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TRIBUTE TO FRANTZ DOBROWSKY (article first published : 2006-02-1)

The death of Frantz Dobrowsky is a tragic loss to the Theatre community. In 1989 while performing Molly in Uys' Paradise is Closing Down, I remember being quite in awe of Frantz's focus. Frantz was working on the Playhouse Company’s Macbeth at the time.

As a young artist entering the professional theatre world, I recall spending time with him debating the meaning of creative choice and the detailed history a character required. This manner of exchange engenders the transfer of knowledge from those with accomplished technical skill to those learning to read audiences, investigate 'given circumstances' and trust judgements.

Frantz's continual search for perspective and appropriateness was always informed by widening the parameters that for many artists confine the interpretation to the text. For his audience this always led to fresh discovery and the establishment of new artistic paradigms.

Frantz was not alone. Many artists suffer the highs and lows of this volatile profession and the theatre community needs an organized infrastructure to accommodate artists of this calibre and alleviate external pressures. A good start might be to introduce three categories of performers: Community (ad hoc pay); Non-Equity (aspirant equity performers earning a living wage) and Equity (well-paid professionals).

Theatres would need to then align themselves with these options so Equity Theatres would be unable to employ non equity members or undercut working professionals. Waste of indigenous talent and disregard for artistic endeavour results in artistic isolation from all forms of acknowledgement and consequent worth. This unpleasant component should be minimized by the artistic community itself. Perhaps an infrastructure may assist in these attempts.

Artistic respect will not be accorded until we the artists demand the respect due to our profession, and this includes respect paid in financial dues, respect for the hours of training and dedication afforded each show, respect for an occupation that is always diverse and always under public scrutiny.

Theatre is a business in which artists find new entrepreneurial paths to survive. When the artist can no longer survive in the business of breaking new creative ground, the business has failed and ceased to be astute, to read current or future trends, to reinvent. Isn't it time South African Theatre practitioners find a new solution to an abiding problem: How to value artists such as Frantz Dobrowsky?

Debbie Lutge, HOD, Department of Drama Studies, Durban Institute of Technology.




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