People’s Theatre celebrates 40 years

Cast members from The Fall paid tribute to the Baxter, from left, Cleo Raatus, Tankiso Mamabolo, Sizwesandile Mnisi, Thando Mangcu and Sihle Mnqwazana.

The Baxter Theatre will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in August and has launched a campaign to ensure that it can continue showcasing the best local and international productions.

On Thursday May 11, the theatre launched the 40/80 Campaign, a public fund-raising initiative, to ensure the Baxter remains a crucial and vibrant venue for future generations.

Chief executive and artistic director Lara Foot says UCT covers only 40% of the Baxter’s expenses, which means it has to source the rest independently.

They do not receive any funding from the national government because it is not a state-owned entity, or from the National Lotteries Commission due to its association with UCT.

Ms Foot said the Baxter is the busiest independent theatre in Africa and they have always kept ticket prices low – below R150. To see a similar show in Europe would cost about R3 387.

“The Baxter was born as a political theatre and it remains (that way). We aspire to provoke and bring people together in an act of enlightenment. We want to grow our production budget and we need the people of Cape Town to do this,” says Ms Foot.

They are now inviting all art- and theatre-lovers to donate. Ms Foot says she will continue to lobby the government and the lotteries commission.

Baxter marketing manager Fahiem Stellenboom says getting people into theatres is always a struggle, considering what they compete with “…which is why it’s vital to keep theatre relevant, accessible and entertaining,” he says.

Asked how this has changed over the years, Mr Stellenboom says they are affected by modern technology and social media.

“This has impacted on how one is able to attract and promote productions with audiences. We still find audiences polarised. There are specific themes that appeal to different audiences, but it’s part of our mission to change that so that we can broaden the experiences of audiences,” he says.

At the launch, cast members of The Fall paid tribute to the Baxter. The play was performed at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from October 6 to 29, last year, and shares the experiences of seven recent UCT graduates during the #RhodesMustFall and subsequent student movements.

Sizwesandile Mnisi said the Baxter had become a home for him, a haven of creativity. “It’s a playground, a meeting place with my fellow artists. As a black theatre- maker I know I can always run to the Baxter for anything. We can express ourselves on this platform and the staff support is fantastic,” he says.

For Thando Mangcu, the Baxter is a cornerstone for artistic freedom. “It has developed within this framework, as a theatre that challenges and questions, to transcend and observe beyond politics and race,” said Ms Mangcu.

Sihle Mnqwazana said he imagines that the Baxter will have grown and evolved in 20 years’ time, into a space that bridges talent from tertiary to professional life “by offering residencies and fostering collaboration between young companies of skilled writers and performers from different backgrounds”.

Cleo Raatus says in future decades he hopes to see works that challenge audiences and continue to raise the bar, as well as more programmes which are aimed at empowering the youth.

And Tankiso Mamabolo hopes to see the Baxter continue driving art that is challenging, critical and enlightening.

The Baxter is not only about theatre but also dance, comedy and music. Recent UCT music graduates Noxolo Zenzi and Thandi Dube shared their love of the Baxter. “It provides a platform for people to perform from various communities around the country, showcasing music from rural areas and other countries,” says Ms Dube.

She is also impressed that the Baxter is an open platform for high schools, thereby encouraging school pupils to study theatre or become theatregoers of the future.

Ms Zenzi says she had a band and sang at church and school choir competitions and later registered for African Music Performance at UCT where she got the platform to perform in their mid- and end-of-year shows at Baxter.

“It’s a great platform for young and professional musicians who want to showcase their genre, from poor to wealthy backgrounds,” said Ms Zenzi.

Mr Stellenboom says with the 40/80 Campaign, the Baxter has identified five simple and quick ways that the public can make contributions to the theatre. “We believe that each individual can make a significant difference to the future of the Baxter,” he says.

One of the ways is to donate a minimum of R10 extra when purchasing a ticket. You can also donate using Snapscan or the donate button on the Baxter’s website; and there’s also a name-a-seat initiative.

The final option is targeted at the corporate and business sectors who wish to align their brands with the Baxter’s vision. For more information, go to the Baxter’s website: www.baxter.co.za