I’m not very good at euphemisms, I have been told often that I have no tact so here is my truth, as an artist, about Cape Town theatres.
I have been performing independently and professionally for 2 years now. Yes, it is a very short time, yes, I am very new in the world of solo artist and navigating the field. Yes, I am still a baby in this world. But I see, and hear and experience the world as the adult that I am, as the woman that I am, as the black South African that I am.
What I see worries me grately.
Cape Town is sitting in a position of comfort, as it sits and the creases in its belly and behind its knees become hard caked cracks. As the muscles on its neck become lax and over stretched, slowly allowing its heavy head to come to rest with chin on chest. We, who live here, find it harder to navigate the gaps and lines and folds. The paths run deep and are hard to change.
I recently had the pleasure of working with The Masque Theatre’s new manager, Nicola Date. She is a young, enthusiastic individual who believes in the future of our country, the energy of the youth and in theatre, in all of its forms.
In 2015 I had a meeting with the Masque management in which I sat feeling poor, black, insignificant and unimportant. I was told that performing at The Masque Theatre would cost me R 3 000 per day. I planned to perform for 5 days. This would mean that I would spend R 15 000 before I had even done anything.
I sat there, feeling as if my South African stereotype was throttling me. Black, poor, struggling-artist, unable to perform for lack of funding, unable to proudly own a space because the space was designed for richer, whiter, more established owners.
Now don’t get me wrong. The Masque theatre is not one of few theatres who work like this. It is one of all theatres in Cape Town, CBD, that work like this. The Masque Theatre is also one of the cheaper theatres. Some go up to R 6 000 and more per day. I stopped asking at this point. Who the **** has that kind of money?
My question is not rhetorical.
In Cape Town, white artist have that kind of money. White artists with wealthy families or people who get funded, white owned companies with black artists in them. Don’t even get me started on how the funding works!
In January 2016 I met Nicola. She tailor-made a performance financial plan for me that worked for me and for The Masque theatre. She worked tirelessly and created awareness and shouted her name and mine in all corners of Cape Town.
We became a team, a powerhouse demanding attention. She called and messaged me whenever there was good or bad news. We created a completely new theatre-going community in Muizenberg.
If Cape Town is described as sleepy, Muizenberg is in a coma. It took 2 quiet shows, a television interview, 2 radio interviews, newspaper advertising, Facebook and theatre reviews to wake Cape Town up and get Muizenberg alive.
My production ‘Exhibit S, Ode to Saartjie Baartman by a Black South African Woman’ is a one woman show exhibiting the imagined life of Saartjie Baartman and mirroring it with my own life and the lives of black South African women and women in general. The piece looks at history, freedom and patriarchy. It is not an enjoyable night out at the theatre, but it is an interesting experience and brings people together in unexpected ways.
In my experience, and here I speak generally, white people in Cape Town like a fun show, a feel good show that allows you to sip your drink, laugh and clap. Every now and again you will find young white Capetonians pushing the stereotype boundaries and watching something a little more uncomfortable, a little more accusational. Coloured people are still learning to navigate theatre spaces, while black people think it’s just for the rich white people.
Performing in Muizenberg brought together the real community of Cape Town, brought together my first real South African audience. It was my most racially , sexually and financially diverse audience yet.
Both The Masque Theatre and I had expected very little from the season and we were pleasantly surprised. Muizenberg blew my socks off, Cape Town held my heart.
The truth is rude and ugly, but it must be said. Theatre is not changing because South Africa is not encouraging it to. South Africans are not willing to open their minds.
There are township theatres, Theatre in the Backyard. There are people performing in their lounges, performing in the streets, on the beach. The theatre is a wonderful space but also an uninviting space for those of us who do not have the money to feel like we own the space.
Follow us, support us. Art is art. A good artist can perform anywhere. Follow us into the spaces that we can own.
Until South Africa begins to do thing for its people, we will have to do things for ourselves. Follow us. Follow art. Money should not be the reason for Cape Towns stagnant theatre culture.