Relying on technology throughout the lockdown period has proved to be effective for the South African State Theatre, which could not deliver live theatre to audiences in the past six months.
The State Theatre Artistic Director Aubrey Sekhabi says although the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the national lockdown regulations were
devastating to artists, digital platforms afforded artists an opportunity to adapt to the new normal.
He says both artists and the administration of the theatre were able to function during the lockdown period through technology and digital platforms.
“With all the restrictions introduced to observe the lockdown, our bread and butter, which is live performance in front of an audience, was compromised. We could not collect revenue from ticket sales, front of house sales, hiring and wardrobe and our parking facility,” says Sekhabi.
“The situation was more devastating for artists because they could not practice their craft, their livelihood,” he adds.
Embracing digital arts
Sekhabi says that the theatre was able to continue its work through digital platforms.
“We decided to embrace the new normal and retain our online streaming as a secondary platform for our offering. We hope this strategic move will help us cope with the new normal and at the same time increase our reach and create solid building blocks for young and upcoming artists,” says Sekhabi.
Unlike other institutions in the arts sector, the State Theatre has been recording and archiving its productions over the past six years.
He says this made it easy for the theatre to kick off its artistic programme during various stages of the lockdown, and has afforded productions and freelance artists a second season on online platforms.
“We have also managed to put our new content on our Pay per View platforms, generating income and ploughing it back into new projects, he says.
Through the Pay per View platform, audiences are able to view content online after buying tickets on Webtickets through a link sent to them via email or a short message.
State theatre ready for business
Speaking about the future of the State Theatre, Sekhabi says the theatre is back on track and has opened its doors. It has recently hosted South African Idols which performs for live audiences.
He says most live shows started at the end of October and details of other shows will be communicated once they are finalised.
“The recent productions shown to our audiences will swiftly usher us into the 2021-2022 season which is exciting and presents a diverse offering of music, theatre, dance and lots of conversations,” says Sekhabi.
A culmination of festivals
With the increase of gender based violence, Sekhabi says the theatre will present the Vavasati International Festival, where women’s voices are heard.
“The festival will culminate in a series of performances during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign. The year will be incomplete without the Mzansi Fela Festival, where the best of South Africa's talent and the best of the year woo audiences in big numbers to the festivities.
“Mzansi Fela Festival brings with it the Field Work Programme which recognises amateur and semi-professional talent by providing a platform to present classical south African plays and the creation of new work,” he says.
Moving forward, Sekhabi says the State Theatre has taken a strategic decision to use online platforms as secondary platforms for theatrical content distribution.
He says it will continue to observe all safety protocols in the new normal.
Sekhabi says one of the benefits of entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is that content can be accessed by a larger audience world-wide.