As most of you know, for the past 5 years we have held our annual show at the State Theatre, Pretoria. We have had huge success with The Ruby Slipper (2015), The Nutcracker Princess (2016), The Forest Queen (2017), Dreams of an Artist (2018) and last year’s Twelve Dancing Princesses.
The time has come again for me to book the venue for this year’s show, which is the reason for this letter.
I was presented with concerns a little earlier this year from two parents requesting that we move the venue of our yearly productions closer to the suburbs. They feel the State Theatre’s location is unsafe and too far to drive. They also feel that they speak on behalf of many other parents. I have also had other parents ask me from time to time why we hold our shows there, rather than at a school hall or a smaller theatre such as the Atterbury Theatre, Brooklyn Theatre. I have, in the past, explained my reasoning to these individual parents, but this time thought it best to explain my rationale to all the parents of the dancers I teach, and give an opportunity for all to give their input.
When I first started my ballet school in 1998 the school was much smaller than it is now, and we held small concerts in school halls. As the school grew however, and as we grew in knowledge, experience and expertise we began to require bigger venues with not only a bigger stage and auditorium, but also bigger facilities in terms of dressing rooms, storage and similar.
These days in order to provide our potential cast of 200-250 students a taste of what it is like to be involved in a professional production we need:
– Stage – floor space visible to audience
– Wings / backstage – the 2 side areas next to the stage where the dancers wait and enter from and not visible to the audience. Large decor items are also moved on and off and stored there
– Legs – narrow curtains in the wings to mask the backstage areas
– Apron – the curved area of the stage closest to the audience
– Fly loft – they are above the stage where curtains and set pieces are stored and hidden during a production. These cloths fly up and down to create different scenes during a production
– Lighting and sound control desks – with the use of a lighting designer spectacular lights can be set to create the mood of the scenes
– Proscenium – An arched opening through which the audience sees the stage (Also a style of theatre with the audience seated predominantly in front of the stage.)
– Auditorium- The raked area where the audience sit. Raked seating refers to seating which is positioned on an upwards slope away from the stage, in order to give those in the audience at the back a better view than if the seats were all on the same level.
– Dressing rooms- where the dancers change and get ready.
Unfortunately there only a few theatres left in Pretoria with these kinds of facilities at this scale. They are:
- The State Theatre, Pretorius street, Pretoria Central
Drama Theatre– seats 650 – Rental Cost R55 000 per week (excluding décor, props, and technical team)
Opera Theatre– seats 1300 – Rental Cost R110 000 per week (excluding décor, props, and technical team)
The State Theatre has availability for us from Monday 30 November – Saturday 5 December. This is the last week of the school year. If we confirm these dates, stage rehearsals will be on Tuesday 1 Dec, Wednesday 2 Dec, Thursday 3 Dec. 1st Performance will be Friday 4 Dec @15h30 (also for charities), with 2 performances on Saturday 5 Dec @11h00 and @15h30
The schools close early on December 4th this year and for those not already on holiday during that week it means that there will be no school exams or prize-giving clashes with our rehearsals. We will also be able to schedule rehearsals earlier in the afternoon as most students don’t attend school that week.
(Unfortunately the week I originally requested – 23-28 November – is not available due to their in-house productions. They host Idols and various music festivals from August till mid-November).
- Aula Theatre, University of Pretoria, Lynnwood Road – seats 1000. Rental Cost was R35 000 (3 Days – Friday to Sunday) back in 2013 (excluding décor, props, and technical team). We also had to transport our décor and props to the Aula, as we normally rent most of these from the State Theatre Décor department.
Sadly this Theatre is no longer available to entities not associated with the University (since 2014) and even if we could somehow convince the committee, it’s not available from August – mid December, due to the University using it for graduation ceremonies and other official University functions.
- The Unisa Little Theatre, Nana Sita street, Pretoria Central – seats only 300
The stage and dressing rooms are very small compared to the other two theatres and they only seat 300. This theatre is also in the Pretoria CBD – so again further to travel, and with even less by way of secure parking and other security than the State Theatre. An additional problem is that they currently don’t allow any newcomers on their hiring list as they are already fully booked by Unisa and their familiar clients. It can take up to 3 years to get on the waiting list and then we would have to be happy with school holidays or the first few months of the year. It’s certainly not an option for this year.
There are two other options sometimes mentioned to me – both of which we have used in the past when the school was smaller:
- Atterbury Theatre – seats 400 – Rental Costs R21 000 per half/day 13h00 – 00h00 regardless of performance or rehearsal (1 performance only) + (R14 300 per extra Matinee performance per day) + (R7700 for a morning rehearsal 9h00 – 13h00) Our shows A Time to Dance (2011) and Dancing Through the Movies (2012) were held there, with significantly smaller casts – and even then dressing rooms and stage were at capacity.
- Brooklyn Theatre – seats 400 – Rental Costs (not sure about the price but they have even less dressing room space than the Atterbury and no backstage area. We had a concert there in 2014 and got so many complaints from parents regarding the dressing rooms and standard of the concert after we set the standard with “Peter Pan” 2013 in the Aula, that we haven’t gone back to the small theatre).
These theatres might seem very convenient due to their locations but they were not built with dance productions in mind. Choreography is very limited due to their small stages and they are better suited for Drama or Music performances with small casts. Essentially we would only be able to do a few small group dances per show (essentially a “school production”) rather than a full production as we’re used to. Our ticket prices would have to increase to cover costs and we would have to divide the cast up and create two or three separate “shows”. This might mean that families may not have all their children in the same show and would therefore have to attend up to 3 separate performances in one day. (These theatres are fully booked by artists and musicians all year round and so to book them for more than a day is not really feasible).
Another thing to bear in mind is that if we were to consider the Atterbury for this year, we would have to book now! It’s currently only available for a few Sundays during October and November 2020. This would means rehearsing one Sunday and performing the next. We would also have to move out with all our props and costumes during the week as we would not be able book 2 consecutive days, unlike at the State theatre, where our booking is for a full week. Stage rehearsals and plotting of lights and décor, which normally takes us 4-5 days, would have to happen in one day.
Because the size of these stages is actually comparable to most school stages and dressing rooms are so limited, we could save costs and hire a school hall. The only real difference between these halls and the Atterbury or Brooklyn Theatres is raked (and comfortable) seating for the audience. Stage (and backstage) experience for the dancers would not be particularly enhanced at the theatres.
So essentially we are left with two choices for the show this year: our usual “Grand Production”, but at the State Theatre, or a collection of small-scale productions (on the same day) at a smaller theatre or in a school hall.
I have been teaching for nearly 23 years and have accepted the fact that I can’t always please everyone, and my decisions might not always fit into everyone’s needs and lives. But you can be assured that I always try my best to make decisions that will benefit my students. My job is to teach them a skill and, dance being a performing art, part of what I owe these dancers is to give them the best possible opportunity to perform. Very few might consider or be fortunate enough to become professional dancers or actors but at least they can one day look back on their performances with our dance school with fond memories.
Personally, I would really love to take our annual production back to the State Theatre again this year. Dancing on a professional stage in a professional theatre really is an exciting and unforgettable experience for our children – one that some of them may never get to experience again in their lifetimes.
I can relate to the fact that it is not always pleasant driving into and out of the city centre during theatre week, but we do our best to give parents a carefully planned schedule well in advance, and therefore ample time to prepare for that week. Last year we saw many lift clubs and parents commuting together. Yes, sure, we all complain during that week, but in the end, isn’t it all worthwhile when you see your child beaming on that beautiful stage and know that the schlep and effort will give them an experience of a lifetime?
We are very fortunate and comfortable to live in our area, but in smaller towns and even in major cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town students and parents often have to travel further distances and also out of the comfort of their suburbs to their dance performances.
Every year we are overwhelmed by stories of people traveling from as far as Mpumalanga and Polokwane to come and see our shows. I feel it would really be a shame to go back to “school concerts” while these beautiful theatres are still available to us. From when I was a little girl I grew up attending all the famous Ballets performed at the Stage Theatre and today I still see it as a privilege to dance on this historic stage.
Who knows one day these theatres might not be there any more and if we don’t support them how will they stay open?
“The theatre is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.”
All that being said, though, I’m aware that in making my decisions it is important to factor in all considerations. For this reason I am creating the opportunity, via this survey, for parents’ feedback regarding what they’d prefer regarding this year’s show, before I make any final decisions or confirm any bookings.
Please note that this survey is not compulsory, but if parents have strong feelings about our shows, I want to give them an opportunity firstly to understand exactly why we have chosen to do what we have done in the past, but also to express any opinions or concerns they may have, in order to help me make the best decision I can for my students and my studio.
Please feel free to give me your input by selecting either A or B of the options to the question below and adding any further comments you’d like me to consider.
These comments might include things like, if for example you’d prefer the smaller show option, whether you’d prefer that to be held at a theatre or school; or it could include any thoughts from your children you feel might be relevant.
Option A: I am still in support of a full scale professional production even if it means travelling further to theatres like the State Theatre (only feasible option for 2020), Aula or Unisa Little Theatre.
Option B: I would rather have small scale concerts on a school stage or small local theatre even if it means increase in ticket price to cover the costs of setting up lights, music, décor, etc. or decrease in comfort and audience experience if held in a school hall.
This survey is now closed. Thank you to all who took the time to take part.