SAST improves artists’ lives during Covid-19

The South African State Theatre

2020 has been a difficult year for the artistic industry amid the National Lockdown Regulations which imposed strict restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Initially, the SAST closed its doors to audiences since government imposed a total National Lockdown in March 2020. The theatre explored creative and innovative ways of keeping the arts alive by taking its theatre programme online to not only entertain its audiences but to also offer financial relief to artists. The programme which boasts over 57 productions, has managed to provide relief by creating short-term jobs for over 480 artists, technical crew, and production administrators during the trying times thus far during the lockdown. Furthermore, the SAST applied for conditional re-opening in July 2020, which was subsequently approved, making the SAST one of the first theatres to resume operations in the country with live performances commencing in October 2020.

In line with the Covid-19 regulations and health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, the theatre’s management took precautionary measures to ensure that the health and safety of its patrons, which has always been a primary focus, is not at risk. Limited seating was and still is applied in venues to maintain social distancing with the wearing of masks, temperature checking and other protocols in place.

The launch of the online theatre programme coincided with the Africa Month celebrations on 24 May 2020, which saw streaming of a never-seen-before performance by the multi-Grammy Award winning acapella group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, alongside the Guinness Record holder, Percy Maimela, Mamelodi-born Ncamisa Nqana and rounded-off by Luthando Arts Academy’s soul-stirring “Amawethu”. The launch, curated as Season 1, preceded the 2020 Africa Day celebrations which saw SAST youth choir singing the African Union anthem, and SAST curated the various segments of the live broadcast celebrations which were broadcasted across the continent, alongside the main Africa Day Address by the Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency C. M. Ramaphosa.

Season 2, comprising a diverse palette of youthful productions, streamed previously recorded productions from SAST’s archives including Freedom: The Musical, a ground-breaking musical production by the SAST’s Artistic Director and multi-award-winning playwright, Aubrey Sekhabi.

The critically acclaimed play, The Fall headlined to also commemorate Youth Month in June 2020. The production, created by seven University of Cape Town Drama graduates who were at the forefront of the movement, share their personal experiences during the #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and subsequent student movements that swept across South Africa during 2015 and 2016.

A visual art exhibition doccie; Artdiction 0.1 by Anathi Nkanyuza was also featured in the programme. The self-taught smoke artist Anathi Nkanyuza, affectionately known as Elpee, burst the newsfeed with his rare visual art technique when he exhibited under the Incubator Programme at State Theatre in 2018 and during the Mzansi Fela Festival in 2019. Using only a candle and paraffin lamp, he applies fire and smoke on paper to turn pieces of colour into something the world has never seen before.

Torsten Tebogo Rybka, known on stage as Clear aka Clear as Fire brought a poetry production; Speaking from Experience (Growth). The production is a journey on the wings of poetry and music. Presented by the SAST and supported by a live band, a poet’s voice soars to share his and others life-time experiences. The production is described as an emotional journey of awareness.

The South African State Theatre was excited to unveil a jampacked line-up in Season 3 of its online theatre programme (#SASTonlineTheatre), which started on 19 July 2020 with Koekeloer, Elephant’s Dream, Trafficked and That Night of Trance.

In commemoration of the Women’s Month, the SAST was thrilled to present virtual music concerts by the musical doyen Mama Sibongile Khumalo (MAY HER SOUL REST IN PEACE) and the critically acclaimed songstress Zonke Dikana. The two concerts were included in the mix of SAST’s Season 4 online streaming programme which already boasted a diverse billing. Mosadi Poo – by Mmapula Setlhako, the story of a woman called Mosadi Poo, played by Tebeka, who challenges the status quo. In a game of survival, Mosadi Poo finds herself having to carve a new path for herself in a world that has previously dictated her steps. The piece stands and advocates for personal freedom and expression. Mosadi Poo will be featured in the 2021 main programme of Vavasati International Festival The season also included streaming of the critically acclaimed Marikana: The Musical by Aubrey Sekhabi from 12 August to 06 September 2020. The musical play recounts the harrowing story about the killing of mineworkers on 16 August 2012 at Marikana in the North West Province, who left behind widows and children.

On 28 August, the SAST hosted a webinar entitled, ‘Women in the Arts Speak,’ which looked at women’s leadership and roles in the arts. The panel consisted of Palesa Kwitshana, Aphiwe Mpahleni, Karabelo Plaatjie and Lindiwe Letwaba.

During the heritage month, the SAST online programme, presented Season 5, which was headlined by the award-winning Jazz music sensation Zoë Modiga in a virtual music concert as well as the cultural and heritage enthusiast, Mbuso Khoza performing Amahubo in concert. Added to the rich line-up was archival production footage on the story of renowned Fela Kuti chronicled in a musical play entitled Fela and The Kalakuta Queens which was presented and recorded by the SAST.

Another musical-theatre extravaganza included in Season 5 was the production Sneeuwijie, which is an Afrikaans version of the pantomime Snow-White.

On 25 September 2020, The State Theatre in association with SANAP hosted a webinar that focused on the importance of indigenous languages in the professional space under the topic: Art in Our Languages-Cultivating Stories Preserving Our Languages. Moderated by actor, producer, and cultural activist Karabo Kgokong, the webinar featured Lebo Leisa, Sabata Mokae and Mandla Mbothwe on the panel.

The SAST Education, Youth and Community Training (EYCT) department hosted SARS and DALRO webinars in October 2020. The purpose of the webinars was to workshop artists on tax related information and upskill them in handling tax registration and submissions of returns, offer content creation information as well as equip artists with information on how to protect their work.

The SAST in association with Sketch Productions presented a love story set to unfold in a new play titled Metsi, written and directed by Hannah Van Tonder, which explores a spiritual connection between destined soulmates whose stars align by circumstance. Metsi premiered on the SAST YouTube channel on 28 September 2020. The production is set to make a live return in August 2021, featured in the main programme of the Vavasati International Festival.

Season 7 that started on 08 November 2020, launched the fight against Gender Based Violence (GBV) with a poetry and music showcase aimed at amplifying the voices and the plight of women and the LGBTQI+ community titled, Bodies Under Siege. This programme featured a generational mix of poets and musicians.

From 15 November to 15 December, SAST showcased a virtual concert by award-winning composer, arranger, music producer, singer-songwriter and rap artist Kabelo “Bonafide Billi” Togoe.

Having now opened our doors and welcomed back audiences to the theatre, SAST was ready to host fans of the afro-pop trio, Encore, in a guaranteed dazzling live performance by the group on 27 November 2020.

The SAST unequivocally tackled the GBV conversation in live edutainment. On 06 November, the public (especially men) were invited to come to the theatre and be part of a conversation focusing on GBV under the banner Broken Jar – a project by BMK during which men spoke about their problems.

The theatre’s Artistic Director unveiled a new cutting-edge online programme called SAST Fringe, which sought to illuminate unconventional talent in the music scene. With 52 music concerts lined up until December 2021, the SAST has already presented various bands in different genres every Sunday evening. Since its launch in November 2020, SAST fringe has presented Kabelo “Bonafide Billi” Togoe, Thokozile (Manakomba) Ndimande, Blow Lepara, Ncamisa Nqana, Siphelele Mnyande “PDOTO” ItuSings, Azah, TehillahMusic, Dudu Makhoba, Ngwako Manamela, Blow Lepara, Morayks, Rivoningo Bonnie Nkuna, Lebo Ditsepu, Gina Mabasa, Amohelang, Mandla Ntlaks Ntlatlane, Percy Mthunzi, Chad Da Don, Kly, Rudolph Mamabolo, Moshe Matseke, New Skool Sextet, Jackey Masekela, Zuri Afrika Band, Gally Ngoveni, & Sol Shibambu.

“At a strategic level, “SAST Fringe” is an experiment from digital to live. The content which will be viewed for the first time on our digital platforms. This will give us an opportunity to see what happens when you translate your content from digital to stage. It also gives the artists an idea of how the audiences view their content, how they react to it. This generally puts the artist on the map and gives them full exposure. Now that the content has gone digital, we want to see what happens when we bring it live. We have been experimenting with content from stage to digital, now we’ll be getting a balanced picture”, says Sekhabi.

Artists featured on SAST Fringe have been introduced to digital viewers through the new SAST magazine programme tittled On Stage, ably led by Keamogetswe Malefo. This magazine programme allowed viewers into the lives of artists, their upbringing, their struggles and their triumphs. The programme featured every Saturday, just before SAST Fringe on Sunday.

The 2020 installment of Mzansi Fela Festival (MFF) happened under turbulent times which are dynamically countered by innovation to make sure the festival was successfully delivered under Covid-19 lockdown conditions. The concerts of DJ Maphorisa alongside Kabza de Small on 04 December and Black Motion on 05 December, was not hosted inside closed theatre doors, but rather in the parking basement of Africa’s largest theatre complex.

During Mzansi Fela Festival, revelers were spoilt for choice with more live concerts by; award-winning jazz sensation Zoë Modiga on 6 December; acclaimed songbird Buhlebendalo on 11 December; and emerging musician and songwriter Langa Mavuso on 05 December. The three installations were produced in partnership with BandaBanda Agency. Makhafula Vilakazi’s album, Concerning Blacks was launched on 5 December and performed to a sold-out live audience, confirming that our audiences are hungry for live theatre.

Angola Camp 13, produced in association with Mantimakhulu, returned to SAST from 03 to 06 December after winning six Naledi Theatre Awards in September 2020. Writer and director Sello Maseko, who won Best Director of a Musical, saw the production win Best Production of a Musical award amongst others. The two awards belong to the pool of thirteen (13) won by SAST for productions staged during the 2019 season. On 01 December 2020, the theatre hosted a closed celebratory event, The Night of Di-Naledi, to honour winners from the productions: Angola Camp 13, Xova, My Children My Africa, and Aspoestertjie. The event which received a message from the late CEO of the Naledi Theatre Awards, Ms Dawn Linberg (May her Soul Rest in Peace) celebrated young artists who fulfilled mission of the SAST when we as SAST, said we wanted to develop a new cadre of artists.

Another partner in the 13th installment of MFF was the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. The SAST sought support of the municipality to enhance inclusivity of the capital city’s talent in the programme. The featured Tshwane talent were versatile and upcoming house musician DJ Senor Ice on 04 December, and Jonathan Groenewald, a rapper who is person living with disability performing on 05 December.

When Covid 19 devastated the arts industry last year, the SAST was about to launch the 2020 Kucheza Afrika Festival. Unfortunately, it was impossible. The SAST resolved that in 2021, Kucheza will continue, to ensure that artists and in this case particularly dancers are able to perform. The SAST therefore created a hybrid programme which featured live and online offerings. In addition, The South African State Theatre partnered with The Baxter Theatre, The Playhouse Company and Gauteng Sports Arts and Culture to present the 2021 Programme of Kucheza Afrika Dance Festival scheduled to take place from 01 to 11 April 2021. The programme boasts the dance fraternity’s most complete and celebrated dancers such as Vincent Mantsoe, Lulu Mlangeni, Bailey Snyman, Ignatius van Heerden, Fana Tshabalala, Nicola Haskins, Themba Mbuli, Thulani Chauke, Mdu Nhlapo and more. Tickets may be purchased on for these current productions.

In addition to the productions, both live and virtual, SAST has committed to providing training to community arts groups. This year, 15 community groups are participating in the SAST Mayibuye Community Outreach programme.

SAST has provided additional relief, in the form of financial relief to our tenants that occupy SAST premises. At the onset of the lockdown, tenant rental discounts were approved for the first three months of the lockdown. Discounts of up to 75% in monthly rental were provided in order to support our tenants through the tough economic hardships faced by all South Africans. Rental discounts have now been extended further for the 2021 year, for performance spaces which shall be discounted by as much as 50% for the year commencing 1 April 2021. This is to provide an enabling environment for the arts sector to have access to the SAST facilities where they may present their creative works and earn income.

The South African State Theatre continues to seek creative and innovative ways to deliver on its mandate during this difficult time of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is determined to demonstrate the resilience of the arts and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity.

Issued by the South African State Theatre

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Thakgatso Setseta, Junior PR officer
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Thakgatso Setseta
078 823 3596
South African State Theatre