Cape Town's famous Maynardville Open-Air festival cancelled

2019-12-18 17:33 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town's theatre under the stars is well-known as a unique offering - with an adaption of Shakespeare's most famous works experienced as a Maynardville summer's evening performance able to kindle a special love of the arts.

Initially the brainchild of actresses Cecelia Sonnenberg and Rene Ahrenson in the mid 1950's - Maynardville Open-Air Festival (Previously Maynardville Shakespeare) has come to mean delightful picnics and pre-drinks on the sprawling lawns of the leafy Wynberg park, alongside its delightful duck pond. 

But after some 60 years, tough economic times, the risks of load shedding and a shortfall of funds means heading into the new decade without the thespian tradition. 

Producer Brian Heydenrych explains that it was a "very difficult decision to make but unfortunately the Maynardville Open-Air Festival will be put on pause for 2020 due to a funding shortfall".

And it's been a long road for the resident Artscape producer who worked on his first Maynardville in 1995, with the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

"The 2020 season would have been my 26th year, with a two year break when it was managed by one of the internal project managers."

Limited financial support over the last few years from the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre Trust has put a strain on the festival, which takes an estimated R2.5m to produce. But without a headline sponsor the risk has been too great - especially as they are "not prepared to compromise audience experience or artist fees".  

"Artscape has also carried a lot of the risk and the cost in years when it has made a loss, but by and large the Festival has managed to sustain itself on ticket sales. This has become increasingly difficult every year as costs increase significantly and I can't raise the ticket price to match," explains Heydenrych.

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In 2018 the Maynardville Shakespeare evolved into a Festival of theatre, ballet, comedy and music with a classical spin - becoming so much more than Shakespeare in the park.

As a Festival of theatre, ballet, orchestra and comedy under the stars the expanded programme had seen a significant return in audience numbers - but it has just not been enough. 

The larger offering grew the event between 2018 and 2019 - the first two Open-Air festival years - but with this comes added costs.

"Each production has had their own costs. Apart from significant inflationary increases in all mounting costs, we have also had to carry additional cleaning and security costs over the last few years. It is in the absence of a key sponsor that we are left unable to continue without doubling the ticket prices – and that just isn’t an option in the current market," says Heydenrych.  

"For instance the threat of load shedding could add another R50 000 in expenses if we need to run the Festival by generator."  

This year, timing has not been on the festival's side, as the real financial picture was only clarified in October says Heydenrych.

"It just left to little time to raise the funds in this economic climate. The shortfall this year was about R250 000 to build a Festival to the expectations of what our loyal audience has come to expect. 

Heydenrych says, “We are sorry to disappoint our supporters, some of whom have been coming to the show for decades. We are also very sad that the opportunity is not there for our artists this year, but this is absolutely not the end of the line for theatre at Maynardville and we look forward to sharing our 2021 programme with you later in 2020.”

The team is currently doing "some creative thinking around ways to raise funds" and would also like to involve the people of Cape Town in reviving the festival says Heydenrych who has not ruled out the possibility of a crowd fund.

"A key aspect of our efforts will be to find a headline sponsor or a group of sponsors. We want to create an experience that attracts diverse audiences; a reinvention of the classics," he says.

"The Maynardville theatre experience is so special with its setting offering audiences something unlike any other theatre experience in Cape Town. Maynardville Theatre was hard won. It was through the sheer determination of its founders that it came to be and we will fight even harder to take Maynardville ahead into its next 60 years.

“We will be back!” says Heydenrych.

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