Baxter Theatre buckles under lockdown

Baxter Theatre marketing manager, Fahiem Stellenboom.

The national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on a number industries, including arts and entertainment.

Baxter Theatre Centre marketing manager, Fahiem Stellenboom, from Green Point, says their financial loss has been enormous.

The Rondebosch theatre, which has been at the forefront of performing arts for 43 years, has been closed for a month.

“The bulk of our income is generated through ticket sales, theatre rentals and international tours of our productions and this is not possible now, not only here in South Africa, but all over the world,” he said.

The Baxter staff which includes the ushers, the backstage crew, administrative staff and creative director are all impacted. “There can be no denying that it creates a whirlwind of emotions and sometimes anxiety, for many of us and our staff have been exemplary and caring,” he said.

The Baxter staff are employed by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and full-time staff are still getting paid by them.

Artistic director of the Baxter Theatre’s Zabalaza Festival, Mdunyiswa Kweyama, from Gardens, says they run a developmental programme where they interact on a one-on-one basis with artists and organisations in the province.

“Unfortunately, the lockdown and social distancing means that this is not possible.”

Mr Kweyama says even though they were lucky enough to finish the Zabalaza Festival at the beginning of March before Covid-19 became more serious, they work with many schools and there is uncertainty as to when schools will be open again to plan for the next Zabalaza Festival.

Head of production at the Baxter, Marisa Steenkamp, from Claremont, says her production team built their schedule around the productions staged at various theatres at the centre.

“Sadly, with the lockdown no shows are taking place and most of our work had to come to a standstill.”

That includes stopping all maintenance of the Baxter Theatre Centre equipment.

Ms Steenkamp is spending the lockdown with her family of six. She has four children, which includes two children in high school , one in primary school and one in pre-school.

“We try to stick to some kind of routine by doing school work at a certain time, getting in some physical exercise, doing arts and crafts and always having supper around the table in the evenings.”

Mr Stellenboom says that chief executive officer and creative director, Lara Foot, from Claremont, has kept them connected. “Working on how we can remain relevant and navigate our way through this lockdown and beyond,” he said.

The Baxter Theatre Centre had to stop operations immediately after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on March 15.

It included stopping David Kramer’s Danger in the Dark, which had two more weeks to go before the season ended. “That meant a huge loss of revenue considering that it was a fairly large cast and team and the Baxter honoured all these contracts by paying the production for the remaining two weeks,” said Mr Stellenboom.

Tally Ho!’s production of The Last Few Years was about to open but couldn’t so the show was postponed until a later date.

Mr Stellenboom says patrons who booked tickets were offered refunds and were encouraged to donate their tickets instead, which means that their funds went towards the Baxter.

“The response was encouraging and we are thankful to those patrons.”

Many shows had to be postponed. Even the prestigious Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, which honours the best theatre productions for the past year, scheduled for the Baxter last month, had to be cancelled.

Mr Stellenboom says they were excited for that awards as they received 30 nominations for their own productions and co-productions, which took place the past year.

The Baxter faces a lot of uncertainty about its future. “Looking at the spread of Covid-19, I don’t anticipate that we will be able to open immediately once the lockdown is lifted,” says Mr Stellenboom.

He believes that even if the lockdown gets lifted, there may still be continued physical distancing in place. “It will probably take a few months before we can safely open our doors and welcome artists and audiences back to our theatre and spaces.”

Mr Stellenboom has been part of their team for 16 years and says he has always been passionate about the arts.

“I love working in the arts where every day is different and every encounter with creativity is special,” he said.

Mr Stellenboom has been following the strict lockdown quidelines, though it hasn’t stopped him from trying new things. He has been exercising by viewing YouTube videos, he’s also done Tai Chi and meditation, lots of cooking and cleaning and most importantly, keeping a smile under the circumstances.

He has also been working on various projects for the Baxter, information of which they will announce in the future.