Theatres forced to adapt to a new normal due to Covid

The past year has been tough for those in the theatre industry, impacting not only facilities but also actors, sound and lighting technicians, musicians, behind the scenes staff and many more…

As 2020 draws to a close we asked those involved in theatre and the performing arts what their highlights of the year have been, and what they have planned after the second wave of Covid-19 infections has passed.

Milnerton Players

Milnerton Playhouse

Milnerton Playhouse was renovated during lockdown and under Alert Level 1 they reopened with a short musical show at the end of November when Bonny White presented No Matter What.

They plan to reopen again early in 2021 with the planned programme:

∎ Online streaming of No Matter What in January with dates to be confirmed.

∎ Playhouse re-opening party in February with dates to be confirmed.

∎ Milnerton Playhouse’s annual general meeting will take place on Friday March 12.

Their first “live” production, hopefully, We’ll Meet Again will take place during May.

Milnerton Playhouse wish all their patrons and their families a safe Christmas and look forward to a less challenging New Year.

Alma Cafe

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’ address to the nation on Monday December 28, Alma Cafe has taken the decision to defer all of the January gigs indefinitely – the latest curfew of 9pm makes it impossible to operate their gigs at the Rosebank venue.

Keep in touch at email bookings@almacafe.co.za

Kalk Bay Theatre

Alan Committie at Kalk Bay Theatre

Kalk Bay Theatre has moved to the Brass Bell and is hosting its next KalkBayTheatre Comedy Night with Alan Committie who will be performing his one man show The Lying King on Wednesday and Thursday December 30 and 31.

For details go to www.kalkbaytheatre.com

The Fugard Theatre

The Fugard Theatre is closed until further notice

The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town has not yet re-opened since they closed to public at the start of lockdown. They have, however, done streaming of a selection of previous productions for a limited time as a free public service. The decision was later made to stop this project and all other operations for the time being.

In a statement posted on the theatre’s website, founder, Eric Abraham wrote: “The Fugard has closed operationally until there is a vaccine widely and publicly available and we feel that it is both safe for our staff and for audience members before we will consider re-opening. We do not yet have a clear timeline on reopening, but it will not be before late in 2021.

“Regrettably the majority of our staff have had to be retrenched and a small care-taking team will remain in place to ensure that The Fugard is well maintained and in a state of readiness for the day when it is safe and financially viable to re-open.”

The Baxter Theatre

Zolani Mahola and Gregory Maqoma in Baxter Back on Stage

The Baxter reopened in mid-October after restrictions were relaxed and we move to Alert Level 1, allowing for 50% audience capacity and all Covid-19 protocols in place.

The first show was Louis Viljoen’s The Outlaw Muckridge, starring John Maytham and directed by Alan Committie. However, The Baxter’s official opening was celebrated with a gala season and benefit fundraiser of Baxter Back on Stage with Gregory Maqoma and Zolani Mahola, from Monday to Sunday November 2 to 7.

Other productions which have been staged at The Baxter since October included First Accused, the 2020 Best of Zabalaza Theatre Festival winner, Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying, the stage adaptation of Yusuf Daniels’ best-selling book Living Coloured and Marc Lottering’s Lottering on Lockdown.

Marc Lottering. Picture: Lindsey Appolis

The Baxter, however, announced it would suspend or postpone performances from Saturday December 19 until the end of January 2021, when it will hopefully be safer for audiences to return.

The Baxter did not opt for live-streaming because it is a very different experience to live theatre. “There is nothing that can replace being present in a live performance,” said The Baxter’s marketing manager Fahiem Stellenboom.

“Instead, in the early stages of the lockdown we launched the Baxter Radio initiative which created radio content by some 40 artists which were offered the Baxter Coffee Angels and to community radio stations for free,” he said.

Baxter Coffee Angels was launched soon after the lockdown and national state of disaster announced in March. This innovative financial sustainability campaign, called for patrons, theatre and arts lovers to donate R30 a month (the price of a cup of coffee), or more (where possible), to ensure the iconic theatre’s financial sustainability during this time and into the future.

“While the support from the Baxter Coffee Angels drive has been deeply encouraging, the theatre renews its call for contributions,” Mr Stellenboom said. To this end, it continues its drive to “buy The Baxter a cup of coffee every month” and encourages those who have not yet been able to do so – and to share widely – to become Baxter Coffee Angels.

Artscape

Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux said of the past year: “It is with heartfelt gratitude that I wish to thank you for your immense support in this, the most trying year of our times for employees, producers and artists who depend on our stages as their main source of income.

“We could understandably not roll out all our programmes as in previous years and made sure to identify and choose those programmes that would best serve the largest theatre community during this time. Works needed to be relevant and of a high quality which people already anticipate and expect from us.”

She added that, of greater importance, was the need to offer out-of-work theatre practitioners a chance to earn an income.

“We achieved this with a host of virtual productions including flagship productions such as the Youth Jazz Festival, the Youth Classical Music Festival, the Artscape Women and Humanity Arts Festival, the Heritage Festival as well as collaborative productions with the Associated Arts companies in the form of Lunch Hour concerts presented by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Unmute Dance Company and Cape Town Opera among others,” said Ms Le Roux.

Magnet Theatre

The Magnet Theatre in Observatory said they had a lot to celebrate at the end of 2020.

All 21 new trainees completed their first year in their full-time training and job creation programme, the theatre said.

Magnet’s outreach programme, Culture Gangs, successfully finished the year with four important workshops after Covid disruptions.

Two Magnet productions, G7: Okwe- Bokhwe and Antigone (not quite/ quiet) got nine nominations in this year’s Fleur du Cap awards. G7: Okwe Bokhwe won three, with Babalwa Makwetu (an alumni of the training programme) winning the award for Best Sound Design for G7: Okwe Bokhwe while the cast (all alumni of the training programme) won the award for Best Performance by an Ensemble and one of their artistic directors, Mandla Mbothwe won the best director award.

Work on new two new productions – It’s clear I cannot make a play about my father and IKrele leChiza …. The Sword of the Herb – is already under way and will be showcased in 2021.

Waterfront Theatre School

This year the Waterfront Theatre School (WTS) completed restoration of its historic Herbert Baker building and went virtual, hosting two months of online international examinations for both Trinity College, London in drama and musical theatre, as well as The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing London, across all genre.

Despite not being able to attend the annual BRICS Theatre Festival in Moscow this year, WTS took part virtually. The theme was Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children.

WTS students produced a performance through various multimedia platforms, which was showcased online to seven countries. They also delivered a master class on how they contextualise Brecht into a South African setting. WTS is looking forward to being in Moscow next year for the bicentenary of Dostoevsky where they will take part in a themed festival on psychoanalytic prose.