Theatre houses remain closed. Picture: Supplied
Theatre houses remain closed. Picture: Supplied

Theatres are not reopening despite the government's go-ahead

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Jul 1, 2020

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Theatre lovers across the nation were thrilled to hear that theatres have been given the green light to operate again, of course under the “new normal”. 

This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement two weeks earlier that theatres can reopen under the national lockdown advanced level 3, and like most businesses, they will operate under strict regulations.

Following new regulations in the government gazette, most theatre houses around the country say they are keeping their doors shut until later in the year.

The gazette outlined the guidelines that include strict health protocols and social distancing measures, which must be adhered to at all times. 

A maximum of 50 people will be allowed in the theatre. 

Performers and crew members are limited to 15 people, including live streaming or recording for distribution on digital platforms. 

Some of the executives and artistic directors shared their thoughts on the reopening of theatres.

Theatre owner, producer and artistic director, Daphne Kuhn said Theatre on The Square in Sandton will only open in spring.

“Despite the fact that it is now possible, other theatres and health experts share the same sentiments that opening would definitely be premature right now for group gatherings.

“We feel it would be irresponsible at present as the virus is spiraling exponentially and we have our artists, staff and public’s interests, safety and health at heart. We were expecting to open up at Level 1 - and all our shows had to be cancelled," said Kuhn.

She added: “We now hope to re-open in Spring, so around Sept/Oct, and can assure that all the health and safety protocols will be in place and social distancing arrangements for seating will be worked out.”

Representing Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre and Teatro, artistic director Mark Sage explained that while the announcement was welcomed with excitement, they are not yet ready to open.

He said: “We need to wait longer till the government relaxes its social distancing protocols enough to make it economically viable for us to re-open. At the moment with the current restrictions in place, we simply can’t. We are hoping to re-open by October.  

"It is a long hard process to get things back up and running, shows need to be cast and put into rehearsal and we need time to sell tickets and market each show. 

Montecasino will have plenty of safety measures in place as a complex, so we will simply add our own theatre-specific measures once we re-open. We are currently looking at cost-effective ways to ensure the health and safety of our patrons and performers and staff."

Commenting on the reopening, CEO of The Market Theatre, Ismail Mahomed, said: “The management of the Market Theatre Foundation prioritises the safety of artists, technicians, staff and audiences. 

"We will make a thorough assessment of the viability of opening our spaces taking into consideration firstly the safety factors and then all other logistical factors that will impact on how theatres can be sustained while we actively counter the spread of the pandemic. In the interim, we will continue to support our artists through our online platforms and online opportunities that we are creating."

The management for SA State Theatre in Pretoria informed us that the theatre is currently engaging with the Department of Arts and Culture regarding clear guidelines for reopening. 

The State Theatre has a string of shows streaming for free on their YouTube channel and encourages theatre lovers to continue utilising these platforms till further notice.

The Artscape also issued a statement stating that, as an entity of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, they are “currently awaiting clear guidelines from the national department before we can commit to specifics as to how we would operate if we should open for public performances".

The statement continued: “Having said that we welcome the move towards the return of productions and the positive effect thereof on the performing arts. We will continue to support artists and producers as far as possible, whilst doing our best to ensure the safety of all patrons, artists and staff.”

The Fugard Theatre confirmed they will remain closed till further notice.

“Following the further announcements recently about the opening of theatres, our operating position of being closed remains unchanged as opening our doors is still not financially viable. 

"We will continue with our The Fugard at Home digital programme while waiting for further information regarding the regulations around the opening,’ said Lamees Albertus, General Manager and Producer at The Fugard Theatre.

On the flip side, Playhouse Theatre is slowly opening its doors for theatre practitioners and artists to record their work for streaming and other digital purposes. The statement also stated that the strict health and safety regulations are being adhered to.

Joburg City Theatres (Soweto, Roodepoort and Joburg Theatres) also announced that they will slowly be reopening their doors.

“An extensive assessment of the theatres’ readiness is underway to ensure that measures are put in place for the health and safety of patrons, artists and employees.

"Joburg City Theatres (JCT) will continue to create content for streaming as well as physical viewing for the limited number of seating capacity to ensure the safety of our patrons as per the regulations,” said JCT artistic director, Makhaola Ndebele.

He added: “We will slowly open for producers to book the venues. Patrons will be encouraged to make enquiries and bookings before coming to the theatre as seating will be limited as per regulations.”

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