Encore: What has the arts done for you lately?

Encore: What has the arts done for you lately?

I attended the launch of Artscape’s 2015 programme for education, skills and the youth last week. It made me think about the importance of critical theatre skills transfer to the younger folk – if we are indeed serious about the future of theatre in this country.

And what a refreshing display of talents, and a reassuring display there was all around. And yes, one can bang on and on about the importance of the arts in the many ways that one does but in the end, if one does not develop the skills and moreover the LOVE for the arts with younger folk, one will possibly lose future generations to the mighty onslaught of technology. I see many of our young folk completely glued to television sets, playing those dreadful PlayStation (and the like) games all day long, and falling hook, line and sinker into the trappings of modern-day man. And then one attends this kind of gathering and one’s hopes are renewed that perhaps the future of theatre in the city, in the country may just be in good hands.

Some weeks ago I was asked to be on a radio panel to discuss the role of the media in promoting the arts. Are we doing enough to promote the arts, and, is the arts journalist a dying breed?
Papers like the one you are holding in your hands right now (or reading on the screen right now) surely do. However, when one looks at the space the arts gets afforded in daily newspapers or even on radio, one realises that compared to the almighty cricket, rugby and football it is a drop in the ocean. When one goes to the theatre these days, to see excellent productions, with equally exceptional performers in them, one is amazed at the number of people in the audience: sometimes 14, sometimes 40. And I am not talking about the big musicals here where tickets are sold out months before the time – just ordinary plays that tell the stories of our people. What does this mean? I guess it comes down to the simple ol’ supply and demand adage.

Does it mean that people do not want to see plays? That they do not want mirrors held up to see the misery or the state of the nation, or the state of themselves within the nation?
Perhaps, with the economy as it is, all they want is to be entertained when they do spend a buck or three to go to the theatre. Or, they only go the theatre when they get that prized complimentary ticket, or “comp” as it is known among most people. And how do they think theatre makers must make a living? Ultimately, each person decides for themselves where they want to spend their money. But, we also know that a large part of that decision is made because of clever marketing. Supplement companies are a good case in point. Many of the supplements are complete placebos and yet it is a multi-million rand industry. People literally spend hundreds of rand every month on something that potentially does nothing for them. As long as they believe it does!
It is because most people are hankering after a younger, sexier, “I will live forever” look – and they would do anything to achieve this. I guess theatre can be far too “real” or can make them think. And we all know most people these days don’t really want to think!

But, it got me thinking: what if we packaged theatre like that? What if we sold theatre to the public as something that will keep you young and beautiful? Put them on red carpets, wearing good clothes and showing off their long healthy locks of hair, and their pearly white smiles? Would that put bums on our seats? Just a thought…
At the same time one thinks of the idiom that speaks to “live and let live”. People must like something because they do, not because it is forced upon them. I never liked rugby, yet it was forced upon us. To this day, I still can’t see the appeal. Yet, people clamour for tickets to big games.
I know we can’t all like the same things, but we honestly need to do something to make sure the arts live forever. That said, kudos to Ms Le Roux and her team who continually strive to develop new audiences, and who open the doors to the young to explore the various aspects of theatre and music; to learn, grow and empower themselves so that they might love it so much that new, confident voices emerge in a country that is sorely in need of visionary leadership and identity.

Email: rafiek@mweb.co.za