the most theatrical and undignified manner when they announced we could have the glorious Old Mission to Seamen building and they would renovate it for us as it had been derelict for some time by that stage.
They were true to their word and proceeded to renovate in 1991. It was a massive renovation which took a full year, restoring the building to its former glory and honouring the heritage of its 1904 origins. In November 1991, we handed over our dance studios in Rosebank to new owners with some tears and much trepidation, packed two small children, Keith’s mother and two Labradors into to the car and headed for our new life in Cape Town, without a clue as to whether we would succeed or not.
The Waterfront Theatre School is born…
After an exhausting day of the first-ever set of auditions prior to the opening of the Waterfront Theatre School
By January 1992, we had bought a house, put the children into school and proceeded to open our doors tentatively to a flow of brand-new, rather suspicious students. We were also running the New Victoria Theatre at the Waterfront, which was established in the space where the Nu Metro Cinemas now stand. This was as Charles Dickens would say “the best of times and the worst of times”. Originally, we were to be paid a salary to run the theatre for the V&A, that was the deal.
But, within weeks, the V&A which was privately owned, was sold to Transnet and therefore they did not own the Waterfront or the theatre anymore. We now had to become the “lessee” and sign a contract for a rental, regardless of whether the space was being utilized or not. Now you can imagine what that did to our mental and physical health. We were only a few months into running the school, fighting to establish in a brand-new business in what was not the most welcoming environment, and we were incurring debts which we could not pay. The theatre was dark for certain periods as theatres are, and we were trying to fill the space with corporate events to make it pay to meet the bills. Keith and I were literally working 9am to 11pm.
I can honestly say it was the most terrifying time in my life, not knowing which way to go and realizing we had risked everything on this new venture; the tide had turned and not in our favour. Jo and Genna had forgotten what we looked like by that stage. We had to find a way out, and so we mortgaged our house so we could pay off the creditors, as we had also inherited the bills of the contents of the theatre and some from other companies who had not followed through. The seating, sound and lighting etc. suddenly became to our account, plus we had no experience in running a bar! This itself is a whole story as to how we pulled through but pulled through we did, although we did not last long in our beautiful theatre, which Keith had designed.
How has the Waterfront Theatre School not only survived but flourished and expanded?
There are many factors to consider. Right from the start we realized that WTS was different, and we had to give it our full attention. We were offering multiple dance genres, drama and musical theatre training all under one roof. At the time we were unique in Cape Town. Whilst there were many excellent teachers in their fields, nowhere else was offering all aspects of Performing Arts training as a complete training. Plus, there was the advantage of a student residence, which we originally utilized for the staff whom we brought down from Johannesburg. There were many other additions to our programme, based on our qualifications and extensive West End experience. We offered classes in choreography, “Show Class” where the dancers could learn work from original West End shows, film and television choreography. We offered training in television presentation, theatre crafts, prop making and set design. Students were encouraged to build and create work of their own. We offered international performing and teaching qualifications right from the start through the Trinity College of London and the Imperial Society of teachers of Dancing UK. No other performing arts college in South Africa could offer all of this. No other teachers had our West End experience, and we were passionate to pass it on. The 90’s were the years of establishment and refining our programme.
As the student body grew, so did our staff. We grew from seven permanent tutors, including Keith and I, to twelve. We worked tirelessly, creating new shows and children’s theatre not only for the students, but externally. We presented original material at the Baxter Theatre, Artscape, Muizenberg Theatre, State Theatre Pretoria as well as touring productions throughout the Western and Eastern Cape, producing a show every school holiday period. We employed professional artists to work alongside our students, so they received the best possible training and influences. All the time I was upgrading the syllabus work from The ISTD and being upgraded as a teacher and examiner. I became the official representative for the Society in South Africa in 1992, having already achieved senior examiner status and the International Award from the ISTD for contribution to dance.
The late 1990’s and 2000’s saw the emergence of our graduates beginning to dominate the industry, particularly in the Musical Theatre field. The majority of the original cast of Cats were WTS graduates. We were now producing performers of a high calibre in all fields with a strong work ethic and respect for their craft. They were taught theatre etiquette, how to audition for international producers and navigate an international rehearsal process. We were producing not only strong ensemble members but also leads. We were beginning our WTS network of Directors, Choreographers, Casting Agents, Cruise Line performers, Television Producers etc. Our graduates were beginning to dominate the world of musical theatre in every production.
A new era for WTS
In 2004 my husband Keith Galloway became ill with pulmonary fibrosis of the lungs. From an annoying, ticklish cough it developed into what we thought was bronchitis, to this idiopathic condition where the lungs become damaged and a build-up of scar tissue results. It cannot be repaired, and the decline is rapid. When your lives have been as intertwined as ours, first meeting in a West End Theatre, continuing in London productions, risking and establishing everything together -many times over- the feeling of desolation is overwhelming. He passed away in 2010, surviving several years longer than the prognosis and WTS was forced to switch gears. I personally was forced to switch gears and I was lost.
In the latter part of his life, Keith had been responsible for the Drama training at the school. And through his qualifications, performing and directing experience had formulated his own method of teaching. As I had been responsible for the dance side, I was left floundering.
The wonderful Ralph Lawson who had been on staff was moving on and, in his wake, arrived Paul Griffiths. Paul had worked with Keith extensively in the early days of WTS and had recently returned to SA from an impressive directing career in the UK, with his wife Michelle, whom he had also met at WTS (we also run a marriage bureau!). Paul literally saved me and WTS, quickly not only seeing the gap, but steering the school in new directions and creating a unique drama and theatre studies programme.
Over the following years, the drama department has evolved and flourished both as a separate and integrated stream in our curriculum, embracing new ideas and methodologies. Our full drama faculty works under his guidance to produce an excellent, versatile training, in keeping with current ideas and productions. Our permanent drama and musical theatre staff now stand at 7 tutors.
Another change that was made after 2010, was that we began recreating existing full-scale musicals as well as creating new material in both dance and drama. The beginning of a new thought process and therefore new branding was emerging. In recent years we have produced musicals including Footloose, The Pirates of Penzance, Hairspray, Sister Act, Urinetown, Spring Awakening and Our House as well as numerous compilation shows, plays, festivals and dance productions. Covid 19 put us on hold-but not for long!
‘Sister Act- the Musical’, produced by WTS, played to sold out houses at the Artscape Arena in 2017
Looking at recent developments of WTS the evolvement has been mind-blowing.
After examining the origins and ethos of the school, we realized the unique training programme had always been there. What had we always done? Perform, Teach, Create. This is where our young team of innovators has excelled. Under the guidance of my daughter Genna Galloway, a true “chip off two old blocks” the school has moved in directions that I could not have visualized.
Always willing to take risks, why should I not take a few more?
As it has turned out, they were not risks at all, but new, forward thinking, exciting developments, constantly pushing boundaries and a new level of excellence. Genna’s knowledge of musicals, film and television as well as her dance expertise is a tremendous asset. She is recreating much of Keith’s original work, hence the students still have the benefit of original West End choreography, as well as experimenting with her own ideas.
The legacy continues along with the new.
Guest choreographers add to development of our dancers introducing work which is current and exciting. The annual choreographic competition is a highlight and has produced several of South Africa’s leading choreographers in the industry.
WTS aims even #HIGHER
To turn out performers is a given. As a world class and internationally recognized performing arts training facility, it is accepted that we turn out performers capable of performing on the world stages, as well as here in SA.
So, we decided to officially rebrand. Our performance curriculum has expanded dramatically to include more dance genres, in view of the ever-evolving dance world. We have further embraced the global dance world by entering competitions and winning our categories, further establishing WTS as a truly international training facility. The Drama modules are far now more extensive, with the introduction of on-line auditions, self-taping, voice over training and the different techniques and requirements for stage, television and film. The vocal training embraces performance skills required for cabaret, musical theatre, cruise line performance, corporate events and recording. Our performance-based modules are unique and designed to develop confidence and professionalism in all areas. Students create an annual One Act Play Festival and Devised Projects which can be presented in any medium.
The international teaching programme is developed alongside the performance curriculum and students are not required to choose “either/or” as all modules work in harmony. Subsequently we are qualifying students at even higher levels of teaching, including Licentiate and Fellowship. These qualifications are Diploma courses which can be converted to a Level 7 in SA. During the Covid pandemic, these qualifications were particularly advantageous in obtaining employment when performing contracts were put on hold. In addition, many graduates choose the teaching route and are enjoying a stable career both here and on international contracts.
I am still the official representative for ISTD Dance in Africa and now the Middle East and place many teachers in the UAE as well as UK and Europe, plus using my connections worldwide to benefit the students. I have also been given the special honour of being the only international member of the ISTD Grand Council and on the guidance committee. A new development in the teaching programme is the introduction of the DDE, the Diploma in Dance Education, shortly to be introduced into South Africa and giving even greater status to the qualifications.
Creativity is our third focus. The beautiful Galloway Theatre which was renamed in honour of Keith is the safe space for students and graduates alike to experiment with their work. We also welcome independent producers. The theatre belongs to WTS and we are not answerable to any other management. Whatever assistance the creative team needs, they get. We work with them from page to stage, creating writers, directors, producers and choreographers of the future. This is where our South African theatre makers of the future can innovate, risk free. Several other creative spaces are also available and our main studio with full stage facilities can seat up to 170.
The legacy continues with both established and new theatre makers constantly creating in The Galloway Theatre
Where are we now?
Every day I see evidence of our extensive WTS network in all fields of the entertainment industry. How wonderful is it to go to an audition and find the producer, director or choreographer is an alumnus of the Waterfront Theatre School? It certainly helps!
We are currently involved in so many projects in addition to our established curriculum, it is essential to keep track of it all. As I write, we are in production for film, television and stage projects, requiring daily meetings to keep everything running smoothly. WTS is pumping with enough energy to exhaust a Duracell Bunny.
Our faculty has grown to 17 permanent tutors with a separate staff running the Junior School. The junior programme is also an invaluable teaching opportunity for our students in the teacher training courses. Many children in the part-time school graduate into the full-time programme and with the advent of on-line schooling, an increasing number are selecting to enter the full-time programme earlier and complete a matriculation or GED online at their convenience.
Recent years have seen the introduction of our own in-house casting agency. We carefully select students for auditions in film, corporate events, presenting, television commercials and television series etc. monitoring the process so that any engagement does not interfere with the training process. This also enables the student to gain performing experience and add to their CV whilst training.
This year sees an unprecedented enrolment of full-time incredibly talented young people and selected from all over the country in 2021. We have students in residence from all parts of the world, so the music never stops.
Keith would be astounded and incredibly proud of the developments, if not a little bemused at times. He would be thrilled at the passion, brilliance and dedication of his daughter Genna, how she is honouring his legacy and how she works with the energy of ten people. He would be delighted that Jo Galloway has returned to SA after eleven years in the US to share her contacts, experiences and knowledge of film and TV with the students. He would be eternally grateful to Paul Griffiths for guiding the college into new territory and never compromising on anything below excellent. And I firmly believe he would be proud of me, for continuing to take risks and always thinking forward.
When in doubt I always ask, “what would Keith do?”…. Here’s to the next 30 years.
And always “Higher!”
Our beautiful heritage building, restored to its original Herbert Baker roots