Although hybrid theatre has kept some venues open and operational, the full theatre experience does not translate online. 

The covid-19 pandemic brought with it many changes and new ways of doing things. The entertainment industry, for instance, has had to adapt to unconventional ways of keeping people entertained and safe, while trying to make money. 

When lockdown hit in March 2020 my biggest concern was the safety of my family from the virus, but I could not help wondering what my Thursday nights would be like without going to the Market Theatre. 

The first time I stepped into the Mannie Manim foyer at the Market Theatre was in September 2019. I took in the beautiful décor of the foyer and the posters, from shows as early as the 1990s, lining the walls on the stairwell all the way up to the Barney Simon Theatre. The venue instantly became my home; a way to start my weekends and the place to meet new people who share my passion for theatre.  

After almost two months of no performances last year, it came time for theatres to utilise their online platforms to give theatre lovers their ‘‘fix’’. This worked wonders, as we finally got access to shows in June, although they were virtual. It also kept performers safe: Many of the shows were monologues, observing the safety regulations in place.  

This, however, was a completely different experience to attending a physical show. Watching a show online came with many distractions, such as standing up in the middle of it because you were asked to do something, breaking your concentration. It also took away the experience of walking around the foyer and looking at the latest photo exhibit on the walls.  

The worst part was not being able to meet people with whom to enjoy a drink after the show and discuss it. Lastly, there are no standing ovations for the performers when a show is online.

A booklet from the first show I ever saw at the Market Theatre, Venus vs Modernity. Photo: Semakaleng Motsoere

When the Market Theatre finally opened for live shows in November, it introduced the concept of hybrid theatre: It would have live shows, but continue to have other shows online. I was happy, as long as I could dress up on Thursdays and go to the theatre at least twice a month.  

Although we can attend live shows, social distancing regulations with a limited number of people at the theatre mean only one or two shows playing at a time. This leads to any of them going online. This is an advantage because one does not have to experience the heartbreak of tickets being sold out due to there being only 50 available. It has, however, led to many outstanding shows not having the kind of audience they deserve.  

A show called Diaparo tsa Mama (Mother’s Clothes) is currently online as part of Salute the Playwright, an online series by the theatre. The build-up to the day the show started was incredible and sparked the desire in me to go and see it. I was flooded with disappointment when it was announced the show would go online.  

With this show’s storyline, it could have benefited from a live audience. It would have been able to inspire a wave of emotions in the audience with no distractions, as compared to online. The production and stage set-up are excellent and would have been great to witness in person. Most of all, the performers deserve a standing ovation.  

As much as online theatre carried us through the hard lockdown and continues to be the safest choice for many, actual theatre brings people together. Being in a theatre and watching performers leave their hearts on stage is one of the best feelings, which we do not get fully online. I hope one day we reach a point where there can be more live shows, because theatre belongs on the stage with live audiences and standing ovations. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Semakaleng Motsoere. Photo: File


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