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Keeping the doors open at Theatre on the Square

The theatre on the Square is an acknowledged, well-loved, and unique Johannesburg theatre. Housed in the Nelson Mandela Square at Sandton City, the theatre has, over nearly three decades, garnered countless Naledi Theatre awards and nominations for theatre excellence. Now, following the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the arts, they might be closing their doors for good.

The theatre has launched a fundraising campaign on Thundafund and is seeking R2 million to stage a full reopening with a repertoire of dramas, musicals, comedies, and concerts. Anyone can support the ‘Keeping the Lights On’ campaign by donating from R1 upwards, or by opting for one of the many reward packages that gives them a return on investment.

‘Our theatre has brought joy, upliftment, entertainment, and education to thousands of theatre lovers, always embracing diversity and challenging minds. It cannot be allowed to die. Every day I get requests from artists, musicians, playwrights and directors asking when we’re reopening.’

Daphne Kuhn – founder, owner and artistic director

Reasons to support

Kuhn had already devised a fundraising campaign which has seen some money rolling in, but launching the appeal on ThundaFund allows people to donate more easily by clicking on the website.
     The theatre’s ‘Keeping the Lights On’ campaign has set a tipping point of R300,000 by 8 August. This would be enough to cover the first few months of reopening until the income from ticket sales carries it forward, but the dream goal of R2 million would ensure a full programme of high-quality live entertainment for at least a year.

Donors can receive various benefits from contributing to the ‘Keeping the Lights On’ campaign: 

  • At a starting price of R500 for an individual membership, donors can receive a 50% discount on tickets for all shows produced by the theatre, plus invitations to special evenings, previews, and discussions with the artists.
  • Sponsoring a seat costs R1 200 a year, with your name inscribed on a seat and discounted tickets.
  • At the price of R10 000 for a life membership, you receive two complimentary tickets to the shows and your name inscribed on a plaque.
  • For a Corporate membership at R10 000 a year, this gives you 12 complimentary tickets a month, the company name inscribed on a plaque, and its logos in the theatre programmes.

A rich history

The Theatre on the Square has been financially viable and artistically successful for the past 27 years, thanks to corporate sponsors and personal investments by Kuhn. But the Covid-19 lockdown has forced it to close, along with the cancellation of Auto and General’s sponsorship.
     More than 2 500 productions have been staged at this 200-seat theatre over the years, Kuhn and her team have sourced, financed, and produced numerous new shows, giving many young playwrights and performers a chance to shine. They have imported successful foreign plays, and hosted local musicians, comedians, and children’s productions. These shows have created work for thousands of actors, musicians, playwrights, directors, designers, and technicians.
     Unless individual theatre-lovers and corporate sponsors come forward, the theatre will close indefinitely. The lockdown has already forced Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre into permanent closure, and Kuhn is afraid the Theatre on the Square will follow.

‘It’s a tragedy to see theatres closing, especially at this time when healing and upliftment is needed more than ever. The arts are on the bottom of the priority list for financial support, but they’re an essential service that should be supported to keep South African culture alive.’

Daphne Kuhn – founder, owner and artistic director

An unmissable programme

Kuhn hopes to reopen before the end of the year, with all the health protocols in place. The promised line-up includes:

  • Local comedians Nik Rabinowitz, Loyiso Madinga, and Ntosh Madlingozi
  • A new play by South African playwright Paul Slabolepszy, the international play Love and Money.
  • A new musical revue
  • Comedy sketches by local satirist Mike van Graan
  • A new play starring Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland
  • Lunchtime classical music and jazz concerts will also make a welcome return.

‘This theatre is part of the cultural life of Johannesburg and has created productions that have toured the world, with the careers of many well-known artists launched here,’ Kuhn says. ‘Live theatre is absolutely magical and we cannot possibly lose this amazing art form.’

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