James Ngcobo, Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, delivered the keynote address, titled Visibility of Innovative Leadership in Our Sector as We Navigate the New Territory, at a virtual A Re Bueng seminar co-hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Design and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS).
James Ngcobo, Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, delivered the keynote address, titled Visibility of Innovative Leadership in Our Sector as We Navigate the New Territory.
Under his leadership, the Market Theatre has continued to innovate and inspire and is an exemplar of how cultural institutions can withstand the most challenging circumstances.
Ngcobo’s impassioned and candid presentation brought to the fore that it cannot be business as usual for the theatre industry, and that, in a way, Covid-19 has fast-forwarded much-needed, new ways of doing and thinking – almost a necessary evil.
Ngcobo said the seminar is a welcome initiative to “move somewhere else” for the arts to stay in touch with its constituencies and to propel artists from their comfort zones.
Speaking about the Market Theatre’s response to Covid-19, Ngcobo said that from the onset of the pandemic the Theatre decided not to be stifled and become a dead space. “We chose to be brave rather than nostalgic, and asked ourselves critical questions, such as, Who are we? Where are we? Who are we making theatre for? Are we in sync with the country? and Are we aligned to our audiences?”
The Theatre is one of only a few worldwide which managed to keep its doors open during the pandemic and has since then commissioned new work only.
“Theatres who have bums on seats are run by brave people. Unfortunately, some people have fallen into the trap of making theatre for each other, and not for audiences,” Ngcobo added.
The seminar formed part of the Faculty’s inaugural virtual showcase and was presented in collaboration with the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS).
In addition to Ngcobo, thirteen other speakers, as far afield as Rotterdam in the Netherlands, presented papers on how they navigate Covid-19 from their specific vantage points. Among them were three TUT Faculty of Arts and Design staff members, Dr Karina Lemmer, Prof Janine Lewis, and Moratoa Mokoena from the Department of Performing Arts.
In her thought-provoking presentation, titled Re-imagining Rehearsal: Reflections in an on-line Theatre-Making Experience, Dr Lemmer said that Covid-lockdown and the subsequent inability to replicate casts to come together physically was a gift in some sense since it forced young actors to engage with each other in alternative ways, mostly online. “It led to deeper listening, activated their imagination, and enhanced character development, among others,” she added.
Prof Lewis and Mokoena’s stimulating presentation was titled From Arts Administration to Creative Industries: Training the Performing Artist as a Well-Rounded Industry Practitioner.
They said that from the start of the pandemic, the training approach of the Department was amended, introducing a multi-modal, flipped-classroom (a flexible environment where students can learn at their own pace and take responsibility for their learning), and training Protean artists who are digitally- finessed and able to change frequently or easily.
“The performing industry requires teamwork and business savvy practitioners in every sphere of their practice to work for themselves and others,” Prof Lewis and Mokoena added.
“The Arts Administration modules across the Performing Arts cluster sought to offer more praxis, immersive and embodied training since 2012. To ensure this successful addition to the training remains after these programmes are phased-out, the HEQSF roll-out of the inclusive multi-disciplinary programmes in Performing Arts with its unique set of articulating modules in Creative Industries (inculcating all aspects pertinent to Sustainable Development and the creative economy) has also been included within the Performing Arts programme mix.”
The panel applauded the Faculty of Arts and Design, especially the Department of Performing Arts, for their insights into teaching Arts Entrepreneurship and Business Administration to artists for years, and for showing foresight and support of the sector to grow and develop Creative Industries as a training practice.
Another inspiring presentation was that of Dr Jaco Meyer (North-West University) and Dr Annali Cabano-Dempsey (University of Johannesburg), titled Artworks that Resist Digital Exhibition: The Blind Alphabet by Willem Boshoff.
The first forty sculptures from the letter B of the Blind Alphabet project by the renowned South African artist, Willem Boshoff, was meant to be relaunched at an exhibition at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery with the addition of sound by composer Jaco Meyer in October/November 2020. However, exhibitions in real space and time became impossible when South Africa went into lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“These circumstances necessitated a new approach in a different format for the Blind Alphabet during the second half of 2020,” Drs Meyer and Cabano-Dempsey said. “Following the universal trends of galleries and museums to exhibit artworks online, the UJ Art Gallery launched The Moving Cube, an online multimedia exhibition platform. A decision was made to launch this project with a documentary series on Willem Boshoff and his work, with a specific focus on the Blind Alphabet.”
“The Blind Alphabet was the first show to be exhibited on The Moving Cube and, despite the success of this project, it became clear that these sculptures by Boshoff resist a virtual/digital format. This is because the sculptures were made for visually impaired people who are meant to read a Braille text, explaining the conceptual background to the sculptures, remove the sculptures from a mesh box, and feel the sculpture to understand its accompanying concept.”
“When exhibited online, this was not possible for the visually impaired and it mostly benefitted visually abled persons. These sculptures are very unique and therefore they posed unique challenges to the curators,” they added.
The paper aimed to provide a conceptual background on the Blind Alphabet, discuss how the body of works resist online exhibitions, and explore the drawbacks experienced when these multi-sensory sculptures and exhibition experience were compressed into a digital screen.
An interesting facet of this exhibition is that visually impaired persons had to explain the works to visually abled persons, thereby turning on its head the traditional art exhibition experience, where it is usually the other way around.
The event was also attended by key stakeholders of the creative industries such as Nonto Msomi, Project Manager at the Art Bank of South Africa, who made valuable comments and contributions to the discussions.
Asked for his views about the seminar and the value such engagement adds to the Arts sector, Prof Owen Seda, Associate Professor: Department of Performing Arts, said: “The Faculty of Arts and Design’s inaugural A Re Bueng seminar on Creative Industries is living testimony to the tremendous synergies that can be so easily forged between academic, state, and industry managers and practitioners in our on-going quest to re-centre tertiary level Arts education as a key driver of economic opportunities for university graduates in the Humanities and the Arts.”
- Other speakers included Sakhiseni Joseph Yende (University of Cape Town - A Glimpse of Response of the South African Performing Arts Industry to the Covid-19 Pandemic), Dr Evans Netshivhambe (University of Pretoria -The Aesthetic of Indigenous African Music Digitization During Covid), Daniel Rankadi Mosako (University of South Africa -The New Normal: Accessibility of Museum and Archival Exhibitions for Educational Purposes in South Africa), Dr Myer Taub (University of the Witwatersrand - Performing Problems and Platforms of Accessibility: University of Facebook and The Glitch in Teaching Online), Mphikeleli Mnguni (Independent Researcher - Government’s Strategic Interventions in Order to Optimize the Performance of Cultural and Creative Industries: A Case Study of the Creative SMMEs in Mpumalanga Province), Mdu Mkhonza (Teka Tako Ngwane Institute - KalaMsibi OpenAir Galleries ¬– An Alternative Platform for the Creatives using the Asset-Based Community Development Approach), Victoria Machipisa (University of Cape Town - Digitisation and The Aesthetic Experience), and Adriaan Odendaal (Internet Teapot Design and Research Studio, Rotterdam - Trial and 404 Error: Conducting Co-Creation and Co-Design Creative Workshops with Physically Isolated and Geographically Remote Participants).