Theatre artists get training to survive in Covid-19 era

By Nhau Mangirazi

The Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdowns to reduce the spread of the disease have negatively impacted on economic activities in Zimbabwe and the arts industry has not been spared.

Artists, who used to make a living through live performances, have been hard-hit by the prolonged ban on public gatherings since March last year.

Vhuka Africa, a local organisation, says it has moved in to lessen the plight of  artists by training theatre groups in digital skills so that they can take their work online.

Tawanda Maguze, a programmes manager at Vhuka Africa, said the initiative was meant to ‘enhance digital and online engagement’ for the targeted artistes.

Maguze said they were pushing for an“improvement of digital skills among theatre artists as well as improve their online presence as digital citizens working in the creative sector.” 

Theater groups from Mashonaland West, Manicaland, Matabeleland South and Midlands provinces, were chosen to take part in the programme with support from the National Arts Council.

The groups are being trained to get a better understanding on the role of online technologies in boosting their work through enhanced creativity and exploration of commercial opportunities in online spaces. 

Maguze said as the world was becoming more digital, hence theatre artists needed to reposition themselves.

“Artists must, therefore,explore online venues and platforms for their work in reaching even wider audiences,” he said.

The eight groups are being supported under the Creative Actions Initiative of the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe, with support from the European Union.

Maguze said the programme will explore opportunities that exist through exploitation of online spaces, related audio and hardware digital technologies, as well as the skills and exposure gaps that exist among theatre practitioners.

‘‘Currently theatre in Zimbabwe is facing challenges and slowing down as an industry with dwindling audience numbers and inadequate conducive and attractive spaces for performances and showcasing,’’ he said.

“This has been largely caused by Covid 19 lockdown measures that restrict physical attendances.”

Maguze said the initiative will help artists  find platforms where they can attract paying audiences as well as innovative approaches to generating revenue from their skills and craft.

Baptism of Fire director, Sikhumbuzo Sibanda, whose group is one of the beneficiaries of the initiative, said they were also being taught about laws and regulations related to performing artists, online spaces and digital technologies. 

‘‘We aim to see artists improving their abilities to exploit the internet and online spaces to enrich their professional as well as personal lives,” Sibanda said.

“While there will be focus on building specific skills of the artists in navigating and making the most out of online spaces, the project will draw firmly on the outcome of a knowledge and skills gap survey done at project commencement.’’

Maguze added: “The training was also done to capacitate theatre artists in digital literacy skills to enhance their work. 

“We aimed at providing direct mentorship in development of online presence.”

The artists are being taught how to generate money using social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and YouTube, among others.

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