Community theatre needs to be redefinedThami aka Mbongo
Thami aka Mbongo: Theatre producers, managers and media need to start crossing the borders and attend theatre performances happening in these communities.
The apartheid system placed us in boxes. People in town were doing Mainstream Theatre and those not in town are doing Community Theatre, Township Theatre, Protest Theatre etc. The strange thing is that there was never something called “Suburb Theatre” .
Today, we need to decide whether we are still stuck in those boxes, or we create our own box, or we become part of the so-called Mainstream Theatre – whatever that means.
The phrase "Community Theatre" in South Africa today is in a position that needs to be re-defined.
Whenever you hear Community Theatre - you think disadvantaged community, development, black people.
It is high time that we defined ourselves, our art and work. We must ourselves speak about us.
For example: plays that are staged in a church hall in Observatory are regarded as Mainstream Theatre while plays that are staged in Zolani Centre, Delft Rent Office, are still regarded as Community Theatre. I don’t know how and why?
What really makes Community Theatre? Is it the location, artists involved, race, resources or funding? And who decides this is Community Theatre and this is Mainstream Theatre?
We have professional actors, actresses, scriptwriters and directors who are performing and putting up shows in many alternative theatre spaces in our black communities – just like other venues in town. We have black professionals who are creating quality theatre productions that are being performed in the community spaces and are not given a chance or platform at the so-called "Mainstream Theatre" because they are still classified as a "Community Theatre". The only time you will see their work is through festivals.
Mainstream theatres should create platforms for upcoming theatre makers NOT only through festivals, but as on-going initiatives, especially those funded by the government.
Funding should also be allocated specifically NOT only for projects doing “development for disadvantage communities”, but for those that are already developed in these communities to share what they have learned in their own communities.
It’s time now to channel some funding to give to those that have been developed to showcase how developed they are.
A lot of trained artists from well-known arts institutions are creating work in these communities. They are joined by unemployed artists and those who are tired of exploitation by big producers, companies and institutions.
You get a black company formed by Mr May (white man) classified as Mainstream Theatre. But the same artists leave Mr May and form a theatre company based in Gugulethu and are classified as Community Theatre. Am I missing something here?
How long must people from these communities be developed? When are we going to classify the work done by these professional artists as Mainstream Theatre – is it when they do the work in town or is it when a proper theatre building is built in one of the townships, just like Soweto Theatre in Joburg?
A new voice of artists has emerged in these communities in the New South Africa. But the sad part is the work they do is still classified with terms that were used during apartheid regime.
Theatre producers, managers and media needs to start crossing the borders and attend theatre performances that are happening in these communities. So that they know what’s happening there.
We should see the work done by artists in these communities, NOT as a Community Theatre because that name has a bad stigma attached to it. If we still classified is as Community Theatre then we need to know exactly what we mean.
I don’t know how many times and occasion I sat down with Community Theatre graduates from UCT trying to get their definition of Community Theatre. And I am still waiting for these institutions and academics to give us their definition of Community Theatre.
Labelling of Community Theatre needs to be re-defined in South Africa today.
Thami aka Mbongo