CityLife Arts

Tribute to Dawn Avril Lindberg, the matriarch of South African theatre

By Edward Tsumele

Dawn Lindberg, the doyenne of musical Theatre, who died on Monday evening in Cape Town due to Covid-19 related complications; had a larger than life presence on the South African theatre scene. And this was not only because of she and her husband, Des’theatrical exploits over many years, going as far back as defying apartheid regulations by creating shows that were attended by all races.

It was also because even at the age of 75, she was very much present on theatre stages strutting her stuff energetically, so to speak, and this time not as a performer, but a matriarch of theatre through, besides of course her fellow performer husband, Des, the love of her life, the Naledi Theatre Awards. Dawn’s life these days seemed to revolve around the Naledi Theatre Awards.

Dawn Lindberg was known for her superior taste in fashion on Naledi Awards night.

She remained committed to deliver the awards ceremony every year, money or no money, government funding or no government funding. The awards that she founded in 2004 have become the only credible singular event in theatre with the credibility and the prestige of honouring theatre talent. No other award ceremony for theatre enjoyed the same prestige as The Naledi Theatre awards, irrespective of the criticism theatre it sometimes received from the industry.

Dawn was committed to these awards as if her life depended on them. Not even the much talked about accident a few years ago that reportedly dislocated her hips, that needed surgery, discouraged her from going up on stage energetically and emotionally handing over a Naledi statuette to this actor or that actress, or this director or that producer, and just about anyone who was deemed deserving by her hand-picked panel of adjudicators.

Yes, she was sometimes criticized for the manner in which the awards sometimes turned out, including that they were not representative enough, that some of the judges had questionable passion or knowledge of the art form, as some were clearly not regular faces at shows, and that as executive director, she seemed to be firmly and totally in control of the awards that she herself founded.

Des and Dawn Lindberg

Please give me a break. What would you expect, especially on the last point, for someone who actually grew up in theatre ever since she graduated from Wits, to just stand aside and hand over the responsibility of nursing the Naledi Awards to good health, through troubled times, such as when the Department of Arts and Culture, inexplicably stopped funding the Naledi Awards, which clearly were her legacy project, and so, they have become as a result of her demise this week, due to the world monster in our midst.

A  theatre veteran with a highly tasteful fashionable sense and style, whose curated look for a Naledi Theatre evening left many wondering who the mystery designer of her glamorous outfits was, with names such as David Tlale thrown around, her presence on Naledi night will be missed next year. And that is If the monster that eventually took her life, will not follow her to the World Beyond haunting  her even in death, and prevent her from watching from a distance and as  a spirit, the theatre sector again in a physical sense and celebrate her legacy, that is the Naledi Awards take place.

 However, If the monster will not pose the danger to the living and allow the industry to hold the normal Naledi Awards Night next year, without fear of contracting the virus that ultimately took her life, it will definitely be a sweet revenge for the Naledi Awards matriarch Dawn Avril Lindeberg.

Hamba Kahle Dawn.

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