South African Cultural Observatory

Standing Up for Dance and Theatre

BY Mike Van Graan 17.12.20

The arts and culture sector in South Africa has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.  Even though theatres are open under Lockdown Level 1, audiences are considered to be primary vectors of the virus.  Some theatres like the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town and the Theatre on the Square in Johannesburg have been shut for months and are unlikely to open before a vaccine has ensured that it is largely safe for audiences to return.  Those theatres that stage dance and theatre performances are able to do so only at a maximum of 50% capacity making many productions financially unviable, unless they are one-person shows.

While many practitioners have taken their dance and theatre performances online and some have even managed to generate an income, ultimately, it is the encounter between audiences and performers that make theatre and dance unique.

The idea of a foundation to support dance and theatre in particular arose out of these COVID-19 conditions because of the need for artists’ relief (many are struggling to pay their basic bills with severe emotional and psychological consequences), but the medium to long term vision is to support the creation, distribution and appreciation of contemporary South African dance and theatre.

While books, films, visual art, craft and music can be exported in vast quantities abroad or in digital forms, theatre and dance cannot be mass produced and distributed and require per diems, flights, accommodation, local transport, medical insurance, visa costs, etc making it prohibitive for many to tour locally and internationally, and thus to sustain themselves. 

Rather than be dependent on government, the Sustaining Theatre and Dance (STAND) Foundation looks to the dance and theatre community and its supporters to find ways in which we can support each other at this time, and on an ongoing basis.

The Foundation has been set up by individuals who have sound track-records within the dance and theatre communities.  They are Gregory Maqoma (internationally-acclaimed choreographer, and artistic director of Vuyani Dance Theatre), Yvette Hardie (international President of ASSITEJ, the youth and children’s theatre organisation), Ismail Mahomed (Director of the Centre for Creative Arts and former CEO of the Market Theatre), Saartjie Botha (Director of the Woordfees), Musa Hlatshwayo (choreographer and dance educator), Sbokanaliso Ndaba (Artistic Director of the Indoni Arts and Leadership Academy), Debbie Turner (CEO of Cape Town City Ballet), Ricardo Peach (Director of the VryFees), Unathi Malunga (Entertainment lawyer and creative industries consultant) and Mike van Graan (Playwright), who is coordinating the day-to-day affairs of the Foundation in the interim.

Taking our cue from international crowdfunding platforms such as patreon.com, a key strategy of the Foundation will be to build a strong database of individuals who support contemporary dance and theatre.  By its launch on 1 September 2020, STAND Foundation had recruited a number of patrons who pledged R10 000.00 to the foundation and raised grants from Business and Arts South Africa and the Netherlands Embassy too.

Rather than act as an artists’ relief agency, the STAND Foundation seeks to provide work and income-generating opportunities to encourage practitioners both to practice their craft and earn money, thus affirming their dignity.

In this regard, STAND Foundation has already completed a number of projects and has ambitious plans for 2021.  For more details, see https://www.standfoundation.org.za or follow our Facebook page, Sustaining Theatre and Dance.

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