CityLife Arts

Allow more bums on seats, theatre industry calls on government as lockdown takes its toll on the sector

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Theatre And Dance Alliance (TADA),is calling on government to allow more bums on seats as the industry battles to survive under the strict “50 fits-all-policy.” This is in reference to the maximum number of people allowed into a theatre venue under lockdown Level 3 regulations due to the danger posed by the lingering coronavirus.

TADA is a coalition of organisations, institutions, festivals and companies that operate, and individuals who make at least part of their livelihoods, within the South African dance and theatre sector.

TADA said at a virtual media conference yesterday that the continued restrictions on the numbers of people allowed in theatres, that are big and could safely accommodate more than the 50 people the Covid-19 regulations currently allow, does not make sense.  Instead, the alliance believes, “it is killing” the industry as many people in the sector continue to lose jobs.

TADA launched its three months campaign, lobbying government to apply a “nuanced approach” to theatre, just like casinos, shopping centres and malls allow more people without compromising their safety.

Lindiwe Ledwaba Chairperson of TADA and the CEO of Vuyani Dance Theatre said at that virtual media conference last night:

 “The number of of theatre audiences allowed to attend theatre has  been shifting since lockdown, from 250 people to 100, and now we are sitting at 50.

“Theatres that have 1000 seats can only be allowed to have 50 people maximum. We are not asking for government handouts. All we are asking for is for theatre to open safely in the same way that restaurants, casinos and shopping centres are allowed to have more people.

Gregory Maqoma

“Professional theatres even under normal circumstances, are highly controlled spaces. We are advocating for a nuanced approach to open theatres with organized seating.  For example, the Opera Theatre at the State Theatre with its 1300 seats can surely accommodate more than 50 people safely. The current capacity limits are killing theatres while restaurants and casinos can operate,” Ledwaba said.

She was also supported by her colleague the co-ordinator of TADA, Jaco Van Rensburg, who bemoaned the fact that many theatres have closed down and with that, many people have lost their jobs in the sector, including behind the scenes people, such as costume designers, stage managers, cleaners and lighting designers, for example..

“This sector has been left entirely to fend for itself. We are asking for your support as theatre industry in this campaign as we cannot do it on our own,”
 said Van Rensburg apportioning most of the blame on Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa for not intervening when it comes to the issue of the regulations that classify theatre attendance as a public gathering, and therefore, inviting the 50 %  capacity rule under Lockdown Level 3.

ATADA said that the campaign is supported by thw whole industry, including Sate subsidized theatres, including the Market Theatre, Arts Cape and State Theatre.

TADA also unveiled a theatre safety manual that they would like the government to approve and that would then be used by theatres to operate within the framework of the law and safety regulations if approved.

TADA also called for the sector and the public to support the Open Theatre Safely campaign that will run for three months and has three hash tags #Opentheatresafely, #Noteveryonecanworkfromhome and #Freeourartists.

“Minister Mthethwa theatre is not well in South Africa. We may lose the entire  industry If there is no change. We have passed the point of government handouts. Recognise  our value  as a sector that contributes to the GDP of this country,” said Ledwaba.

TADA appealed to the public in general and its members to support the campaign that will run in the next three months.

“Now we need your help. Over the next three months we will ask you to help us in this campaign. Minister Nathi Mthethwa all is not well and alive in the arts. Please help us to open theatre,”  pleaded  Ledwaba.

“Our industry is on its knees. We have come up with an Open Theatre Manual as a contribution and just to show the government that we are doing something and it is possible to open theatre within the regulations and safely. All is needed is a nuanced approach, and not the 50-fits-all approach,” added van Rensburg.

At the event, TADA’s campaign was supported by well known people in the industry, including veteran actress Sandra Prinsloo, who said that she had not worked in 18 months.

“I have not worked for 18 months,” Prinsloo said through a video link.

“We do need to open theatres urgently and safely. I am in France and I am performing in this beautiful theatre here. But those at home cannot perform,” said world renowned dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma, calling for government to relax the lockdown rules within safety regulations to allow more audiences to attend shows. He too was speaking through a video link from Paris where he currently is on tour.

CITYLIFE/ARTS was unable to get comment from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture last night.

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