Maitisong (“place of entertainment” in Setswana) is owned by Maru-a-Pula School, and is located in the heart of Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone. Maru-a-Pula School has had a policy of outreach to the community since the school was opened in 1972, so when the school realized that it needed a hall, the Headmaster at that time, David Matthews, campaigned to raise money to build a space that would fulfil a dual role of school assembly hall and community theatre venue. Money was raised in the USA and South Africa, and architect Ian Marshall drew up the construction plans.
Building began in 1986, and on 22 March 1987, the doors of Maitisong were officially opened. The Maitisong Festival was created to give the public an opportunity to be inspired by the best of the local arts scene. Many groups came together and performed in the first Maitisong Festival. Music, dance and drama burst onto the stage like it never before in Gaborone. A new theatrical age for Botswana had dawned.
The community welcomed a new, user-friendly theatre, and it soon took off. The Botswana Defence Force Band, embassies, promoters, schools, choirs and Maru-a-Pula School have staged shows at the theatre. High-profile local and international artists such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Sibongile Khumalo, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Oliver Mtukudzi, Shanti Lo and Sedibeng Choir have also performed on the Maitisong stage.
Maitisong is a pioneer in celebrating the arts in Botswana. The Maitisong Office has become a useful cultural resource; information and advice regarding performers, music lessons, theatre management and fund raising has been sought at Maitisong over the years. Maitisong’s voice has even been heard on the Botswana Cultural Council – the country’s highest cultural body. It has also been closely associated with the Botswana Music Camp and the ‘My African Dream’ national talent search.
Maitisong is a visible symbol of Maru-a-Pula School’s policy of reaching out to the community, as thousands of people come onto the school campus each year to attend shows in the theatre hall. From the school’s point of view, the shows and performers that visit Maitisong have added a valuable, cultural facet to the education offered and has led to a flourishing drama studies program at the school.
Maitisong has certainly made its mark in a way that founders could not have foreseen and has established itself as leader for showcasing the performing arts in the region. In 2016, for example, Maitisong partnered with the UK High Commission and the GREAT Britain Campaign to deliver the ‘Shakespeare Lives in Botswana’ project, which culminated in a sold-out show at Maitisong during the 2016 Maitisong Festival.