World Theatre Day 2024: Jeani Heyns responds

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World Theatre Day was celebrated on 27 March. Jeani Heyns, one of the participants of the LitNet STAND theatre review writing workshop, talks to Naomi Meyer about the significance of the day.

We recently celebrated World Theatre Day. What does this mean to you? What do you think it means to the people you know (and to other South Africans)?

It’s a wonderful coincidence, as I watched LAMTA’s production of A spring awakening at Theatre on The Bay [on World Theatre Day]. It’s lovely to see that the art sector is alive and well again, post-lockdown. I actually think that there is a plethora of choices. However, I’m not sure that theatre-going audiences have been restored to the kinds of numbers that we saw before lockdown. This is a concern for me as a theatre practitioner and actor in the sphere. 

I honestly don’t think that theatre is really at the front of everyone’s mind. A lot of people are consumed by the political state with the elections around the corner and also just general world politics. But I think the theatre is a great place for us to work through and know some of the issues of the day, and so I hope that my fellow South Africans will use the arts as a vehicle to talk about the things that matter to them, because I know that that’s the kind of theatre that is being created. Or if not, that many of our other productions offer much needed escape from reality.

What is the meaning of live theatre in this modern world? Why even bother with theatre? It is so expensive, why not simply spend money on other things? Is theatre important at all?

I have just come from doing an immersive theatre production of Sweeney Todd produced by Abrahams and Meyer. One of the conversations we as a cast had was observing how people really struggled to engage and lend their attention to production such as Sweeney Todd for three hours. That definitely said something about our modern attention span, which I think is influenced by social media and technology. However, for some the immersive nature of the production was an unnecessary shock to the system.

We employed *Brechtian techniques [inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s writing], which really allows the audience to grapple with the issues raised in the production and to make them a part of the content. And that’s not the kind of experience that you can have while watching a series at home, because you can always press “pause” and carry on with something else, but in the theatre production you really have to pay attention. You have to listen. And often you have to respond. Yes, theatre is expensive, but this is necessary to be sustainable. But perhaps it’s more helpful to remind the public that theatre is an experience and it can’t be compared with something like just subscribing to Netflix or Showmax and consuming series in bulk.

What do you think about the position of South African theatre? Anything you want to say about productions created, about festivals, anything you’d like to write about regarding this topic?

It’s difficult to talk about the status of South African theatre without sounding very cynical,  but it is my opinion that many works that are actually really important and should be seen are often poorly attended and funded and therefore cannot gain traction or travel so that more audiences can see them. Very few productions travel and have longer runs, like for a year or longer. There is the sense that if you didn’t see the production at a theatre festival then you are probably never going to see it.

I also wish the archiving of theatre productions was more effective, so that the general public can also access past productions on a sort of online platform where you could rent a filmed version of a show to view that production and appreciate the art. 

Also read:

World Theatre Day 2024: Jane Mpholo responds

World Theatre Day 2024: Ignus Rademeyer responds

LitNet | STAND-teaterresensieslypskool: Jeani Heyns se resensie van Ontelbare 48 (finale weergawe)

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