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Artists side hustle in the wings

Members of the Flatfoot Dance Company perform in ‘Seven Ways To Say Goodbye’. In the foreground Siseko Duba, Yaseen Manuel, and in the background Sbonga Ndlovu.Byline: Supplied

Members of the Flatfoot Dance Company perform in ‘Seven Ways To Say Goodbye’. In the foreground Siseko Duba, Yaseen Manuel, and in the background Sbonga Ndlovu.Byline: Supplied

Published Jun 25, 2022


Durban - From selling houses to waiting on tables in restaurants, South Africa’s creatives were pushed out of their comfort zones and forced to try different things to make ends meet when Covid-19 closed the country.

Even though the government lifted venue capacity and masking regulations this week, the effects will be felt for a long time.

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Durban arts publicist Illa Thompson says many in the creative industry had been forced to develop side hustles which took up most of their time and in some cases were now their core business.

“In my circle, there is an event professional company whose owners now make and sell jam and pickles, one trades in secondhand goods, and one manages flea markets,” she said.

Thompson too was affected by Covid and had to part ways with her staff and her office.

For almost three decades she ran Publicity Matters – an award-winning Durban-based business specialising in media liaison, public relations, and publicity working in the arts, entertainment, social justice and NGO spaces.

She says before lockdown they had regular clients and ongoing retainers, but after lockdown, it all came crashing down.

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Now she works from her dining room and collects a stipend from the Denis Hurley Centre for managing their homeless book project.

“Hard lockdown was really scary with no income and no paying work, but probably more significantly, not much purpose, sense of future, nor optimism,” said Thompson.

She said the real fear was that when all theatres started opening up there would be no productions to fill them because many who used to work in the live performance industry were busy with other things.

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Mandy Brockbank, an artist based in eMdloti, said Covid was a game changer because artists were stuck at home and had to use their creativity in other ways.

She went from selling her art on canvas to painting walls.

One of the murals Mandy Brockbank painted at a school in Durban North.

“I got requests for murals from Covid. There was such a surge in it because everyone wanted their walls painted, and now it has tapered off again.”

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Brockbank, a single mom of two, said at one stage some of her friends put money into her bank account to help her and eventually she found online work with a fast food company.

Her job is to respond to queries and complaints and gives her the freedom to work any time of the day.

The Flatfoot Dance Company will participate in its first live performance at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda this year after a two-year hiatus.

Company manager Clare Craighead said when South Africa went into a hard lockdown in March 2020, they were at the start of their yearly programme of events and everything was affected, including their nine community development projects targeting 800 youths from KwaZulu-Natal.

She said despite the lack of income they still had dancers who were drawing salaries for a while during lockdown before being forced to draw unemployment.

Craighead said even though restrictions had eased and places had started opening up, it would be hard for venues to recover.

People had also become more cautious about where they spent their money and were reticent to go out after hours, preferring to attend earlier shows.

She said even before Covid, art companies were under threat because of a lack of funding.

Covid highlighted and exacerbated gaps in how performers were valued by government and institutions, said Craighead.

“I think had Covid not happened we would still be struggling. Until we can formalise the sector we are going to continue to be vulnerable,” she said.

Rory Booth, a multi-talented singer, dancer, actor and scriptwriter used his creativity to carve a niche for himself as an estate agent and it turned out to be a roaring success.

“What I earn in property I now feed into what I love,” said Booth.

He said government funds he once depended on he now made from real estate and put it into his passion projects.

Booth said if Covid hadn’t put the country into lockdown, he would’ve been on a world tour with the production he is currently working on.

He also used the time to work on scriptwriting and film development.

He had some knowledge of the real estate industry because his dad had been in it for 20 years.

“It was a nothing-to-lose moment and I live by the rule that you never know until you try,” he said.

At first real estate was overwhelming and tiring but after 18 months he is thoroughly enjoying it.

“I should’ve been selling houses before the pandemic,” said Booth.

Now he works his property gig during the day and writes at night.

Jaco van Rensburg from VR Theatrical which has offices in Joburg and Cape Town said during lockdown they turned their focus to working with educational institutions and did workshops and collaborations for young people interested in theatre.

“If anyone wants to help any artist or any producer the best thing to do is to buy a ticket,” he said.

Van Rensburg, whose company was heading to the National Arts Festival for the first time in two years, said he was happy the government lifted the venue capacity ruling.

The Independent on Saturday