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BWW Interview: Daniel Enticott And Erica Schofield talk about keeping the Masque Theatre alive through COVID

Muizenberg icon survives the pandemic

BWW Interview: Daniel Enticott And Erica Schofield talk about keeping the Masque Theatre alive through COVIDThe Masque Theatre is an icon of Muizenberg and the Cape Town community theatre world. Those who visit the space regularly (as performers and as patrons) love it dearly and support it fiercely. 2020, as was the case for so many theatres around the world, has been a hard one for the Masque. I chatted to two members of the theatre's board (Daniel Enticott and Erica Schofield) to find out a bit more about how this beloved space made it through the challenges.

BWW: Daniel, let's start with you since you're the chairman of the board. What does that entail? What are your responsibilities?

Daniel: The ultimate responsibility is to guide the Masque to success within the framework of our vision and mission. I am supported by an incredible team and a lot of my time is spent on strategy and relationships to ensure the Masque continues to grow and support theatre in general and specifically community theatre and development. Fiducially, I must ensure transparent governance and responsible management and audit the systems which support that.

BWW: Now Erica, you are also part of the board for the Masque Theatre. What are your responsibilities?

Erica: I'm a trustee, so our key responsibilities are ensuring that the guidelines of Bertie Stern's will are followed, the key being that the Masque Theatre is a home for amateur dramatic productions, and a thespian training ground. Two of the Trustees are voting members on the board, and largely my role this year has been that of chief optimist.

BWW: I remember way back in the beginning of the year, the theatre took the decision to shut before lockdown was announced. How did you come to that decision and how hard was it to make?

Daniel: Our decision was driven mainly by the legislative frameworks that came into place before the hard lockdown was announced and the repercussions on our audience and producers. It is one of the hardest decisions we have ever had to make and there was a lot of spirited discussion around it.

BWW: It's no secret that the Masque has suffered lately with income. That was presumably the major concern during lockdown?

Daniel: As an NPO, we are always just above the breakeven point if we are lucky. The business of theatre internationally is one of very tight margins and as a going concern, we have overheads that don't stop when the stage is dark. We tightened the belt to the very last hole and committed to staying afloat. We received TERS funding, which allowed us to continue employment throughout and thus support our staff. With the exception of a couple of people, everyone involved in running the theatre is a volunteer and donates their time. This is an enormous saving grace for us.

BWW: What kind of fundraising efforts did the board get up to? I remember a Backabuddy campaign - is that still going?

Daniel: Yes, the crowdfunding saved us. Under the curatorship of Erica, the Backabuddy campaign took off and the response was and is still phenomenal. This funding inflow allowed us to maintain a state of "mothballed" readiness and we watched the legislative changes with great attention.

We are about to open the doors again with a wonderful cabaret, which is also being very kindly run as a fundraiser. It is this spectacular sense of community that is keeping the Masque alive. It is everyone's theatre, to perform, to watch, to be involved in.

Erica: The theatre made it through the mid-year lockdown through the generous support of the Masque Theatre 'crowd' with the Backabuddy campaign raising R120 000 to tide it over the months where the shut doors meant zero income.

BWW: During lockdown, you had some wonderful online events to try and entertain Masque regulars. Erica, you ran the Bertie's Ghostlights concept. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Is it still going?

Erica: Bertie's Ghostlights was initiated as Lockdown level 5 began. It was created to keep the community linked and build a sense of togetherness while many were stuck at home. The name reflects the Ghostlight tradition, where a light is left burning in a closed theatre signalling "we'll be back". Bertie Stern gifted the theatre to the amateur dramatic community, so we also wanted to honour him, and the Stern family who are still involved.

BWW Interview: Daniel Enticott And Erica Schofield talk about keeping the Masque Theatre alive through COVID

It was a very fun thing to run! Being online allowed us to do all sorts of things that one can't do in person, like reach out to overseas guests and industry professionals who are usually fully booked. We had some fun "how to use Zoom" sessions initially, so I think we probably helped some people have a better lockdown experience too.

There are a couple of moments I'm truly proud of, one where Chad Baai who is on scholarship through being spotted by the Masque (scholarship partially supported by the Masque Theatre Trustees) met and was offered some mentoring from UK theatre star, Lucian Msamati (Google him, it's worth it) or the night where we popped into Pieter Dirk Uys's study to have a chat!

BWW: The theatre reopened recently with a small spring festival - how did that go?

Erica: From a morale point of view - fabulous! Our audiences were small, admittedly, but the season gave us a chance to test the waters of being open and what measures to take to remain as safe as possible. I was very proud of our little season's diverse offerings, from an interactive murder mystery to personal stories in Godfrey Johnson's cabaret to the cutting-edge KVETCH/NDISA ZILILE. We also held kids workshops and talks in the Masque Parking lot where an incredible food garden was set up during lockdown by the CAN network.

A highlight for me was your* piece (EXTRA)ORDINARY, (UN)USUAL, which reflected, I believe the COVID-19 genre of theatre developing: how to create rehearsal-safe, performance-safe powerful pieces.

* BWW: Thank you for the praise of my show! To all readers, I promise that there was no encouragement for Erica to say this.

Erica: Funnily enough, I feel this same genre is being reflected in the upcoming December show at the Masque THIS MOMENT, A MUSICAL CABARET. It too is a piece that relies on the individual performer's power to build and layer the piece into a full and complex offering.

BWW: Erica mentioned that the audiences were small for the Spring Season. Has it been financially viable to reopen under the current restrictions on social gatherings?

Daniel: The very short answer to that question is no. The longer answer is that we have made it viable; through an austerity policy decided at board level and long negotiations with our supply chain partners. We have gone to every department possible for relief funding and assistance and the little we have received from these avenues we have used wisely. We cannot allow theatre to stagnate or worse yet to die. We have a very strict COVID policy and protocols in place now the doors are open again and they have received great feedback from patrons. Houses are not what they used to be obviously, but we are giving people art and have incoming cashflow, which is very important in a business.

BWW: What productions or events are happening over the festive period?

BWW Interview: Daniel Enticott And Erica Schofield talk about keeping the Masque Theatre alive through COVIDErica: THIS MOMENT, A MUSICAL CABARET presented by Magnetic Storm. The production is looking absolutely wonderful, slick tech and the set is almost worth coming to see the show for all on its own. The performers are truly going to pack a punch. It's a unique story - using behind-the-scenes moments in a theatre, touching on hopes and fears of all of us, needing to move on from "This Moment" (yet perhaps "This Moment" is all we have..?)

The producers were so moved by the Masque Theatre's appeal for help and need for the community to step in this year that they are creating this spectacular piece so that all proceeds can go towards keeping the doors open.

It is joyous to be able to welcome patrons in once again and, to steal a quote from one of the organisers, be "warmly entertained". It is interesting, as limited seating may mean it's tricky to get seats: of course we are hoping that makes everyone book early.

BWW: Is there a way for patrons and community members to get involved and help keep this icon of Muizenberg open?

Daniel: We have our theatre club as well as the crowdfunding campaign that is still open and we encourage people to get involved in both. At the very least: come to the theatre, watch a show and buy a drink. You will have a great evening.

Erica: You can also follow us on Facebook (@masquetheatresa). If you join our Theatre Club, you can enjoy 2 for 1 specials on show tickets. If you are interested in the making of theatre, join the Bertie's Ghostlights mailing list (Berties@themasque.co.za). If you'd like to volunteer contact manager@themasque.co.za.

Or lovely, kind people - do consider donating to Chad Baai's final year at the Waterfront Theatre School or support the Masque Theatre's Backabuddy campaign, which will help us during our limited income adventures with the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic still unpredictable.

BWW: Finally, I'd just like to know what the Masque means to you on a personal level?

Daniel: I've been involved on and off stage for the best part of 20 years at the Masque. For me it is a place of happiness. On stage I get to play weird and wonderful characters and offstage I get to support others doing the same. It's my happy place!

Erica: It's a bit funny, but I feel I have a "Pay it Forward" debt to a theatre that gives those starting out a chance. Amateur theatres are a place where dreams coming true can be practiced until they are true. Growing up in Zimbabwe, we had the Reps Theatre and the teen group Repteens, which I discovered when I was a deeply introverted thirteen year old. One day my friends went to the weekly Repteens Friday class, because they'd heard there were cute boys there (there were, but not cute enough to tempt my friends back for a second week), and I kind of tagged along. Something inside of me clicked that evening and for the next months, even though the agony of the upcoming Friday class would start giving me a stomach ache somewhere around Wednesday evening, I went back again and again until I ended up as Chair of the Repteens committee. Through that theatre I made deep, incredible friendships, got so hooked on creating theatre it ended up taking me to perform in festivals across the world, and magically showed me a world where my shyness was as much a gift as a burden.

BWW: Thank you for taking the time to chat to us and for all of your efforts in keeping this beautiful theatre alive through all of the ups and downs of 2020. It truly is a happy place that is fortunate to have people like you fighting for it.

Photo credit: Supplied


Donate to the Masque Theatre via their Backabuddy campaign or go and see THIS MOMENT, A MUSICAL CABARET - 11-20 December. Tickets are R100 on Computicket. COVID-19 Protocols will be in place - masks are mandatory.


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