Theatre for hire: Sue Diepeveen of the Drama Factory, Cape Town talks independent theatre and staging live performance during the Covid pandemic

What: The Drama Factory Where: 10 Comprop Sq, Henry Vos Close, Asla Business Park, Strand, Western Cape, South Africa Venue specs: 120 seats in raked rows, professional sound and lighting Contact number: Sue Diepeveen on 073 215 2290 E-mail: Website: Applications:  

Renaissance creative Sue Diepeveen opened The Drama Factory on February 19, 2017 in a business park on the Strand. Prior to lockdown, the theatre moved to another unit in the park and re-opened with a fully kitted out new venue on January 30, 2020- top notch lighting and sound.  In 2021, during the ongoing Covid pandemic, the innovative and upbeat Diepeveen is steering the independent space with as much flexibility as possible, to make it a viable and accessible platform for live performance. Have a show? Give The Drama Factory a call and assistance will be provided in making it happen- at no charge. It is all part of “The Deal” to make theatre  in these tenuous times. As the space is independently operated, it is in the position to present pop-up shows – at short notice – according to availability of the theatre and obviously in relation to Covid numbers remaining stable: “We are open for artists to apply for a spot: This is the easiest system. You ask us if there is a date available, you tell us about your production and we see if we can fit you into our schedule.  We are trying to be flexible and also to encourage artists to be flexible too.”

TheCapeRobyn: In Cape Town, mainstream venues have largely been shuttered – with some shows staged when Covid numbers were stable. Some independent spaces have folded. As an independent theatre, an owner operated venue, any ideas that you wish to put out?

Sue Diepeveen: I am so sad about venues that have closed and I too am only hanging on by the skin of my teeth.  I just think that the planning that needs to happen now is of utmost importance, we need content for our stage and I know that other venues will too once their doors open, performers must keep creating as much as they can and be as ready as they can be.  Keep skills polished and try to connect with others to keep morale up.  There is a lot happening around our sector politically at the moment and I encourage everyone to keep up with what is happening in this area.  There is a real push to create content for social media platforms and it has been so interesting to see what has developed in this area, we need to think out of the box until we can sit inside a box together again.  People need people and we will commune again without fear.  Many of us also need to change our mind-sets, we happily head to a shopping mall, or onto a plane. If we keep our distance in a theatre space we can enjoy ourselves safely.  Distance is the key.  We have encouraged our performers to push back on our stage area too – to give space between them and the audience.  If public are as concerned about the arts as they purport to be there are many ways of supporting, for instance The Theatre benevolent Fund has been around for years and really has helped keep the wolf from the door for many artists over the years and helping them is a simple matter of making them a beneficiary on your My School card.  Then there is the STAND Foundation which has been launched to help our sector help itself, people are welcome to contact me for information on how to help.

TheCapeRobyn: Does the Drama Factory assist with producing – for an additional fee?

Sue Diepeveen: We offer a lot of assistance when asked and there are many different audience markets and we are also learning as we go about what works for which audience.  I try to help where I can but certainly not for a fee. I am happy to share what little I know with others and hope that they will reach great heights and help others along the way.  We are still developing that side of the business. Up to now, we have been focusing on getting our infrastructure up to speed which will free us up to focus on the business of making theatre.  We are ready to take that leap and have been chatting to various parties about teaming up. 

TheCapeRobyn: How does the door operate in terms of split – or does it depend on the show?

Sue Diepeveen: Our website gives information about how we work in terms of “The Deal” and if something isn’t quite in line with what we offer, for example; school show, then we work on a straight venue hire.  There are many instances where there is a built-in audience and no real need for our ticketing system.   We generally work on a door split as we feel this is fair on the artists, and even though we have been burned a few times, of course, but that is how one learn. Not every show is a sell-out but we want to have a space that is not just one thing to one audience.

TheCapeRobyn: How many shows did The Drama Factory manage to stage in 2020 and did people support the shows?

Sue Diepeveen: We are in a fortunate position as our overheads are not as high as some of the other theatres which meant that being able to open up was fairly easy for us.  Audiences were HUNGRY for shows and happily came to the theatre, before the second wave hit and all of a sudden, we all knew someone who had been lost to this dreadful virus. Before lockdown, we staged 11 shows. Two shows were on twice. We shut down due to lockdown regulations on March 10. We opened again on September 11 with Song Sung Blue, presented by Johan Liebenberg and managed to stage 11 shows. The last show was Old School Legends with Monique Kassels and James Marais. That was on December 13, 2020. We shut down. Most theatres shut down with the spike of Covid and the new variant. See

TheCapeRobyn: In the first quarter of 2021, ‘planning’ live performance is a misnomer. Covid numbers can soar which may shut down theatres. How does The Drama Factory ‘plan’ to navigate this tenuous time?

Sue Diepeveen: This is the most frustrating thing on the planet for many right now and one of the blessings is that at the point The Drama Factory does not have permanent staff and that makes it a lot easier to go with the proverbial flow.  What we have done is start a series of training sessions where we are training up a whole heap of people to run the front of house and the tech, because we have high hopes that when theatres are able to open, we will be doing so almost every day and we will be able to spread the love in terms of paying staff.  We have had to cancel shows in the past and then we offer a refund of course or what most people choose to do is for us to hold a credit, our patrons are a really lovely lot and they believe on what we do and hope to see us succeed.  We are slowly dipping our toes back in the water and hopefully we will see our audiences come back too.  We do have strict protocols in place and we do our best to keep our patrons safe.  We are open for artists to apply for a spot: This is the easiest system. You ask us if there is a date available, you tell us about your production and we see if we can fit you into our schedule.  We are trying to be flexible and also to encourage artists to be flexible too.

TheCapeRobyn: In addition to being a receiving house, The Drama Factory is a producing house. Do you have a ‘season’ in the works or is it a matter of looking out on your website and social media?

Sue Diepeveen: We had high hopes to produce this year but those funds have had to be used for operating costs – empty buildings cost money too sadly.  We were hoping to have a “season” all pre-planned – two years in advance would be the dream of course, but Covid really put paid to that.  We have some of our own productions that we are hoping to get up and running in the not too distant future and that will take a large portion of our calendar so we encourage those who have work ready to go to approach us for a date.  Our website is the best place to see what is coming up and our newsletter is sent out weekly and many people find that the easiest method as when something catches their eye they simply click and are taken to the website to buy tickets.  Follow us on Facebook and Instagram too as all shows are advertised there. We often assist other producers and now- March 2021- we have put out an audition notice on behalf of Erika Marais -for a show that the Drama Factory is assisting in producing, directed by Paul du Toit.  It will be staged in June and the rehearsals will be held in May [2021].

TheCapeRobyn: Can you talk about embracing ‘live’ during this Covid challenging time?

Sue Diepeveen: As we are a receiving house, we can stage three shows a week and we can present private shows –fundraisers, showcases, teaching studio shows etc.  As a receiving house, our current format of presenting one and two night runs is a blessing and a curse. We have the flexibility to put shows on at short notice, but we are unable to build traction which you would get from a three week run. During Covid, this is working to our advantage and is welcomed by creatives. If there is space and if Covid numbers are stable, we can present a show at short notice. We adhere strictly to Covid safety and protocols – sanitising, mask wearing, and limiting number of seats according to social distancing and lockdown regulations.  If a cast member or member of the creative team has Covid, we will close a show down and deep clean the venue. We may have a gap for another show and then can put a show on that is on our waiting list. In December, I had Covid and we shut down, deep cleaned the venue and contacted all of our patrons. We ask full disclosure from our patrons and creatives during this time.

TheCapeRobyn: Does the Drama Factory receive funding – from Lotteries, corporates and are you VAT registered?

Sue Diepeveen: Not currently no – we are not listed as an NGO or an NPO so applying for funding is tricky. It is really frustrating to say the least as we could employ so many people and produce more prolifically if funding was readily available. We are not yet registered for Vat but I think we would need to be listed as an NGO in order to offer this tax break to our patrons – we are looking at restructuring our business to accommodate these structures.

The Drama Factory- equipped with professional, programmable lighting equipment and PA system and high tech specs. The Drama Factory’s Sue Diepeveen says: “We are open for artists to apply for a spot: This is the easiest system. You ask us if there is a date available, you tell us about your production and we see if we can fit you into our schedule.  We are trying to be flexible and also to encourage artists to be flexible too.” Supplied.
The Drama Factory- stylish, light filled foyer. Supplied.

The Drama Factory, Cape Town – at a glance

Instagram: @thedramafactory
Twitter: @TheDramaFactor1

Venue and equipment: 120 seats in raked rows. Professional, programmable lighting equipment and PA system.  Sound equipment includes 2 X S58 corded microphones.  2 X 600W Alto speakers; 2 X 230W Alto monitor speakers; 2 X additional monitor speakers.  A single Bass Bin.  12 Channel Mixing Desk. Any other equipment needed is for the artist’s account. Stage: 6m deep X 9.6m wide. There is a single dressing room. The floor is black and the walls are hung with black curtaining. Front of House: Yes, online and telephone booking. Assistance with marketing, but productions are a partnership between theatre and the producers. For more info, see:    

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