The Hard Facts:

The reality of our situation in South Africa is that there are no permanent jobs in the arts. The only place that employs actors in large numbers on a semi-permanent basis is television, but there are very very few soapies, less than 10 in total.

There are no theatrical shows that run for long periods. The only shows that run for longer periods are the overseas musicals, but they also run in the main, for a maximum six months, and if you are lucky, they go on tour, in South Africa, for another 3 months, max.

Then its back to square one, going from one audition to the next, where there are literally, hundreds of youngsters, looking for one of the parts in another musical. But how many musicals have we had in South Africa in the last few years? One of the longer running musicals was Hazel Feldman’s production of Jersey Boys, which ran for more than six months at Montecasino and then went on tour in the East, Singapre, and one or two other Asian town. There are no jobs in this industry. THE LION KING, the most successful musical theatre production in the world, only ran for 1year in South AFrica, and struggled to break even. It is probably the only musical that run for that long.

Going back to the soapies, which are the only ones who hire actors on a semi-permanent basis, there are less than ten soapies, and each of them hires less than 30 actors full time. So to be generous, lets say that each of them hires 30 semi permanent actors (semi permanent because every soapie signs only 1 year contracts and extends them year on year… if the producers have an issue with you they don’t renew your contract and that’s it, there is nothing you can do)

So lets count them; Generations, Muvhango, Isidingo, Sewende Laan, Rhythm City, Scandal, Isibaya, new kid on the block- Skeem Sam and Rockville (Is it still running?) This is a total of 9 productions. If each of them has 30 full time actors (and this is a huge exaggeration) this means that there are 270 semi permanent jobs in the television (soapie) industry.

If The major universities, Wits, Afda, TUT, DUT, UKZN, University of Cape Town, each produces 200 arts graduates each year, (and they collectively produce more) There are 1000 new graduates joining the fray of the job seekers each year… (And the number of jobs in television does not go up, because there aren’t any new soapies being necessarily commissioned each year! This is the situation each year!

That is the reality of this industry. There are less than 300 semi permanent acting jobs and more than a 1000 new entrants into the industry each year. This is not a sustainable situation. And yet, more and more people without degrees, think that they are “made for acting” they are “passionate” about acting. But how can the producers continue to hire people with (or without) only a matric, when there are all these unemployed graduates? There are no jobs in this industry.

That is why if you get a job in this industry, you better hold on to it, because the next time you might get a (full) time job, might be a long time. That is partly the reason why soapie actors struggle to get another job once they leave a soapie.

That is the situation in South Africa. Go to school and get yourself a degree, if possible not in the dramatic arts, so that you have something to fall back to if things do not work out! I know this is what most your parents are telling you, and you are not willing to listen! And I know you are praying that your parents do not see this post, because it is from someone in the industry. Well, this is what I tell my children each day, but then again….

About The Author

Duma Ka Ndlovu
Contributor

Born in Orlando West, Soweto, South African, Duma ka Ndlovu is a filmmaker, poet, playwright, journalist, and TV producer.He was professor of African history and African-American literature at New York's Stoneybrook University in the eighties and between 1996 and 2004 he was chairman of the SA Music Awards (SAMA).

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One Response

  1. zanele BASI

    Thanks A Lot MR D .NDLOVU for telling the truth about being an ector that we need to have something in Hand so that if we dont make it in Acting will left with something to carry on looking for Another JOB Thanks

    Reply

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