Gearhouse Splitbeam has undertaken to support the arts, and theatre, by making sure that ‘this generation of South Africans as well as those to come, have world-class theatre on their doorstep’ according to Director, Alistair Kilbee. This ethos is what prompted their involvement with an interdisciplinary ‘incubation’ space in Maboneng to which Splitbeam supplies Lighting, Audio and Audio Visual on a long-term rental basis, ensuring that the artists at work there experience the nuances that technical reinforcement can bring to their work throughout the course of the work’s development.
The Centre for the Less Good Idea has a curious name with a perfectly logical explanation. In 2016, internationally acclaimed South African artist, William Kentridge, realised that he was at a stage in his career where he had the capacity to create, fund and sustain a space to support artists in the process of their artistry. He founded, and continues to financially support, The Centre for The Less Good Idea, a place where artists are encouraged to test, to try, to fail – in the process allowing work to develop that might otherwise not have been been made.
“The less good idea is not a bad idea, but rather the secondary idea; one that only becomes apparent once the artist is in the space and making. William’s own process embraces this fully and so he makes an excellent mentor for other artists.” explains the centre’s ‘animateur’, Bronwyn Lace.
An artist in her own right, Lace is tasked with bringing life and energy to the space. Hers is a catalysing role; identifying artists and work, encouraging the ethos of remaining in one’s process, remaining playful and encouraging artistic risk. She elaborates on why Gearhouse Splitbeam is a good fit for the Centre. “I absolutely feel that what Splitbeam does in the industry, what it does for both young and established artists is seminal and very important. There are incredible educational aspects to what Splitbeam offers and the Centre has very similar ethics so I think that the synergies are absolutely there for the two organisations.”
Lighting Designer, Wesley France, who is involved in lighting 90% of the performances in the centre designed the permanent loan arrangement with Splitbeam. “He is an incredible asset to The Centre as his extensive experience in the industry means he acts both as one of the country’s best lighting designers and simultaneously a technical mentor to us all” says Lace.
She explains that the value that the artists gain by having access to Splitbeam’s equipment and staff is professionalism and quality. “Whilst we are in the playful space, looking at secondary ideas and embracing chance, we are also perfectionists and we are interested in doing things properly and giving art the best life it can have. The lighting, sound and projection equipment from Splitbeam is always of great quality and the staff always provide meaningful support in the process for making the work.”
“It’s wonderful to have a company as large and well equipped as Gearhouse Splitbeam on board, a company that is also able to roll with the punches in the processes and the way that we are working. That there is always somebody on hand who is incredibly sensible and sensitive to the needs of the artists is vital; understanding that until one has tested something, one doesn’t know exactly what one needs. And so that testing and that ability for us to ask for assistance and call on Splitbeam’s advice and years of experience is truly valuable.”
Over the past two years, more than two hundred artists have worked in the space. Whilst some are emergent artists, there is equally strong support from very well-known individuals like Gregory Maqoma, Lebogang Mashile, Dominique Gumede, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Riami Gbadamosi, Andile Khumalo, Lindiwe Matshikiza, all of whom are highly celebrated in their practice. These are also practitioners who have shown an interest in working across the disciplines and working in a collaborative way which is why they have been identified by the Centre. Some of the projects have gone on to do exciting things according to Lace. Requiem Request which was created by Gregory Maqoma and Nhlanhla Mahlangu in the first season, went on to birth Cion – a critically acclaimed performance that is now travelling the world.
The Centre aims to incubate works in as healthy an environment as possible. The works belong to the artists, intellectual and creative property stays with the artists. “We also record and archive each performance and have an outstanding production team. This gives the work the best opportunity to grow and be picked up elsewhere. The reputation of the Centre and association with William naturally gives each performance a strong audience both locally and abroad” elaborates Lace.
“We started off hiring equipment on an ad-hoc basis, but as we have grown and gained momentum we have realised that a long-term hire, giving us access to Splitbeam’s staff and advice is the way to go. We’ve got more than monthly events, as well as two seasons per year which means we’re occupied with rehearsals, development and showing full-time in the Centre. Now we have full-time equipment in place on the long-term loan. Thank you Splitbeam.”