8 November 2012

Tanzania: Quality Theatre Space Comes at a Price

CLAIMS that the new theatre at the National Museum and House of Culture, in the City Centre, is inaccessible to local artistes are being refuted by the Director, Dr Paul Msemwa.

He told the 'Daily News' that those who hold onto this view are not paying enough attention to the level of quality being provided in the services there. He agreed that artistes, like the contemporary dancer and Artistic Director, Aloyce Makonde, do have a genuine complaint, but he hopes they would understand that there is an associated cost to having the kind of quality available that is being provided at the modern theatre there.

"If you need something sub-standard, then you get it at the price you want, but quality has its price also," Dr Msemwa told the 'Daily News'. He further defended the 2.9m/- per day cost for hiring the theatre, as being the result after management had conducted a survey on the market situation in the city.

That is why he maintains they are offering the lowest price available within the City. He referred to their price as being insignificant considering the facilities provided when compared to hiring a space within other venues like the Milimani City complex, which lies towards the outskirts of the City near Mwenge.

"We are not only providing space but also expert crews to run the equipment, such as lights and sound, within the theatre. These are some of the considerations that have been taken into account, before coming up with the current charges. But what is even more important is the consideration we have given to the question of sustainability," he added.

It is one thing having a very beautiful space, Dr Msemwa says, but not being able to sustain it for a longer term is also a factor, he maintains. The fact that they were supported to build the structure in the first place means now they are supposed to stand on their own to continue maintaining it.

That is what he says they at the museum are doing. People also have to remember that the era of socialism is passed. So to sustain the museum's operations, which includes the theatre, money has to be generated to meet all overall museum costs. He explained as to why the way in which this is being done has had to change in recent years.

As part of one of six establishments under the National Museum, the House of Culture is a non-profit public body. With the acceptance of the Economic Structural Adjustment Policy (ESAP), which is championed by the International Monetory Fund (IMF), in the early 1990s, Tanzanians were forced into cost sharing, to access public services. Prior to this arrangement, operational costs of the National Museum depended on Government support.

However, the fees structure, which was put into affect in the early 1990s, does take into account one's ability to pay. It must be remembered that the museum is obliged to grant worthy people access through another arrangement. This could end up in a reduction of payment or it being completely erased.

Another reason why Dr Msemwa pleads with local artistes to understand the reason behind the 1.9m/- per day rental charges of the theatre is the management's decision to target children, as their most important audience. Having tourists come there he says is just a by-the-way. That is why they have schemes in operation whereby children are not charged for using the theatre. In this way they will build these children to become better confident citizens at a later date.

Through a weekly programme called "Wajukuu Wa Mwalimu" - 'Mwalim's Grandchildren' school children can come in groups at 500/- per person and use the theatre. Then, indirectly those who are able to pay are expected to subsidise the costs so that the children can have this access. "By investing heavenly in the children will cause more appreciation and support for the culture sector in the future than it is today," he suggests.

Dr Msemwa also replied to the complaint that the House of Culture was constructed for the benefit of local artistes but now it is being used for other activities, such as wedding receptions and such events, which are being held within the garden there, causing a lot of confusion and noise during performances in the theatre. He wanted to remind these artistes that a museum is an "educational, recreational and social gathering centre".

That being the case, all of these events are part of social gatherings. This is another way in which the establishment can earn some income to minimise the operational costs. He told the 'Daily News' that almost 80 per cent of their operational costs is from the Government and the remaining has to come from entrance fees and money received from renting space. Therefore, weddings, exhibitions, meetings are their ways of bringing in an income.

The weddings are not supposed to be on when the theatre is in use. That is why he apologised for this procedure not being adhered to on a recent occasion, which was outside the regulations. He warned local artistes not to enter into collusions with foreigners. Apparently, some are being used as brokers to come to the museum, asking for discount for charges, which were set up by the board of the establishment.

He believes such artistes should be patriotic enough to support their national institutions. Those who have a genuine case should put it in writing to the management of the museum. The performing artists, Kauzeni Lyamba, acknowledged such practices do happen but are not the norm amongst artistes. However, he still queries the rental charges and pointed out that although the place has its qualities, there is an echo, which reduces the sound quality one gets.

This should be rectified, so that the theatre can really claim it has the desired excellence in sound. Further, being a national institution, he argues, means the establishment should have a way of supporting local artistes of all levels. This could be done by taking a percentage of the entrance fee instead. He gave an example of a large number of performing artistes of meagre income but having a worthwhile product, but not able to obtain the required 1.9m/- a day rental charge for the theatre.

"It is not that artistes want things free but it is a must that we look at the reality of life here. Say I have a traditional group and want to prepare a show for everyone, and see the national museum's theatre as an ideal venue. Now being a Government institution, I would expect they have ways of helping lift up local artistes and their art," Lyamba enquires.

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