Africa Defense Forum
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Famous Theater in South Africa Raises Curtain Online


South Africa’s Market Theatre is one of several African cultural institutions that has gone entirely online because of COVID-19 restrictions that prevent large gatherings.

This small institution has seen other difficult times. It often is known as the “Theater of the Struggle” for its flouting of apartheid-era laws after opening in 1976. Now, theater staff members hope their artistic message, which touches on current events, will resonate beyond Africa.

Artistic director James Ngcobo said the acclaimed theater, which has received 21 international awards for its work, is seizing the opportunity to spread its stories beyond this country by streaming its entire season online. It also is writing new, topical shows that touch on issues many South Africans, and people across the world, are facing. Ngcobo said he cooked up the plan shortly after South Africa’s government announced a strict lockdown in late March 2020, shuttering most nonessential businesses.

South African actor and playwright Paul Slabolepszy said it is more important than ever that art continues to be made.

“We explain ourselves, our conversations come through storytelling. If we were living just with the struggles that we have with no hope, life would be terrifying,” he said. “We need stories all the time. We need to connect in any way we can to feel human.”

National theaters in Algeria and Egypt also are doing live shows online, and Somalia’s National Theatre reopened for Independence Day celebrations.

Ngcobo said the Market Theatre has gotten an enthusiastic response to its online offerings from people in other African countries, and the U.S. and Europe. But he thinks that the continent’s artistic houses could do more. His theater is communicating with institutions in Ghana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to help them go online.

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