BY SHARON SIBINDI
THE outbreak of COVID-19 robbed theatre enthusiasts of pleasures associated with the merriments of the World Theatre Day commemorated annually on March 27.
Like any other celebrations, the World Theatre Day is celebrated by theatre schools, stakeholders or practitioners in different ways.
Previously, Bulawayo Theatre used to celebrate the day in style, giving a treat to theatre lovers, but due to COVID-19 they could not do it as the creative sector has remained under lockdown since March last year.
As the country commemorated World Theatre Day over the weekend, some creatives told NewsDay Life & Style that they were struggling to stay afloat and with no clear picture of what the future holds.
“Theatre lovers have been robbed of live performances, this has affected us big time. We have been robbed of audience interaction. The state of theatre is currently at standstill because of COVID-19. We need to find a way to make theatre alive again,” Umkhathi Theatre Works founder Matesu Dube said.
“We have taken our plays to the radio. We are sending our shows to social media like Facebook. We are having good views there. Local audiences have no data to go online to watch shows. Mostly we depend on outside audiences who watch our shows online.”
Theatre practitioner Chipo Mawarire echoed the same sentiments.
“It took a blow, but it seems to be coming back. Also the magic of live performances which draws some to the theatre has been compromised. We premiered Vagina Monologues Africa online last year in August after realising how the new normal was calling for digital migration,” she said.
“To my surprise, people are willing to watch theatre online to fill in the gap caused by the lockdown and the number of views during streaming sessions are promising.”
Inkululeko Yabatsha School of Arts (Iyasa) director Nkululeko Innocent Dube said the state of theatre is in limbo.
“We all do not know what the future holds. People are experimenting and grappling with new ideas, including online presentations. It’s complicated, but then theatre must not die,” he said.
Dube said although they have also considered going online, it will however, never be the same as the intimacy that theatre brings between the audience and the performers is lost.
“The chemistry and telepathy between the audience and the performers is now lost, but then it is the direction things are taking as we are going digital. However, in Zimbabwe data is expensive and internet connection is not smooth. That alone is going to make our work elitist,” he said.
“I think for the same reason, people prefer to watch music and live bands, it’s going to take time to get people to adapt to screen theatre. Festivals internationally and theatres are booking digital shows with audiences paying online through various platforms. These are the trends and we as a country need to match those standards sooner than later.”
Priscilla Sithole Ncube of Ibhayisikopo Film said COVID-19 regulations limiting theatre lovers and this has been a serious challenge as most of the people prefer to be at their homes and watching television.
“Theatre venues and human resource actors are not working, that affects the industry badly. We need to shift to the new era and record the productions online or do live-streaming, but data will be the challenge now as it is too expensive for someone to watch full length production,” she said.
“We need to shift to online, but people prefer to go to theatres.Theatre is about interacting physically with the actors, not visual so people will take a long time to adjust. Slowly theatre producers have started rehearsals. Few theatre lovers will start to watch it.”
Ncube said the audience must switch to embrace online shows.
“Theatre depends on gate-takings, so the fewer the people means the actors are affected. We need a serious shift to consider online paid performance to generate income. Theatre, if not supported seriously, it will die,” she said.
Zenzo Nyathi said: “The state of theatre like all other sectors is not in its “real” normal as we knew it. It’s suffocating as people prefer physical interfaces than online theatre,” he said.
“People are watching and liking what we are sharing with them online. I guess for them also it’s because of their limited options. Reality is people prefer the physical interface, interaction more than online.”
He said although he has gone digital, monitising online was difficult such that he was only doing so to remain visible.
Cadrick Msongelwa said: “Theatre is crumbling. COVID-19 robbed us of an opportunity to celebrate theatre in a theatre way and what it means to be the theatre actor on World Theatre Day.”
“Theatre’s future looks bright, we have so much talent producing content and not just any content, international standard. If we begin to engage nationwide as the next generation of theatre practitioners to train and create works, we will come out of COVID-19 bigger and better. Let’s train people the traditional styles of theatre and the new ways that can help grow the artwork.”
Memory Kumbota said they were seeing a lot of theatre on online platforms but the essence of theatre was live experience.
“That interaction with a live audience is the quintessential experience of theatre and what makes it unique as compared to other genres. Theatre has suffered a lot from COVID-19. On World Theatre Day, I have had a play Sons of Man that I co-wrote with others and self-directed on Facebook,” he said.
“There are advantages to having work online and the obvious one being that the digital highway knows no borders, so we see our work being seen by a broad audience.
“The obvious disadvantage is that the essence of the live stage experience cannot be replicated online while it is the life blood of the theatre. We get relatively good views but that is difficult to monetise.”
Kumbota said he had seen a stimulating approach to the theatre from many young practitioners.
“Even before the COVID-19 restrictions, theatre had to compete with television and the internet as an entertainment option. So to get people to leave their homes and come to the theatre, we have to be innovative and meet the challenges of the modern world,” he said.
Follow Sharon on Twitter @SibindiSharon