The author and lead actor of "Suddenly The Storm" Paul Slabolepszy with Renate Stuurman Charmaine Weir-Smith. Picture: Supplied
The author and lead actor of "Suddenly The Storm" Paul Slabolepszy with Renate Stuurman Charmaine Weir-Smith. Picture: Supplied

Coronavirus: Paul Slabolepszy speaks financial strain on theatres

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Mar 21, 2020

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In light of the of coronavirus outbreak and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement on the ban of the gathering of more than 100 people, theatre houses have been forced to shut its doors, resulting in a financial loss for the industry.

This comes following measures by the theatres to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus through the cancellation of major shows and postponements of others in an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Ramaphosa on Sunday declared the coronavirus a national state of disaster as the corona crisis rages through South Africa with over 150 cases over the course of less than two weeks.

Reflecting on the financial impact, we chatted to theatre genius and legendary actor and playwright Paul Slabolepszy, whose latest production which was showing at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerin Theatre was cancelled due to coronavirus epidemic.

On the effects of the novel coronavirus, Slabolepszy said: “What makes life in the time of Covid-19 so different to any other challenge that might arise is that no matter how brave and adventurous one might be as a theatre practitioner, all traditional options, for the time being at least, are close to us. I and all of my colleagues in the cultural industry are in the same boat; we depend on our audiences not only financially, but also in the sense of community.

"The theatre is the place we all come together and share our humanity: we laugh, we cry, and we leave with a better understanding of the world in
which we live. It is only right for the authorities to ban gatherings of more than a hundred people and we all fully endorse that.”

The veteran theatre practitioner also spoke about the challenges facing freelance actors. Slabolepszy said: “I have been a freelance actor/playwright since the days I worked at The Space Theatre in Cape Town in 1972 along with luminaries such as Yvonne Bryceland, Bill Flynn, Jacqui Singer, Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona. There have been extended periods in my working life when, both as an actor and a writer, I’ve been out there hustling for work. This is the way of the freelancer, and biting the bullet is something one just has to get used to.”

Echoing Slabolepszy’s sentiments on the financial challenges facing the industry was theatre producer, owner and artistic director at Auto & General
Theatre On The Square, Daphne Kuhn.

“While the health of everyone is paramount, we cannot allow the total collapse of the entertainment industry which will be hardest hit,” said Kuhn.
“The theatre must take cognisance of pleas of musicians and artists for work – and commitments to actors, directors, designers, playwrights, musicians, technicians and its resident staff who are most reliant on their income.”

Kuhn said she though the theatre had postponed major shows, she would not be on a total shutdown.

“In line with the government’s response to the coronavirus (and its effective measures), the Theatre On The Square will reschedule all productions until after the Easter weekend or till further notice. The theatre has elected to continue to operate small weekly matinee music concerts and rehearsals. Ticket sales
for concerts will be limited to 60 selected and spaced seats per show in its 200-seater Sandton venue,” said Kuhn.

Auto & General Theatre On The Square. Picture: Supplied

The South African State Theatre, has, however, taken the decision to shut its doors, effective immediately, until further notice. Erick Ndala, PR and Marketing
manager said: “Covid-19 has deep financial implications on our theatre as it suspends programming in a bid to curb the spread of the virus in our communities. This will result in a heavy loss of revenue which we had projected in our programmes.

He added: “Added to that are costs incurred in production and marketing and promotion of the programmes, which will be difficult to recover. Inevitably, those who bear the brunt are the artists that we are mandated to serve. Their survival and that of their families and communities depend on our theatre lights being on. So, these are rough times we don’t wish for anyone.”

The Market Theatre also responded to the outbreak, stating they will cancel physical contact, however, classes for students will continue online. 

“The challenges of exposing our students to health risks under the current circumstances in crowded public spaces including taxi ranks and
taxis is worrisome.

“Under the circumstances, noncontact classes are in the best interests of our students. Our students will be assisted with being able to download data for
their lessons”, said Ismail Mahomed, chief executive officer of the Market Theatre Foundation.

Mahomed added that teachers will not be impacted financially. “We want to ensure that our teachers are not affected by the loss of income and that our students are not adversely affected”, added Mahomed.

Shows at the Market Theatre Foundation have been postponed.

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