A few minutes past midnight. On my PC is a new script of a play. On my table are scraps of strategies; sales and marketing. In my bin are rejected sponsorship proposals. Cluttered on my mind are so many Goliaths that will need to be defeated with my little resources to have my script be a reality on stage. And… this is the typical life of every Ghanaian playwright!
The fate of the Ghanaian theatre industry is wobbly, frankly speaking. Play writing/production is one dangerous career path to embark on. You may live all your life in penury with broken dreams and a red account because there are no systems to help one absorb shock when they fall.
Modern Ghanaian theatre can be a driving force of tourism and development if proper structures are put in place to make National Theatre and all the cultural centres busy all year through. When the appropriate ministries lend a hand to create a favorable environment for production houses to produce local content all year long, unemployment rate will be cut down significantly.
Seed grows well not just because it is viable but because it has the best conditions. If we desire our local content to go global, it hinges on favorable conditions― conditions that will inspire creatives to call what they do a fulfilling career. A Ghana beyond aid is a Ghana that creates a favorable environment that makes every career paid.
The Dark Knights, Lion Kings and Hamiltons have raked in millions of dollars across the globe because structures were in place for such creative pieces to travel beyond the borders of their origin. Mind you, these are local content gone global. Where there are theatre support systems, the output of production houses is boosted.
Theatre is expensive― very expensive. It can cost an arm and leg to put a quality play together― from tedious rehearsals to publicity. Without good investment, there will be no good returns. When production costs are left to be borne by a playwright-turned-producer alone, the future of this industry becomes bleak. In the absence of the requisite structures for playwrights to stand, theatre will fall.
The production process for a play starts with getting one’s script ready and then copyrighting it. One has to put together his production team which will include his cast, crew and others who will provide related services. After the production team has been assembled, rehearsal starts. This can span for, at least, three months depending on the frequency and length of meetings.
Within the three or more months of rehearsal, publicity and sales/marketing plans are strategized. Communication tools and branding strategies are also put in place within this same period. Before such is reached, however, a venue should have already been booked.
A production team can contain as many as 100 members depending on the cast size. Large cast sizes oftentimes bloat production budget. The larger the cast size, the more one has to spend on their rehearsals, transportation and honorarium. Most playwrights/producers, thus, cut down on cast size to cut down on expenses. My plays are, oftentimes, just a few cast for this reason.
When one has a large cast size yet a cash-strapped budget, it affects the quality of the output. The more one cuts down on expenses that will assure quality, the less quality the product becomes. The less one spends on publicity, for instance, the more likely it may be that no one will get to know of the production. TV/radio/newspaper and social media budget alone can cost thousands of Ghana cedis for only a month-long publicity. And…that is expensive!
Crew includes personnel who will provide light, sound (PA system) and band (if it is a musical). Other crew members are costumiers, props managers, set designers, makeup artists, stage managers, box office managers, stage hands, prompters, director, casting director and production manager among others. Related services will be provided by an ushering and organization team and sales/marketing executives. One production, thus, brings together a lot of hands!
It is no wonder, hence, that a lot is spent on theatre productions. Per quality production at National Theatre, one needs a whopping, standing budget of between GHC40,000-100,000, if not more. In the absence of corporate and governmental support, it is almost impossible to breakeven. Imagine how many GHC50 worth tickets you may have to sell to make up for a GHC50,000 production cost.
Contemporary Ghanaian theatre has a great future… but not in the absence of support structures like corporate sponsorships and subsidized cost of venues like National Theatre. Availability of a theatre fund to help producers mitigate their losses will also be in the right direction. When there are alternate loss “shock absorbers”, it lessens the burden on production houses.
Ghanaian theatre can be a self-sustaining industry. It can be a wealth-generating and tourist-attracting industry if we begin investing therein. When there are no supporting structures for talents, creativity dies.
An investment into the theatre industry will be an investment into Ghanaians. It is possible to have our local content make a hit on Broadway. It is possible to have Ghanaian producers patent their innovations and inventions which can be used across the world. It is very possible to have thousands of youth get employed by our theatre and production houses. It is possible to earn a decent living carving a career out of theatre.
While we wait for support, let’s brand ourselves to look like a business that means business!
By Kobina Ansah
The writer is a playwright and Chief Scribe of Scribe Communications (www.scribecommltd.com), an Accra-based writing company which provides all writing services. His upcoming play, TRIBELESS, is this June at National Theatre, Accra.