The Pierneef Theater in Pretoria has scrapped performances of an inclusive children’s puppet show because of complaints that it includes LGBTQ characters.
Drizzles was launched online by creator Marco Du Plessis as a children’s theatre experience in August. It is said to be one of the first in South Africa to include LGBTQ characters.
Drizzles features a host of adorable animal characters, including Zinzi the gay Zebra. It also includes two human characters, Freddy and Rajesh, who are a happily married same-sex couple; all to promote acceptance for diversity and difference.
The show was set to be performed live at the Pierneef Theater on 29 and 30 October but the performances have now been cancelled.
In an email, theatre owner Jopie Koen told Du Plessis that she had received a complaint from a longstanding patron who had seen social media posts about the production’s LGBTQ inclusion.
“The person is someone who has regularly brought her children and then grandchildren to children’s theatre (and other performances) over the years and, based on what she saw in the attached [screenshots], no longer wants to support the theatre,” said Koen.
Koen further claimed that she had not been aware of Drizzles’ LGBTQ elements when she agreed to host the performances.
“For the past almost 18 years I have been presenting children’s theatre here and I have never either allowed or approved that controversial themes be presented as part of children’s theatre,” she said.
“The audiences that have supported the theater’s children’s theater over the years also know the kind of content and character of children’s theater performances that they come to watch here. I still stand by that point of view and am not going to change it.”
Koen concluded: “For that reason, I, therefore, unfortunately, cancel the two dates…”
“Everyone needs a safe space”
Du Plessis told MambaOnline that he was “shocked, deeply hurt and appalled that still, even in the arts, LGBTQ is not welcome.”
Describing the theatre’s decision as “blatant discrimination” he asked: “If we are not allowed there, are LGBTQ children allowed there?”
Du Plessis believes that this incident reaffirms the need for productions like Drizzles. “I myself have been told when I was younger that if I was gay I would be beaten straight by my family. This still happens to kids daily, so why can’t there be a show to give them some sort of comfort or maybe plant a seed of empathy in others?”
Pretoria Pride’s Bruce Walker has written to the theatre demanding that Koen, “provide us with your substantiated feedback as to why you would wish to contravene our South African Constitution and the Bill of Rights which are the supreme law within our country and on what legitimate basis the show was cancelled.”
Otherwise, he said, Pretoria Pride would consider taking the matter further, including lodging a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission.
MambaOnline emailed Koen for further comment on her decision to cancel the show’s performances but has not yet received a reply.
Drizzles is also featured this week in the Vrystaat arts festival, which is currently being hosted virtually. Programme Director Michael Garbett said he remains committed to the production and its aims.
“Everyone needs a safe space, we cannot dictate who is allowed to have a production created for them or not,” he told MambaOnline.
“Children’s theatre is not just there for entertainment but also education – and if you don’t highlight diversity and inclusion, not just when it comes to race but also sexual orientation, then you are just perpetuating the problem of stigma. We are totally behind Drizzles,” Garbett added.