As theatres and other public facilities remain shut due to Covid-19 restrictions, Joburg City Theatres which includes Joburg Theatre, Soweto Theatre and Roodepoort Theatre are pulling all the stops to ensure that theatre patrons remain entertained during the lockdown period by streaming a number of productions from their archive including Gibson Kente’s Too Late.
Widely acknowledged as Father of Black Theatre in South Africa, Gibson Kente’s Too Late is a one-act play providing a brutal and unadulterated snapshot of life during Apartheid’s heyday and focuses on the daily struggles for human rights, decency and dignity by the residents of an unnamed township. Issues like police brutality, crime, poverty were all too common and for Kente these stories needed to be told. Too Late was first performed in 1975 and promptly banned by the Publications Control Board due to its content which was unflattering to the authorities but the decision was later reversed. It was also Gibson Kente’s only published play.
The musical play was staged in 2019 at the Joburg Theatre to mark both the National School of the Arts’ 50th anniversary and South Africa’s 25th anniversary of democracy. As the marquee production during the NSA’s annual Festival of the Arts all the characters were played by students from the National School of the Arts and the play expertly directed by Joburg City Theatres Artistic Director, Makhaola Ndebele. This win-win partnership between the National School of the Arts and Joburg Theatre did not only allow the students to experience what it feels like to be part of a professional production but to also be on a professional stage.
Through the Joburg City Theatres innovative archival content streaming programme accessible via all the theatres’ media platforms, Artistic Director Makhaola Ndebele believes that even after Covid-19 is over they will continue with the initiative and they are also working on adding more variety to the content by having strategic partners, Joburg Ballet and Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra contribute their work. At the same time, they have also requested independent producers who have broadcast quality content recorded at JCT theatres to submit content so it becomes part of the streaming programme.
As the theatre closures have affected revenues and many other aspects of the value chain, Makhaola Ndebele, the Artistic Director at Joburg City Theatres thinks that Covid-19 has “caused a global rethink, much of what we (Joburg City Theatres) have taken for granted has been changed and taken away from us overnight and we’ve had to adjust…. We have been hard at work trying to keep offering our patrons an exceptional content that they have become accustomed to, as we say in our business the show must go on”.
For Makhaola Ndebele and Joburg City Theatres “the future (after Covid-19) is likely to involve an increased online presence, and a more professionalised and targeted archiving process” and on a winder scale this is something the theatre industry will have to embrace and find ways of creating the ‘new normal’ which revives and revitalises the bruised and battered global theatre industry.
Too Late, written by Gibson Kente and directed by Makhaola Ndebele was available across all Joburg City Theatres platforms (Joburg Theatre, Soweto Theatre and Rodepoort Theatre) from 14-17 May and also currently 4 – 7 June 2020. The production was made possible through social investment support from the FirstRand Foundation through the RMB Fund for Education for a Creative Economy, the National Lotteries Commission, the National Arts Council, Business Arts South Africa and with the support of The Joburg Theatre, ASSITEJ South Africa and Tastic