There is no real assistance for theatre in Guyana from the Ministry of Culture
Over the past few days there has been a lot of ‘brouhaha’ about the functioning of the National Cultural Centre (NCC). Having produced approximately 200-odd shows at the centre since 1981, each year producing one of the longest running shows, I have decided to have my say.
The Minister of Culture on two public occasions, within the last three months and on other occasions, complained about the centre losing money and that it cannot sustain its operations because, he claims, of its low rentals. The Minister, however, fails to present all the facts.
What he does not reveal is that the rental is but a fraction of what the centre charges producers and a small percentage of the real income of the centre. Perhaps the Minister has not been properly advised by his Permanent Secretary.
I would like to state some figures that my company and other theatrical producers pay to use this facility.
The NCC charges a $80,000 flat rental for the entire building, including 27 staff seats in the back of the auditorium which the Ministry of Culture and NCC staff use to invite their families and friends to see your show at no cost and the 14 or 16 ‘VIP’ seats in the balcony front which we are not allowed to sell and are used by the administration to seat their friends and families or anyone else who needs a free seat to your show.
In addition to the basic rental of $80,000, the producer pays a surcharge of 20% on all ticket prices, the rental of bars (even though you are competing with the vendors at the main entrance who do not pay a cent), for the printing of tickets, a charge for the use of your video camera to film your own show, for rehearsals (only one rehearsal is given at no cost), for ushers, for front of house staff and security (additional required to secure the patrons’ vehicles) on a nightly basis. Calculated on ticket prices of $2000, $1500 and $1000, and a full house, the producer pays approximately 26% of the gross income to the NCC plus 16% VAT to the GRA. Altogether 42% of the producer’s gross income for each night is paid over to the government.
From the remaining 58% , (and the producer has to hope for a full house) the producer has to pay the following: – fees to performers and production team; publicity; cost for building set and props; costumes; makeup and hair; royalties; photocopying; rental of rehearsal space; transportation; photography; videography and refreshments before realizing a profit.
Given all of the above, the producer has to hope for sponsorship from the private sector and a good audience turn-out to make it.
The fact is that there is no real assistance for theatre in Guyana from the ministry. Producers cannot take the risk of staging serious dramatic productions for fear of going into the red, as I have often experienced. Hence, comedies are the only option producers have to keep the theatre alive at the NCC. The grand mega concerts, bringing in foreign artists are given waiver of VAT under the pretext of tourism. How many tourists come to Guyana to see these shows then take a holiday to see our flora and fauna?
A word to the Minister: If he wants the NCC to be financially self-sufficient, then he should introduce a policy for allocating production dates which give priority to profitable productions for the centre. It is not rocket science to figure out the productions that bring in huge income to the ministry’s coffers. Ensure that these productions are given good dates, such as weekend nights, especially Saturdays, which are premium nights.
Inexplicably, over the last few years, the centre has penalized producers renting the theatre on holiday nights by imposing punitive charges like overtime for all NCC staff working on the production, that includes security, maintenance and cleaning and technical staff.
The Minister needs to make up his mind either to have the NCC run as a business or subsidize it as a state-run institution used for a number of governmental and national events which do not bring in an income and then have the private producers feel the squeeze by the imposition of excessively high rental and other costs to pay for the ‘freebies.’
The sound system has also attracted public comment and it continues to be a sore point. Patrons paying their hard-earned money for tickets cannot enjoy a show because they cannot hear. This has been happening for years even when the sound system was new because of the technical incompetence of the staff. The lights have suffered a similar fate for the same reason. Productions have suffered from the technical staff not doing their jobs. Lights are turned off or on at the wrong time ruining a scene in spite of lighting scripts provided by the production for rehearsals.
I have travelled and been to theatres all over the world. You can dress up or dress down as you please but at the NCC, every night patrons have to be hassled by a ‘dress code’ rule for a theatre that cannot provide proper sound, lights and an operating air conditioning system. We need to get our priorities right. The current AC unit has collapsed and plans are afoot to replace it but when? We continue to lose audiences over these issues. I have seen families of 5 or 6 persons spending $10,000 to $12,000 on tickets having to return home because one member is wearing a denim pants or a track shoes in the group. These theatre-goers will not return. They are being driven away by an antediluvian policy. Which world are the creators of these foolish rules living in? This is the 21st century.
I fully support the observations of the artists of the Drama Festival (letter in press on January 13) and feel it is time for professional respect to be shown to all performing artists.
I close by giving kudos to the ministry for the National Drama Festival in which I participated and now have the pleasure of being a judge and the National School of Drama in which I am a tutor. I hope the standard and level of these two much needed programmes improve with the years and help to advance the quality and standard of theatre in Guyana. It should be mandatory for all staff of the NCC to attend the Drama School or recruit new staff from the school.
I have written numerous unacknowledged letters, left many unreturned phone messages and suffered cancelled appointments over the years in an effort to sit down and discuss these matters with the Minister. I remain at his service should he wish to draw on my experience.
GEMS Theatre Productions &