Originally published in Cue.
Renowned local theatre company Ubom! announced during the 2013 National Arts Festival that it would be shutting its doors due to a lack of funding. Now, a year later, it is still keeping its head above water, but only just.
Ubom! was previously funded by the National Arts Council (NAC), an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture, but the money inexplicably dried up last year.
“We were getting about R250 000 a year,” said Janet Buckland, artistic director at Ubom!. “It is an absolute mystery to me why the NAC has stopped funding us. I have sent in a letter of appeal as I would like an explanation, because they had supported us since 2003.”
Without a steady income, Ubom! has been forced to cut several parts of their programme. They no longer employ actors on a permanent basis and can only offer short-term contracts. They were also unable to put on their traditional Christmas show last year.
Two of their shows from 2013, Betti and the Yeti and Hoss, were so successful that they were invited to tour the country. Buckland was asked to bring Hoss to the Market Theatre, a personal dream of hers, but she was unable to do so because the company could not afford it.
Despite the lack of funding, Ubom! has managed to put on a couple of shows since the last Festival. Earlier this year, they put on a short play called Unzip Your Knowledge as part of Rhodes University’s Orientation Week programme, in order to help new students acclimatise to an academic environment. “The theatre was packed and we were turning away people every night,” says Buckland.
They were also able to scrounge together enough money for a children’s show, The Wangai, which can be seen at Festival this year.
Most of their remaining funds went towards the Makana Drama Development Festival, whose two winners – Yima, Bheka, Ubone! and Buzani Kabawo – were rewarded with free slots on the Fringe.
Ubom! was founded by Buckland in 2003 with the objective of developing theatre in the Eastern Cape. “There were so many reasons why it made sense to start Ubom!. People were leaving the Eastern Cape. The first thing you did when you graduated from university or anywhere else, was to get the hell out of the Eastern Cape because how could you earn a living? Ubom! changed that,” said Buckland.