Independent theatres should be assisted to open to full capacity by enforcing the “vaccination passports
By Ismail Mahomed
Sunday September 12, 2021’s address by President Cyril Ramaphosa may certainly have got the arts and cultural sector a little more hopeful because for the first time in 17 months the President acknowledged the arts sector as an important part of the economy; and he demonstrated some kind of resolve to resuscitate the creative and cultural economies.
The revised restrictions of 250 persons or 50% of the venue with social distancing restrictions still prevailing is some kind of reprieve for the eventing and music promotions industry but it is a far cry from hope for most of the theatre, dance and arts festivals circuit.
Whilst the revised venue capacities are going to aid the large State-funded theatres which are already heavily subsidised by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture to get back to business the revision is hardly adequate relief for most of the independent theatres and festivals sector.
All of the State’s performing arts institutions have large enough venues to accommodate 250 patrons with socially distanced seating. The box office income from these venues coupled with State subsidies can make up for any losses incurred in their smaller box venues.
Independent theatres and the majority of festivals present theatre and dance productions in far smaller venues than the State-subsidised institutions. Generating of box office income is vital for sustainability for independent theatre companies. The current revised protocols once again hardly consider this factor.
What is required is a far greater imagination from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and from Minister Nathi Mthethwa to seriously assist the theatre and dance sector. Independent theatres should be assisted to open to full capacity by enforcing the “vaccination passports” so that their businesses can be vitalised and be sustained.
There should be rigid regulations imposed that can fine theatres that open to full capacity but which do not rigidly apply the “vaccination passport”. Theatre managements are in general compliant of all government by-laws, regulations and legislation. Adding one more regulation to enable them to survive is common sense.
The Department should also be at the center of brokering State subsidies for theatre and dance organisations and partnerships with the more than 36 municipally funded theatres dotted across the country to develop a repertory touring circuit so that communities can return to the arts and that artists can be gainfully employed as the sector tries to revive itself.
The revival and sustainability of the theatre economy is not going to be viable if it has to depend solely on government’s venue capacity sliding scale. It requires a more strategic business plan that shifts government’s once off project grant funding which has little impacts to a longer term more sustainable and strategic funding model that allows a sector to thrive so that artists can find dignity through earning an income and not being forced to constantly hold their hands out begging desperately support grants