homehomepeopleWilhelmina Louisa Ida Freund

Names: Freund, Wilhelmina Louisa Ida (Minna)

Born: 17 March 1890, Holstein, Germany

Died: 6 December 1938, Bloemfontein

In Summary: Actress and Teacher.

Wilhelmina Louisa Ida (Minna) Freund was born on 17 March 1890 in Holstein, Germany. She was the youngest child of John Freund and Metha Mentzel, German immigrants who met in Philippolis and married and settled there in the late 1870s. The family was on a visit to Schleswig Holstein when Freund was born.

She attended Milburn House, a school for 'young ladies' in Claremont, Cape Town. After that she spent some years in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her schooling completed, she studied under EIsie Fogerty at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art in London from 1909 to about 1911. While in London, she befriended Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson, who were to visit her in Bloemfontein some 22 years later while on tour with their theatrical company. During her stay in London she appeared at the Albert Hall and the Lyceum Theatre (in the play Atalanta) with such notable actors and actresses as Lena Ashwell, F.R. Benson and Herbert Beerbohm Tree

On returning to South Africa in 1912 she was appointed as teacher of elocution at the South African College of Music in Cape Town—the first person in South Africa with the requisite qualifications for such a post—while also teaching at the Good Hope Seminary, St Cyprian's School, the Wynberg Girls' High School and the Ellersley School for Girls.

Shortly after Prof. W.H. Bell became principal of the college in 1912, he appointed Freund as head of the Department of Speech Training. She organised the courses for teachers of elocution, assisted by Dolly de Marillac and others, and was at the centre of a lively group of amateur and professional actors and actresses who staged a variety of plays at regular intervals in Cape Town in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Among their productions were the fantasy Prunella, or, Love in a French garden and As you like it, the latter being performed in the garden of Kelvin Grove, a private residence at the time. (This could quite possibly have been the first open-air production of Shakespeare in Cape Town, a forerunner of the now regular Maynardville seasons.) A midsummer night's dream was staged at the city hall with an orchestra conducted by Theo Wendt. Freund trained the cast for the first production by W.H. Bell of Everyman in the old Stal Plein Hotel that originally housed the college. The stage was constructed from ordinary classroom platforms, and Everyman's grave was arranged by parting two platforms, the actor playing Everyman having to crouch until the end of the performance to remain out of sight. The cast included Pauline de Wet (as Everyman), Gladys Lazarus (as Death), Johannes Pagan and William J. Pickerill. She also assisted Bell in producing his second play, Hippolytus, by Euripides. This company of 'Dining Room Players', as they became known, thereafter moved to the Hiddingh Hall.

During the First World War (1914-1918) Freund organised and took part in various entertainments in aid of the war funds. After the war she undertook a concert tour with Criemhilt Hahn, an accomplished violinist, and Annice Wright, a pianist. They provided the musical parts of the programme while Freund presented dramatic excerpts from As you like it and other Shakespearean plays. Their itinerary included Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Kimberley, as well as such lesser towns of the Orange Free State (OFS) as Brandfort, Koffiefontein, Fauresmith and Philippolis, no doubt because Freund's parents, residents of Luckhoff for many years, were well known in these parts.

After her wedding Freund presented programmes and readings in Bloemfontein for many years. One of her talks was on the concept of a state theatre, possibly the first time this topic was raised in a South African context. In her address she discussed the 'talkies' (cinema) and their influence on the legitimate theatre and referred to a letter she had received from Sybil Thorndike, who mentioned a campaign to establish a state theatre in Britain and spoke about the concept of a 'little theatre'. She saw Cape Town as the appropriate home for a state theatre in South Africa, but did not live to see the creation of the National Theatre Organisation in 1950.

In June 1927 she married Christiaan Lourens Botha, judge president of the OFS. They had two daughters. She died on 6 December 1938 in Bloemfontein.

References:

  • Verwey, E.J. (ed)(1995)