ZIBF, Theatre in the park collide

HARARE - Last week, the media was awash with stories of Theatre in the park and how this venue was forced to abandon performances because Zimbabwe International Book Fair, ZIBF, owners of the gazebos that house the outdoor theatre venue was posing challenges.

The Daily News on Sunday received a press release from Lesley Moyo a publicist from Rooftop Promotions, owners of theatre in the park, and published it last week.

The statement did not shed much light but last week Moyo released another statement that revealed the challenges in a statement he headlined, ZIBF, theatre in the Park in Collision Course.

In a bid to understand the issue and give it balanced coverage, the Daily News on Sunday sought answers from Musaemura Zimunya chairperson of the executive board of ZIBF.

The Daily News on Sunday has published below Moyo’s unpublished statement and Zimunya’s response to give readers an insight to the challenges facing theatre in the park;

ZIBF, Theatre in the Park in Collision Course.

The Zimbabwe Book Fair (ZIBF) who are the custodians of the four thatched gazebos situated at the Harare Gardens next to the Art Gallery of Zimbabwe have denied Theatre in the Park, which has been using one of the gazebos as its venue for the past 17 years,  access due to contractual disagreements.

Theatre in the Park has been using the thatched gazebo at the centre of the space under the ZIBF jurisdiction for the past 17 years and that gazebo has become associated with theatre, although occasionally it has hosted other arts activities.

While we acknowledge ZIBF as custodians, we feel that we are being treated unfairly by the current executive board led by Musaemura Zimunya.

For the past years, we were being made to sign a one year contract but in July this it was shortened to six months without any explanations.

We have refused to sign the contract as we feel that there are certain clauses we are not in agreement with.

For starters we want them to revert to the previous one year lease agreement.

It helps us in terms of planning as we run a yearlong theatre calendar and therefore we would want to plan ahead with the assurance that we will still have access to the venue at least for a full year.

The current contract they have tabled states that the period of lease shall run from 9 July 2012 to 31 December 2012 and they also increased the maintenance fees.

On top of that they have included a clause where they will review the fee quarterly.

Due to dollarisation we are no longer operating in a hyper inflationary environment and it is alarming that they would want to review the maintenance fees quarterly.

Strangely we are all arts institutions which should be collaborating and helping in each other in building our own industry, yet the Zimunya-led board is choking the growth of the theatre industry by threatening to shut down the venue.

The agreement also states that the lessee (Theatre in the Park) shall “fully respect the scheduling of ZIBF activities including those of its other clients and avoid any disruptive behaviour or activities.”

While it is their prerogative to schedule their calendared events we feel that they are causing tension within the theatre industry and setting us up with other players within our industry.

Recently we were chucked out of the venue to pave way for the Protest Arts International Festival (Paif) to run their theatre event at the home of theatre in the Park.

While we are not against the organisers of Paif from using the venue we feel that they should come through us as the current occupiers of that space. It is unfair for us to be thrown out of the venue to accommodate another theatre organisation yet our own theatre programme suffers.

We feel that the Zimunya-led board is breeding mistrust and tension within the theatre industry.

We are supposed to be collaborating and working well with other theatre organisations but what the ZIBF board is doing is retrogressive and harmful to the arts industry as a whole.

This year alone, more than four of our productions have suffered and our revenue has been severely affected. The play Desperate in Love was disrupted as we were thrown out of the venue. The Nssa Wellness Week, the Mawungira Enharira and Storytelling week had to be cancelled to pave way for the Nango NGO Expo.
Last week our Comedy Fiesta which was supposed to run for five days was cut to three days because of Paif. This week we were supposed to have a week run of wusiku, a play which premiered at PAIF.

However, we have had to cancel the show, as we have been told we cannot have access to the venue if we have not yet signed the contract.

These disruptions have affected the livelihoods of over 30 artists and over 60 dependents who depend on theatre for their survival. It has also affected our relationship with our clientele who have lost confidence in us as we have been sending them away due to cancelled shows.

It is shocking that while they have three other gazebos which can be utilised by any other organisation, we feel that we are being personally targeted.

There is another gazebo which can be used as a theatre venue yet ZIBF still wants to stifle our programming yet they can easily hire out the other gazebos.

Question and answer with Musaemura Zimunya chairperson, executive board of ZIBF

I hereby oblige with answers to your questions regarding Rooftop Promotions and ZIBF.

Daily News on Sunday (DNS): Please may you comment on the allegations that you have unfairly treated Theatre in the Park by “suddenly” shortening their one year contract to six months, increased the maintenance fees, including a clause where you will review the fee quarterly without any explanations.

Musaemura Zimunya (MZ): It is an extreme exercise in truth-twisting to suggest that ZIBF have shortened their agreement with Rooftop Promotions to six months.  

Rooftop have not told the same public from whom they seek to milk sympathy and invite contributions to settle their contractual obligations that our memorandum of agreement normally runs from March to February of each year.  

Because Rooftop Promotions failed to seek to renew the agreement at its expiry in February even though they continued to occupy and use ZIBF premises and only came to the negotiating table in July, ZIBF put forward six months beginning in July only as a suggestion because even after requiring Rooftop Promotions to indicate exactly when their desired Year’s Agreement should begin, they were not forthcoming.  

DNS: If it is true, why have these changes come suddenly and do you think they are fair to Theatre in the park?

MZ: None of these changes were conceived in the spirit of malice. Our contract would surprise many by its adherence to standard practices.

DNS: How is your relationship with theatre in the park after these changes?

MZ: We have been dealing with Rooftop Promotions as our client, not to mention as a fellow arts and cultural organisation. Until the beginning of 2012, when Rooftop failed to remit their fees on schedule and did not seek to renew their contract until asked, ZIBF’S relationship with Rooftop Promotions had been cordial, to say the least.

And, in spite of differences arising from the conditions of the new contract, as far as ZIBF were concerned, those differences were not fatal and did not diminish our estimation of the operations of Rooftop Promotions or their representatives.

What disappoints ZIBF is the fact that a client and fellow arts organisation has not only sought the intervention of lawyers in ongoing negotiations, but also gone and flogged public hysteria against ZIBF.
They have thrown a needless tantrum,not only to tarnish and rubbish the image of the executive board of ZIBF, but to invite the public to negotiate on their behalf! Our core business does not involve exchanging defamatory accusations, tirades and insults.

Anyone who seeks to examine our integrity is entirely free, but we stand guided by the most noble of principles in our operations and dealings with our clientele and stakeholders.

And these are many, including others that are phenomenally bigger than ZIBF.

DNS: Are there any possibilities of review and renewal of the contract?

MZ: ZIBF reviewed and renewed the agreement with Rooftop Promotions at the beginning of July following protracted negotiations between themselves and Daves Guzha representing Rooftop Promotions.  

Subsequently, an agreement was drafted which took into account the agreed points and presented to Guzha for signing.  Unfortunately, to-date, he has not signed.

DNS: Please feel free to add any other information you might find relevant

MZ: As I write now, Rooftop Promotions have written to request to move back into the ZIBF pavilion which of late has exercised public curiosity, thanks to the divulgence of negotiations which have no business exercising the public who have very scanty information to go by.

They have moved back in without even the respectful decency to explain their recent actions. After all, Rooftop Promotions have gone on to reign in their lawyers, provoking us to alert our lawyers, leading to both sets of lawyers engaging on our behalf’s.

As if our doors had been shut against Rooftop Promotions, but for reasons best known to them they shut the doors on ZIBF and even sidestepped their own lawyers involved in on-going consultations with ours in order to blow some vacuous vuvuzela through the media.

It is the sincere hope of ZIBF that when sense and common sense eventually prevails, Rooftop will reengage us with the necessary maturity and seriousness of purpose when they are ready.  All the other melodrama can only point to an organisation bent on self-destructi.

Given the puerile propagation of anti-ZIBF nonsense of the past week, it is our fervent hope that you will do your best to represent our position as stated in these answers.

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