BWW Interview: Q&A with Fahiem Stellenboom of the Baxter Theatre Centre
A friendly face you're used to seeing making the rounds at opening nights, Fahiem Stellenboom has been hard at work behind the scenes at The Baxter. He chats to BroadwayWorld about the impact of lockdown on Cape Town's iconic theatre.
BWW: As Marketing Manager, what steps have been taken for The Baxter to stay in touch with its audiences?
Fahiem: When the coronavirus first hit South Africa and social distancing was introduced - a week or so before the lockdown and national State of Disaster was implemented - The Baxter, upon the recommendation of the University of Cape Town which we are part of, made the decision for our staff to work from home. We look forward to reopening when government deems it safe for all theatres and public gathering spaces to do so.
At the time, we immediately sent out notifications on our social media platforms, our website and to our patrons via our subscription database as well as to the press. This meant that productions had to be cancelled or postponed. We had to re-evaluate our programme and look at productions which were planned for the months to follow. We entered into discussions with the artists, producers, theatre-makers and companies who were due to perform at The Baxter and which were affected by the lockdown announcements. We embarked on an innovative sustainability financial drive, led by our CEO and artistic director Lara Foot, who wrote to patrons to explain the situation and to introduce our "Buy The Baxter a cup of coffee every month" or Baxter Coffee Angels campaign. The response from our patrons and the public has been overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and moving.
BWW: I think a large number of Capetonians are mourning the loss of the arts during this time. What were the conversations like around cancelling shows and events in the lead up to the national lockdown?
Fahiem: We had to act quickly to inform our staff and patrons who had booked tickets for shows which had to be cancelled. We also engaged with the producers, casts and production teams of the various shows that were on at the time and those due to open or planned for the next few months. David Kramer's DANGER IN THE DARK and Tally Ho's THE LAST FIVE YEARS were among those which were immediately affected.
Initially our intention was to monitor the process and look at postponing productions where possible, but when lockdown was announced everything changed. We - along with producers and theatre-makers - were and continue to be,concerned about the financial implications and the severe impact it has had and will have. However, we have to follow government guidelines and the health and safety of our staff, patrons and communities remain paramount and a priority.
BWW: As you said, many of The Baxter's shows had to get postponed but there will sure be a great lineup when theatres are back in action! What does the next year or so look like for The Baxter?
Fahiem: We foresee that theatres in South Africa will only reopen by about September or October and, even then, it will more than likely come with restrictions. Theatres abroad are looking at 2021 to resume operations which, given the impact and the current pattern of the spread of the coronavirus globally, sadly seems realistic. Our concern is the immense loss of income for artists and the arts.
Notwithstanding, when it is safe to do so, we look forward to welcoming our patrons and audiences back to an exciting lineup of wonderful theatre and entertainment. In the meantime, we have launched our Baxter Radio initiative available to our Baxter Coffee Angels and to community radio stations for communities who do not have access to internet of Wifi. The Baxter was able to employ 40 artists who recorded stories in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu, for children, teenagers, young adults and grown-ups. The recordings included children's stories, classic plays, new work for teenagers and the Xhosa set work for Grades 10 to 12 learners. The project included artists like Marc Lottering, Jennifer Steyn, Andrew Buckland, Faniswa Yisa, Susan Danford, Nicky Rebelo, Tiisetso Mashifane, Khayalethu Anthony and Kanya Viljoen, to mention a few.
BWW: How do you think theatre will adapt or have to adapt in the future based on our current situation?
Fahiem: All indications seem to show that we will have to relook at how we do things in the future. It is my belief that theatre has been with us for so many years (since the days of Ancient Greece!) and that it will continue to be a fundamental part of our lives. There is no doubt in my mind that theatre is vital for our souls and our psyche - to educate, entertain, transport and transform us. With the launch of our Baxter Coffee Angels it is has been heartwarming to hear how many of the people of Cape Town, South Africa, and further afield have fond and beautiful memories of the Baxter Theatre Centre. It is my wish and our mission that we will continue to be that place or space where such memories are made, shared and enjoyed. I think people will need to be entertained, uplifted and moved - the very essence of what theatre is and does.
BWW: Tell us a bit more about the Baxter Coffee Angels. How can patrons get involved?
Fahiem: Patrons, the public and corporates can support by becoming Baxter Coffee Angels and contribute to our "Buy The Baxter a coffee every month" drive. It is hassle-free, easy to donate and affordable at just R30 (or more, where possible) a month. We need 30 000 good people to contribute so that we can reach our goal and we would like to encourage the people of Cape Town, theatre and arts lovers to donate by clicking here: http://www.baxter.co.za/BaxterCoffeeAngels
BWW: And now for something a bit more personal to end - how are you passing your time during lockdown and any tips you have for staying sane?
Fahiem: For my sanity, I have taken to doing quick-sneak photoshoots around the city (with a mask and not moving a metre away from my car), on those days when I was out doing essential shopping. I find it creatively satisfying and rewarding. The pics which I shared on Facebook and Instagram pages have been popular as they are colourful and the stories that they tell, are uplifting and nostalgic for people. They covered areas like Woodstock, Salt River, District Six, Bo Kaap and De Waterkant. All rich in history, textures, colours and sadly, regeneration. What has helped me tremendously during this time has been daily meditation and prayer to keep me focused, positive and grounded.
Photo credit: Supplied
Support the Baxter Theatre Centre by going to http://www.baxter.co.za/BaxterCoffeeAngels