The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
South Africa’s comprehensive culture center  ARTSCAPE and its programs
Michael Maas
Michael Maas
After all the changes, opera, ballet and orchestra companies associated with the theatre have become independent. What kind of relationships do you have with them, as for the management of their development?
We enjoy a close relationship with each one of the companies, pooling our individual strengths for the greater good. I meet regularly with the heads of the opera, ballet, contemporary dance and orchestra to work out plans, because a lot of the technical support comes from Artscape. Three principles keep us together, “co-operation”, “collaboration” and “synergy”. In addition, our association with other entities, such as drama entities, educational institutions and indigenous art forms, are also based on these three principles. Because we cannot make funding available, we need to collaborate with each other and share expertise and resources in other ways.

The Artscape building is a theatre complex. What facilities do you have?
We have the Opera House with 1 187 seats, the Artscape Theatre with 540 seats, the Artscape Arena with 160 seats and a Cabaret theatre. Then we provide office and/or rehearsal rooms for the opera, ballet, orchestra, contemporary dance and various other companies. We strive to provide full infrastructure and support services to many different artists and art forms to allow the performing arts to flourish in South Africa.
We also have the wardrobe section, where costumes are made, stored and rented out for the local and overseas markets. I think that we even made the scenery and costumes for a Japanese company. We also have the décor section and a massive décor storage facility with a wide variety of décor sets.
We are trying to make our skills available to the broader markets so that we can generate foreign currency.

Cape Town Opera Company and Cape Town City Ballet don’t have décor and costume departments. How do they manage that?
Artscape provides the services on a payment basis to fulfil their needs for sets and costumes. Their role is to “put the products on the stage”. For this, Cape Town Opera Company employs 12 to 14 full-time staff members, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra six, Cape Town City Ballet three, and Jazzart Contemporary Dance Theatre three. These are mainly administrators, while artists and opera singers are mostly hired as required. The ballet company and orchestra have permanent members.
About four years ago we had five orchestras in the country, now we only have two. The others closed down due to amongst other factors, lack of funding. Currently one permanent orchestra is based in Cape Town, and the other is in Durban. There is no permanent orchestra in Johannesburg. However, there are many freelance musicians and two orchestras are regularly assembled as required. Cape Town Opera Company is the only full time opera company in South Africa. As for ballet companies, there are full time companies - here and in Johannesburg.

I have seen the theatre calendar on the website. There are lots of performances being staged. How many performances do you have a year?
During the past year there were about 800 performances coming from more than 120 different productions. As the stages are always occupied, arts companies cannot use the stage for rehearsing. Stage rehearsal times have to be scheduled directly before performance openings. We have reached the stage where we are requiring an additional building to fulfil our needs for especially rehearsal space.

Would companies like the Cape Town Opera Company like to make a co-production with other theatres? Would you like to make more co-productions with different theatres? And in which areas you are interested?
At the moment this is a fairly new territory for us. Cape Town City Ballet toured China in 2002 and participated in the international performing arts fair in Shanghai. They also performed in Nanjing and Beijing. At other times we have had a choreographer and principal dancers from other countries working with our dancers in South Africa. We will go wherever there is an opportunity.
The opera company is doing well in Europe at the moment, because of the high standard of our singers, especially the chorus members. If we can bring an opera to Japan by mutual collaboration, we would welcome the opportunity.

I imagine that almost all the audience in your theatre comes from a specific level in the society. What are the prices of tickets for opera, ballet, orchestra and drama?
Drama tickets have to be reasonable. Music audiences are easier to reach. Although ballet tickets are not so expensive, opera tickets are about 200 rand. It is quite expensive in a country where the average monthly salary is not very high. Yet when pop star Robbie Williams comes to South Africa, fans don’t mind paying whatever is required.
One problem in South Africa at the moment is that arts education is not always a priority at school. In the past, many schools employed music teachers. That has mostly fallen way, because the priorities at our schools are reading, writing and arithmetic. In schools the teaching ratio is very high, often one teacher for every 35 pupils. So if the schools are not interested in the arts or do not have the resources, they won’t employ any arts teachers, focusing instead on the academic side. I would say in the biggest percentage of schools there is little exposure to the arts and performing arts. The problem is that people grow up without exposure to the performing arts and therefore cannot learn and understanding or appreciation of the arts. That is why we have our set works to try to bring arts into the schools. What we do have in many schools are choirs. And in a small percentage of schools, there are drama and music classes. Within the Cape Town area we are fortunate that we have three music centres under the auspices of the education department that specializes in the teaching of instrumental teaching. This training normally takes place after the official school day.
I was absolutely amazed at the standard of instrumental music by young people when I attended a concert in Kanazawa. The orchestra ensemble presented a concert with invited and auditioned young musicians. They were able to assemble 80 musicians from four universities, comprised of students majoring in non-music subjects such as engineering, etc. I was surprised that you can find 80 young people with such competence in one city. I think we have the duty to expose people to performing arts at a young age. That makes the role of an institution like Artscape so important in creating and nurturing an awareness and love for the performing arts.

How productions does the Cape Town Opera Company put on a year?
They do an average of nine productions per year. Obviously their productions are fund-related: the more funds they raise, the more productions they are able to stage. Most of the productions are presented in our theatre. When this is not the case, we are still involved in providing them with the required technical and other infrastructure. During most opera seasons ballet productions are also presented, running on in rep with opera.
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