On Thursday, June 4th, Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre in Zimbabwe showcased the first of many shows as part of their way of responding and navigating the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the national lockdown in the country having been extended indefinitely a fortnight ago by the government, the theatre fraternity continues to suffer as people will not be allowed to gather for religious, sporting, or arts events.

However, as highlighted in our previous reports, musicians are getting away with it as they are able to stage live shows on various social media platforms with the backing of huge corporates, leveraging their clout to push their newly developed digital products.

Seeing that this is where the trend is going, the team at Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre has decided to ride the tide. “We have shifted our focus to online audiences. Our current plans are to start developing new plays for the anticipated lifting and ease of operations in light of the lockdown,” Jasen Mphepo, the founder of the theatre shared.

He continued, “By mid-June, we should have conceptualized and scripted at least three productions. In this regard, our programming shall entail filming past productions we have produced at the theatre and upload them online.”

Just like their colleagues in the music industry, this content will be distributed via various social media platforms which include Facebook and YouTube.

“We will use social media platforms for broadcast and currently we have identified Earground, an Arts website as a partner to broadcast every Thursday.  So each Thursday of the week starting June we shall broadcast a production via Earground,” he revealed.

Mphepo also highlighted that the shows will be split into different categories.

“We shall produce the following concepts; full theatre production once a month, an episode of dry jokes and stand-up comedy once a month, a short film as well as an episode of slow music jam sessions once a month,”

But whilst the switch to digital might be a good way to provide theatre enthusiasts with something to feast on, the question of how the creators will monetize their products still remains. Probed on this, Mphepo conceded, “We have not decided on monetization as yet.”

It is worth noting that the government recently launched a ZW$20 million grant for the cultural and creative industry. However, whilst the figure might look sweet on paper, Mphepo thinks otherwise.

“The 20 million is too little as the sector is huge. I do not see it being adequate given the inflationary environment we are operating in. It has been almost three weeks since the grant was announced and still, it hasn’t been released making the plights of arts organizations and artists worse. The arts sector itself is defragmented and l do not see the money benefiting the sector but a few giants in the industry,” he expressed.

Meanwhile, reflecting on how their business has suffered due to the pandemic he said, they have been severely crippled.

“Our work is dependent on both our human resource being the actors, crew, and administrators of the organization and the audience. The lockdown has severely crippled our operations as we could not put up any production over the past three months. Apart from losing revenue, the lockdown has disturbed most of our plans we had scheduled at the beginning of the year. During the lockdown, we however tried to also adopt the working from home culture, but it has been difficult due to limitations with internet facilities. The only functioning arm of the organization has been the administrative department. We tried doing some virtual meetings via WhatsApp but it is never the same,” lamented the visionary.

Against such odds, however, today Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre joins the throngs of theatre companies and individual artists around the world in utilizing the digital media to provide entertainment to their audiences since the pandemic outbreak and we can only say, “Break a leg!”

Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre will be producing a Full Theatre production, an episode of Dry Jokes and Stand-up comedy, a short film as well as an episode of slow music jam sessions once a month broadcast on their Facebook and YouTube platforms as well as Earground’s platforms.

This article appeared on TheAfricanTheatreMagazine.com on June 4, 2020, and has been reposted with permission.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.