Dark times for showbiz industry

Iain Robinson and Jessica Sole in An Unromantic Comedy, first production of the year for Durban’s KickstArt Theatre Company. It has had to be postponed due to the government decision to limit gatherings to 100 people as a result of the Coronavirus.

NOTE: THIS STORY IS BEING CONSTANTLY UPDATED!

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BY BILLY SUTER

DARK houses and dark times await the South African entertainment industry following South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement last night that gatherings in the country be limited to 100 people, in an urgent bid to try to contain the spread of the global Cornavirus.

Not long after the premier’s announcement, the prolific, Johannesburg-based theatre company, VR Theatrical, cancelled the national tour of Here’s to You, an excellent Simon and Garfunkel tribute show that was scheduled for March 19 to 29 at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, before a Cape Town season.

Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre and Johannesburg’s Pieter Toerien Theatre have also closed until further notice, and performances scheduled for this weekend at the large Teatro theatre in Johannesburg, by British pop duo Lighthouse Family, have been cancelled, along with numerous other entertainment and cultural events.

A spokesman for Big Concerts said the Lighthouse Family tour might happen at a later date: “Regrettably, under the circumstances, the Lighthouse Family tour is postponed. We are working to reschedule the tour and all tickets will remain valid for the rescheduled dates. Further information will be sent directly to ticket-holders as soon as it becomes available.”

Durban’s KickstArt production of An Unromantic Comedy, currently in rehearsal and scheduled to run at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from April 11, has been postponed indefinitely. Once there was a clearer understanding of the way forward, the company would notify the public about future dates, said KickstArt heads, Greg King and Steven Stead. “These are interesting times. Stay safe!,” they added.

The Durban Passion Play, held every five years to commemorate Christ’s Crucifixion, has been postponed until further notice. It had been scheduled to open at Durban’s Playhouse Opera theatre on March 25.

The Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards scheduled for Cape Town, have now also been cancelled.

Baroque 2000’s season opening concert in Durban, on March 29, has been postponed, while all scheduled music events at the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music, on the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, have also been put on hold.

The hugely popular Splashy Fen Music Festival in Underberg has been moved from April and will now run from Wednesday to Sunday, September 23 to 27. This new date will be during the school holidays, with Thursday, September 24, being a public holiday (Heritage Day). All tickets bought for Splashy Fen 2020 Easter dates will be valid for the new dates.

“As a festival, we are absorbing a large cost due to the postponement and all we can do is appeal to our fans to support our new date in September and to embrace these necessary changes.  We promise to deliver the same amazing, value-for-money experience,” a press release stated.

“Should fans be unable to attend the new date, Splashy will offer a 75% refund accordingly, in line with our refund policy.”

The statement added: “While cancelling may be an easier route for many, we need to be considerate of the far-reaching effects that a cancellation offers. Consider the artists and musicians who lose all income and ability to work during these times. Consider the toilet janitor, cleaning crew, food vendors, staff and service providers whose income has just disappeared.

“All these suppliers have essentially had their businesses temporarily closed, as have we. These are the same people who have brought you the fan so much joy and happiness over the last few years at Splashy Fen. This issue is greater and deeper than we can all imagine.”

A spokesman for The Barnyard Theatre at Suncoast Casino in Durban stated that the new show there, Cirque Rock, would close with immediate effect – until April 14 or until further notice from government – and that patrons who had booked for the show would be contacted and issued with credit notes to book for forthcoming Barnyard Theatre productions.

Jaco van Rensburg and Wessel Odendaal, who head VR Theatrical, have requested, via social media posts, that patrons who have already booked for Here’s to You and other shows – including Alice in Wonderland, at Johannesburg’s Pieter Toerien Theatre – consider not asking for refunds in a bid to help ease what seems certain to be a very tough time ahead for those in the entertainment business.

This is their full statement:

“Send in the clowns… this was the phrase used in olden days to cause audience distraction when something went wrong backstage during a performance. Performing artists get paid when they perform. In South Africa, at present, actors, musicians and dancers are prohibited, by law, from doing so.

”If you have tickets to a live show affected by Covid-19, please consider donating your tickets rather than request a refund. This will enable us to keep artists afloat in this upside-down time. The livelihood of countless performing arts professionals in your neighbourhood is at stake.”

Asked for further comment, Steven Stead of KickstArt, said it was “unavoidable” that the restriction on gatherings in South Africa would “cause tsunami-like devastation to the arts and entertainment industry”.

“It’s at times like these that we realise how exposed we are as professional artists, with no insurance, back-up, or financial assistance or relief of any kind,” said Stead.

He added, however, that “given the example of Italy, and how quickly thousands of hospital beds became needed almost overnight, we are very relieved that the President has taken decisive and timeous action”.

Durban singer-actor Aaron McIlroy, in a Facebook video recorded on stage at the 400-seater Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, after last night’s final performance of his Family Therapy show, said: “It’s a little bit scary… but it is an opportunity for all of us to make good decisions and come out stronger at the end. We, as South Africans, are excellent at turning lemons into lemonade. It’s fairly traumatic but, out of this, we hope good things will grow!”

Meanwhile, Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre franchise, having earlier opted to weather the storm by keeping numbers at no more than 100 patrons, has now decided to show solidarity with other organisations, and will close all its branches with immediate effect. Plans are to reopen the theatres after the Easter weekend or until further notice, said Roland Stansell, entertainment co-ordinator and manager of the Durban, Kloof, Pietermaritzburg, Sheffield Beach and Durban North franchises.

The Gate69 supper show venue in Cape Town had originally opted to continue operating, keeping audiences at the restricted limit and implementing measures consistent with everyday preventative actions to help prevent the spread of the virus. However, the venue has now issued a statement saying it will no longer do so.

“It is with great sadness that we must announce that Gate69 will close its doors with immediate effect. We had wholeheartedly intended to ride out this wave of chaos and panic with love in our hearts and laughter on our lips, but at times like these, matters are taken out of the hands of the average person. We ask you to understand that we are not in the position to refund tickets. We will rise again, and when we do, your safely banked tickets will be waiting for you.”

Ster-Kinekor cinemas countrywide will operate only between noon and 6pm.

“The executive committee and leadership team are encouraging social distancing inside the cinema, by ensuring that two seats be left empty between each booked seat. In addition, cinema capacity for each show will be capped at 100. We are proceeding with scheduled programming – however, no shows will screen before noon or after 6pm,” a spokesman said.

Nu Metro cinemas has sent out a statement from Andries Basson, National Operations Executive, that its cinemas will continue to remain open.

“We are adhering to stringent health and safety cleaning protocols – which have also been enhanced for high-touch point areas such as kiosks, self-service terminals, serving counters, door handles, rails and bathroom areas.

“Staff have also been trained on all the preparatory and preventative measures required to limit the spread of infection. We also encourage our customers to follow the guidelines laid down by the South African government and the World Health Organisation.”

Basson added in his statement: “Our commitment and responsibility towards customers have never been stronger as we face the Covid-19 pandemic together. Their safety as well as the safety of our staff are our highest priority. Our actions demonstrate a firm commitment to deploying appropriate resources to help maintain a healthy environment for our customers and team members.”

He said the company would continue to monitor the situation, with further measures to be announced and implemented at a later stage.

Also note that Durban’s annual Time of the Writer festival will continue, but in a new format. After much consideration and in view of the current pandemic, the physical version of the #TOW2020 festival, due to take place from March 16 to 21 in Durban, has been cancelled.

“We are, at all times, committed to supporting South African writers and are currently working hard to make resources available to facilitate a part the festival through digital and media channels. We are indeed excited about this development. Please keep a lookout on our social media channels for the recent updates,” said a spokesman.

“who have already purchased tickets, will be contacted by us regarding refunds. In case of any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at (031) 2602506.”


2 thoughts on “Dark times for showbiz industry

  1. Thanks for this, Billy. Not entirely unexpected, but heartbreaking nonetheless. I know you will continue to keep us informed of any further developments. KIndest regards, Sally

    Like

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