Should the State bail out Phoenix Players Theatre?

Zippy Okoth

The Government should bail out Phoenix Players Theatre for a dozen of reasons. The country will lose so much if we allow it  to go down the drain without putting in any effort. The theatre is and has been a hub for artists, many of whom have gone on to launch different successful careers in the entertainment industry. For nurturing talents since it was formed, we should be proud of its existence. Phoenix Theatre gave exposure to budding artists because it offered affordable space for upcoming theatre groups. It is also a historical theatre space, which, should in fact be a cultural and performance museum in terms of conservation of the growth of theatre in Kenya. If you ask me, we should make it a national monument.

However, for Phoenix to pass the test of time and serve the purpose it was created for, a few changes need to be made. Firstly, it should hire a competent manager and be self-sufficient financially. Theatre is expensive, but with competent, interesting productions and good marketing, the audience will come back and pay big money. The theatre should also be renovated and modern equipment installed. Phoenix should also be registered as a company and mandated to nurture theatre talent. The government and all Kenyans of goodwill should not let Phoenix Players Theatre go into oblivion. We could regret in future.

Dr Okoth teaches Film and Theatre at Kenyatta University

Kwame Owino

The economics of theatre business is often difficult because while people express love for theatre everywhere,  majority is unwilling to pay enough to sustain the lovely performances theatre companies put together. Against this background, many influential people argue that theatre businesses ought to be subsidised by the State to ensure sophisticated cultural production endure. But we, at the Institute of Economic Affairs, are unconvinced and opposed to government subsidizing any form of theatre production. Firstly, the real test of what people like is what they are willing to support with their money and other resources. This is a signal to the fine actors that we have no value for their craft and we would prefer that they take up other pursuits to support themselves.

Secondly, Government support for art is troublesome for reasons we are seeing right now. The Executive is using and shifting its buying power to signal to print and other media that it does not like deep coverage of graft and public sector mismanagement. Coming to theatre, it means support for fine theatre would be such that only approved plays, cultural works and scripts would receive public funding. Thirdly, theatrical performances in Kenya would only survive if they were supported by foundations and corporations. In many parts of the world, endowments and bequests from private foundations are provided to enable theatre performances to continue.

Mr Kwame Owino is an economist