Interview: Caroline Calburn talks about the Covid responsive season, Creating Theatre in the Age of Corona at Theatre Arts in Observatory, Cape Town
“I also believe that what the pandemic was offering was a new way of thinking about theatre. I have always loved experimental theatre, particularly one that plays with form, and so felt the pandemic was offering a real gift to the theatre world to think about how to make work differently. I wanted to create an opportunity for theatre makers to start thinking differently.” Caroline Calburn, artistic director, Theatre Arts, Cape Town.
✅ Season: October 10 to December 5, 2020
✅ Tickets: R100
✅ Bookings: https://theatrearts.co.za No cash sales available at the door
✅ Info: 082 752 1376
Theatres in South Africa were shuttered on March 15, 2020 – prior to the national lockdown on March 26. With the announcement of level 1, theatre spaces began to raise their curtains. There is great excitement as artists can get back to work but without income for six months, many independent artists cannot afford basic production costs. Theatre Arts (formerly Theatre Arts Admin Collective) is a vital live performance hub, which operates from a hall at the Methodist Church in Observatory and under the stewardship of its visionary artistic director, Caroline Calburn, a plan was put into place to fast track staging of theatre in the pandemic. With funding from a bequest from the estate of the late, Gordon Hirschowitz, Calburn put out a call for submissions for a season in which artists reflect and respond to the concept creating theatre in the time of the pandemic. The five works in the programme are new and this an incredible opportunity for audiences to venture back into theatre – in the intimate Theatre Arts.
TheCapeRobyn: This season is being presented as “a response to lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions.” Whose idea was it to put this season together?
Caroline Calburn: The idea came through the constant thinking and trying to make sense of the world and our future in lockdown. I was of the belief that the 2m apart thing was going to be with us for about 18 months early on in the lockdown and so it made sense to me to start thinking as soon as possible about how to create work in the pandemic that could exist in the pandemic for however long it was going to last. Artists need to be able to create work and earn a living and the only way that that was going to happen was to get creative and make work that could be performed live during this time. It seemed the most logical thing to do. I also felt it was not as though artists had never made work with dire constraints before. They always are. It is just that these constraints were new – so let’s work with them.
TheCapeRobyn: During lockdown, there has been a great deal of streaming of theatre on screens on the ‘digital stage’. The opportunity to watch live is a big relief for many who have had it with streaming?
Caroline Calburn: I felt strongly that taking to screen was a knee jerk reaction and was not serving theatre well. I find watching theatre on screen unbearably boring and did not want to contribute to it. Plus filming theatre under pandemic conditions was much like performing live to a small audience although a whole lot less safe, as a live performance takes less time than filming a performance properly. For me the safest landscape for live performance is performing live within compliance, and so I worked hard to create the right environment for live performance to exist. I also believe that what the pandemic was offering was a new way of thinking about theatre. I have always loved experimental theatre, particularly one that plays with form, and so felt the pandemic was offering a real gift to the theatre world to think about how to make work differently. I wanted to create an opportunity for theatre makers to start thinking differently.
TheCapeRobyn: Insights into what we can expect with some of the work? I see overseas that some work is being presented in cubicles in a theatre so that each person is screened off. Can we expect those kind of interventions?
Caroline Calburn: Nope – we do not have the financial resources to go all out and technical although we have thought about all these ways of creating boundaries and barriers. However, I do believe that the basics of masks and 2m apart and sanitising are all that we need to take into consideration for health safety. The artists are experimenting with space and how we are all kept 2m apart. And within that, the philosophical questions are emerging. Some productions explore more with form than others. Some are exploring the form of human body and the space between. Each is vastly different and I look forward to finding out how audiences respond.
TheCapeRobyn: Theatre Arts was formerly called Theatre Arts Admin Collective. When did the name change?
Caroline Calburn: Our name changed at the beginning of the year  after many years of wanting to move away from our rather long-winded name that somehow people had become attached to. After a number of suggestions and a wonderful rebranding exercise we went through about three years ago, we suddenly just lopped off the last two words in January  and it felt right. Most of us had actually been calling the space Theatre Arts for years. We announced our new name and new logo and our whole 2020 programme of work in February at our annual awards evening and less than a month later had to abandon the entire programme, when we went into the national lockdown.
Creating Theatre in the Age of Corona
- Season dates: October 10 to December 5, 2020
- Venue: Theatre Arts in Observatory, Cape Town
- Address: Methodist Church Hall, Corner Milton Road and Wesley Street , Observatory, 7925, Cape Town.
- Tickets: R100. Seating is unreserved
- Bookings: https://theatrearts.co.za No cash sales available at the door
- Booking info: 082 752 1376
✔ Covid-19 safety protocols in place at venue– sanitizer, temperature checks etc. No mask- no entry.
❇Image credit: Rafé Green presents MODORENAI. Photo by Jesse Kramer