Uganda’s creative arts industry strives to reinvent self amid COVID-19

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by Nicholas Kajoba and Ronald Ssekandi

KAMPALA, March 29 (Xinhua) — It is now one year since theater doors in Uganda were slammed on revelers amid an unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic. A year on, audiences are still at home but the arts industry is reinventing itself as it strives to stay connected.

On March 21, 2020, Uganda registered its first case of COVID-19. Since then, COVID-19 cases have risen to over 40,000, according to the ministry of health.

The government imposed strict lockdown measures, including a ban on mass gathering, impacting theaters and the arts industry.

While the country has opened up other sectors of the economy, the creative industry remains closed as the government fears that the sector could become a super spreader of the pandemic.

The entertainment industry, especially in the comedy sector, which thrives on live audiences, continues counting its losses.

As the world marked World Theater Day on March 27, comedians said their savings are drying up.

Hannington Bugingo, a member of Fun Factory, a renowned comedian group, told Xinhua in a recent interview that many of his colleagues cannot support their families.

As president of the Uganda Comedians Association, an umbrella body that brings together comedians, Bugingo said the association has urged the government to honor its promised stimulus package to help the artists tide over the pandemic.

“Most of the artists and comedians are now unemployed,” he said. “We need capital to restart afresh.”

Andrew Ssebagala, an art director at Uganda National Culture Center, told Xinhua that the pandemic has affected all their shows and stage performances.

“We used to have weekly entertainment programs that entailed dancing, performances. Every Thursday we had comedy shows. Fridays, we had drama or poetry night,” he said. “But now we can no longer allow people in the theater.”

The pandemic has pushed the artists to come up with ways of remaining relevant to their fans, with many resorting to virtual shows.

For the month of March, Ssebagala said, the national theatre has been holding virtual shows, profiling women who have contributed to the growth of the arts industry in Uganda, as part of activities marking the World Theater Day.

Comedy artists have also resorted to online shows. Alex Muhangi, of Comedy Store Uganda, last year partnered with Fezah, a digital airplay monitoring and artist booking platform, to debut an online show.

Many followers are now watching the show online every Friday.

“We had to find an alternative of serving our clients or public through online shows,” Muhangi told Xinhua. “We tried online shows, which were convenient for our fans. You can watch from wherever you are.” Enditem

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