DA calls on Minister Mthethwa to provide support for online theater performances 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes with concern that the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture seems to once again have released regulations without consulting those in the arts industry.

It is time the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, truly engaged with the industry in ways that will assist, instead of hamper, the reopening the sector and help artist desperate to return to their craft and earn an income, by exploring support funding for artists and theaters for online performances. The Minister should meet with the industry to find solutions for Government to assist the community to safely and securely perform their productions online.

We will remind the Minister that most South African artists were excluded from his Department’s Covid-19 relief funding due largely to its ill-conceived application process and his refusal to reopen the application process.

The DA has extensively engaged with the arts community and there are several concerns around the recently gazetted regulations:

  • Capacity constraints: Restrictions allowing no more than 50 people in a theatre, will mean that most theatres will operate at a considerable loss and will therefore be more likely not to reopen;
  • Foyer bars: Theatres are dependent on the sales from snacks and beverages from foyer bars. Without this income, most theatres will not be able to carry the cost of opening;
  • Limited cast and crew: Although it can be easy enough to create performances with a small cast and crew, the regulations are unclear in a lot of aspects, for instance do the 15 people allowed in productions include understudies;
  • Like all other business reopening during the Covid-19 lockdown, theatres are responsible for sanitising their own spaces. Without financial aid from Government, and the other restrictions causing an economic strain, theatres will simply not be able to afford the cost of reopening.

A new revenue stream that has recently become more viable due to the lockdown, is to stream performances on online platforms. Many artists have had to make this jump to virtual performances, some with great success. But theatres and producers have expressed concern that they will not be able to cover the full production cost of streaming performances online with concerns about secure and encrypted platforms as well as internet costs.

Unless the Minister takes the time to truly engage with artists and understand their concerns and realities, he can never offer anything other than poorly drafted regulations that only serve to confuse and prolong suffering.