However, as days became weeks and then months, performers began channelling their knack for improvisation and started creating ways to survive and still keep audiences entertained.
By late April, actors formed the &Scene troupe and began showcasing weekly virtual reunion shows – starting with Together Again, which was a successful homage to the Rent stage production.
And now, Marc Lottering has followed suit with his first-ever live online show, My Fellow South Africans, to resounding response. By Thursday, Lottering’s show, which took place Saturday at 7.30pm, had already sold 8,500 tickets globally – a turnout the funny man says he did not expect.
The Citizen caught up with him between rehearsals for a chat about going digital, the effects of the pandemic on performers and how it will change the live theatre landscape.
How has this pandemic and lockdown affected you as a performer?
It’s been surreal. Initially I was in a bit of a daze, making all sorts of plans to take different courses online. I even bought a guitar.
I think reality only kicked in some weeks into the lockdown period; the reality that I am unemployed along with thousands of other performing artists. Feels as though we’re all in some kind of futuristic reality show.
You had to place Aunty Merle: It’s a Girl on hold when the lockdown hit. How did that affect you and your team?
My heart still breaks for my cast of actors and musicians. I’m a comedian and it’s easier for me to find creative ways of earning some cash during this time.
It’s not so easy for actors, dancers and musicians who rely on the live theatre shows. We’re all in touch daily to keep our spirits up and help out wherever we can.
How did you come up with the idea for your first-ever virtual show, and why is it so relevant right now?
I’ve resisted the idea because I’m so accustomed to performing in front of a live audience. But fans have asked me to please jump onto the virtual platform as they would like to hear what I have to say right now, amidst all of this madness.
So, under the direction of my partner Anwar McKay, I’ve decided to do this. But it is kind of freaking me out.
How different is the setup for a virtual production to preparing for a stage production?
It’s completely different. It’s just me and the camera crew. No laughter, no latecomers and no people needing to use the bathroom. I’m quite keen to see how this all pans out.
Did you expect the massive turnout and support?
I absolutely did not. I am blown away by the phenomenal support. Thus far we have sold 8,500 tickets to people from all over the globe.
This online life is the new normal. Tickets are affordable and the whole family can watch at home with one ticket. Hello 2020. It’s insane!
What does this support say about South African theatregoers and our love for the arts?
It says that South Africans are keen to see the survival of the arts in our country. It also says what I’ve always known: South Africans are always ready for a good laugh no matter what we are going through.
What are your thoughts on how theatre will be changed after we return to normal again?
We shall have to see what happens once we are all released from lockdown. The theatre situation is certainly going to be a tricky one due to social distancing. I’m thinking that it will be a will a while before we see theatres get back to anywhere near “normal” again.
I believe online life is going to become a large part of our reality. There’s lots of talk on Facebook around drive-in theatres, which will cater for both movies and live theatre/comedy shows.