Thinking right out of the box

Andrew Donaldson

Andrew Donaldson

Jody Aufrichtig says he enjoys his work - so much so that he adds, "When I get up on Monday morning, I actually look forward to getting to the office."

Yeah, right. And what exactly is it that the 35-year-old Aufrichtig does for a living? Road-test the world's most expensive cars? Location scout for international swim wear modelling assignments? Professional surfer?

Nope. He's an accountant by profession. So is his business partner, Nicholas Ferguson, 37. And that sounds, uh, like very dull. Accountants are not supposed to have fun. It's not in the rules. Even if, like these two, they don't really work as accountants but run a successful Cape Town-based property development company.

They like thinking right out of the box. They've just bought a rather tired hotel in Long Street and are planning to spruce it up - and put a caravan park on the roof.

"Not exactly a caravan park," Ferguson says. "More like a trailer park. With vintage Airstreams. Each done up and parked in its own space in the rooftop garden."

The Airstream, fans of Americana will tell you, is a brand of luxury recreational trailer, or caravan to the average South African.

Right now though, Aufrichtig and Ferguson of Indigo Properties want to talk about their current project, 44 on Long, home of the New Space Theatre, which is to open on November 22 with the South African premiere of Stephen Sondheim's The Assassins.

At the moment, 44 on Long is an empty shell, reverberating with construction work and renovation. The New Space isn't much of a theatre; more like an empty space.

Aufrichtig and Ferguson want the building to operate as a mini cultural precinct, drawing in passers-by during the day and well into the early hours of the morning.

The ground floor will house cafés, delis, bars and a restaurant.

The second and top floors of the building will house dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, offices and various related enterprises.

The theatre itself will be on the first floor, along with a bar, foyer, box office and theatre bar. It will seat 180 people, be air-conditioned and fitted with state of the art sound and lighting. To this end, Aufrichting and Ferguson donated R1,5million to the trust that will be running the theatre.

It seems improbable that a curtain will ever rise here, but Ferguson merely shrugs. "That's the date we decided," he says.

"I had discussions with Fred (Abrahamse, the New Space's artistic director) and Marcel (Meyer, associate artistic director) and we drew a line in the sand - November 22. So it has to be ready by then. That's all there is to it."

They have no working knowledge of theatre.

"That's why we have Fred and Marcel," said Aufrichtig.

They had no experience of the hotel industry either. But that hasn't stopped their Daddy Long Legs Independent Travellers Hotel from being a runaway success.

Last weekend it was a finalist in the Accommodation category in the Good Hope FM Best of Cape Town awards.

The pair met in London, while working for Ernst & Young. In the 11 or so years since their return, they have, its been said, claimed trendy upper Long as their own.

It's probably more correct to say they made this once run-down area trendy. At the moment, 80percent of the area's bars and restaurants are housed in buildings they own and have renovated. They've torn down nothing. This, says Aufrichtig, is important. "Nothing is knocked down. We're big on heritage. We want the area to retain its historical flavour."

The New Space, naturally, has "historical flavour" in spades.

The original Space opened in nearby Bloem St in 1972 and moved to 44 Long St in 1976.

There it quickly established itself as a nonracial venue, hosting such landmark productions as The Island, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Othello,Slegs Blankes and a host of others, including Pieter Dirk Uys's early works.