Still a need for artists to sing for their supper
Two weeks before the national lockdown was announced a year ago, choreographer and producer-director Owen Lonzar saw his work dry up.
“I was setting up in Rosebank when I was told the gig — a corporate event for a bank — had been cancelled,” he said.
Soon the entertainment industry was on its knees, and Lonzar started a fund to help penniless performers and others connected with the industry, such as make-up artists, producers, stagehands and lighting technicians.
“What people don’t realise is that freelancers saw their work dry up overnight,” said Lonzar, who had initially hoped to raise R50,000 but was deluged with donations.
He and fellow producer Megan Carelse started a Facebook group called “Waiting in the Wings SA”, and their fundraising efforts involved using performers in online shows and giving them the proceeds of ticket sales.
The first show went out live on Facebook while the country was under level 5 lockdown on May 30.
“We made about R23,000 in one hour,” said Lonzar.
The second show had 90 performers, including the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra. Tickets cost R290 and about R175,000 was raised. Soon, almost R700,000 was distributed in the form of hundreds of grocery vouchers.
But by the time the group put on a third show at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport (“We performed under, inside and in front of an Airbus,” said Lonzar), the lockdown had been eased to level 3 and interest was waning.
The Facebook group has since closed, and Lonzar said the need now is to get performers back to work.
He hopes to find corporate sponsors for a new initiative called “Taking Centre Stage”.
“I want to be able to find people and put them on centre stage so they can make a living. It’s about getting people back on stage, particularly outdoors where we can have more people,” he said. “People don’t want to be sitting at home any more.”
Lonzar was scathing about the lack of support from the National Arts Council (NAC) and the department of arts & culture. Many performers had not seen a cent of the R300m in relief funds, he said.
Apart from one gig in November and another in March, Lonzar has effectively been unemployed for more than a year. “I did not apply to the government for money,” he said. “I was determined to look after myself.”
● Arts organisation Assitej SA has begun legal proceedings against the NAC over what it says is the maladministration of the government’s promised stimulus fund.
The case was lodged at the Western Cape High Court a week ago with pro bono support from law firm Webber Wentzel, but the NAC this week said it was not aware of it.
Sports, arts & culture minister Nathi Mthethwa has promised a forensic examination of the management of the relief fund.