Performing arts hit hard by lockdown

While most businesses opened their doors as the country moved to level 3 of the national Covid-19 lockdown, easing some restrictions, theatres in the city centre have had to keep the curtains closed until further notice.

The lockdown has been hard for the performing arts, leaving musicians, artists and performers without work, and entertainment spaces empty.

And now, owners, and managers of theatres in the city centre are urging people to continue to support the arts to keep the industry alive.

The Artscape Theatre Centre, which has been closed since the start of the lockdown in March, has been unable to showcase productions on stage.

The theatre’s spokesperson, Simone Heradien, said while there had been financial losses of hiring fees, there had been little gains in utility fees.

The Artscape has put together a team to research the best ways in which to approach the “new normal” with respect to some of its programmes.

Artscape chief executive officer (CEO) Marlene le Roux, said because lockdown had prevented them from rolling out all their programmes, they had had to put their heads together to identify those programmes that would best serve the largest possible theatre community.

“Works need to be relevant, of a high quality and, very importantly, it needs to offer out-of-work theatre people a chance to make a living. We also needed to identify those programmes that speak to the youth and that have educational elements.

Some of the ideas the team came up with included radio dramas, which will be scheduled for community radio stations in June, July and August; Vlooi/Kipper children’s theatre production will also be moved to radio next month; the annual Youth Classical Concert will this year be broadcast on FMR on Youth Day, marked on Tuesday June 16; the annual Youth Jazz and Youth Classical auditions will be solicited via a video submission and the final concerts to be presented in a virtual format in October.

The Fugard Theatre cancelled its 2020 season, so there will be no live performances at the theatre this year.

Its general manager and producer, Lamees Albertus, said the challenge for the theatre went beyond level 3.

“We are having to temporarily restructure our business to make it through an indefinite time of theatre lockdown.

“It is highly unlikely that theatres will be able to operate as before until a vaccine is discovered and available. Even if the government allows theatres to open during a particular level, it will be under stringent conditions and audiences may not comfortably attend or be in the economic position to purchase tickets.”

Ms Albertus said the lockdown had had a devastating financial impact not only on theatre, but also for the numerous performers, crew and teams that would have been part of those productions.

The industry is facing the same challenges across the board, she said, and it is a very tough time for everyone.

To try to keep the Fugard alive, a digital platform called The Fugard At Home was launched. Ms Albertus said the platform can be accessed from the Fugard Theatre’s website, and content will include some productions from its archives, an info hub and performer’s series.

“While this will never replace the experience of live theatre, it keeps theatre and the arts relevant and alive in people’s lives when they are unable to visit us in person.”

Ms Albertus said The Fugard Theatre will definitely open its doors again, however, in the meantime, people can help the arts bounce back by making donations to keep them afloat.

“Many theatres are running campaigns. For those who would like to support our work and donate to The Fugard Theatre, visit our website.”

The Courtyard Playhouse in Strand Street, the newest theatre in the city centre, closed its doors just two weeks after its sister theatre in Dubai had to stop operating due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

The co-owner of the Courtyard Playhouse, Tiffany Schultz, said they were facing an “enormous challenge” going forward.

“As we had only just opened doors officially under our new name in January, as new owners, we had just invested everything into the major renovations of the space and total redesign of the theatre, leaving us without any savings to fall back on during closure. We are very concerned about future viability. If social distancing rules are to be followed upon re–opening, we can’t feasibly continue.”

She said if the theatre were to operate at 30% capacity, it would cost more to open than stay shut, the artists and staff could not be paid, and the management would have to consider retrenchments in order to reopen.

“We have zero revenue. And as new owners, we don’t have an established following or network to call upon to fund-raise.”

Ms Schultz said they were focusing on the theatre in Dubai, which was ahead of the curve in terms of the pandemic, and is also very established with strong support networks, and which was providing financial backing for the establishment of the theatre in Cape Town.

“We’re holding on with all our might to our brand new, beautiful little theatre in Cape Town. It would be utterly heartbreaking if it had to close permanently.

“We also have such a wonderful, talented young team we are desperate to retain.”