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Annabell Lebethe is tackling the challenges of raising funds and growing audiences as the new leader of the iconic Market Theatre.
THE Market Theatre Foundation ship has a new skipper at the helm: Annabell Lebethe took up her position as chief executive officer on 8 August 2011 and is using the new year as a springboard to take the iconic Newtown venue to greater heights.

The Market Theatre's new boss Annabell LebetheThe Market Theatre's new boss Annabell Lebethe“The appointment was an honour and I am humbled by it,” Lebethe says. “To be associated with an institution and brand such as the Market Theatre Foundation is a career milestone.” The foundation incorporates the theatre itself, the Market Photo Workshop and the Market Laboratory.

She brings almost 10 years of experience within the creative industries to the post, making her the perfect fit to carry the foundation forward. “I bring to the foundation my knowledge of the arts broadly, but more specifically my management and leadership skills which have been developed in the arts,” she says.

Prior to her appointment, Lebethe served as the chief executive officer of the National Arts Council. She also gained experience at the Gauteng provincial department of arts, culture, recreation and heritage, as well as served on the boards of various arts and cultural institutions, such as the African Arts Institute and the Cape Film Commission.

“My vision for the foundation is to retain the legacy of the foundation while redefining the institution of today; to remain a significant cultural institution and to continue to produce engaging, challenging, inspiring and quality work which is socially relevant,” she says.

The Market Theatre was founded in 1976 by Mannie Manim and Barney Simon, and took residence in Joburg’s Indian fruit market, which was built in 1913.

It soon became known around the world as South Africa’s theatre of struggle, a reputation grown through the plays it staged that challenged the apartheid regime, such as Woza Albert, You Strike a Women, You Strike a Rock and Born in the RSA. “The legacy of the Market Theatre Foundation is solid and forms part of the cultural history of South Africa.”

Part of its success, which contributed to entrenching the theatre as an institution in the country, has been the collaborations and associations with well-known producers, photographers, writers, directors, actors, designers, musicians, choreographers and dancers.

Over its life, the Market has evolved and is now a cultural complex of the arts, offering theatre, music, dance and photography. The challenge for the theatre, then, comes in merging its iconic past with the present, in order to carry it into the future as a leader in the field – and Lebethe intends to meet this challenge head on.

“The strategic drivers for preserving this legacy centre on our continued responsibility to society using theatre and photography as tools to tackle societal issues,” she adds. “It is important that we retain existing audiences and reach out to new audiences who have never had the experience of watching a play or attending a photographic exhibition.”

She feels that every person should get the opportunity to experience these things, and in line with that ideal, Lebethe has big plans for the future. “It’s about showcasing the depth of South Africa’s creative talent through providing access to this significant artistic space.”

And by using the best talent on offer in the country, she is hoping that audience numbers go up. It is also hoped that developments taking place in Newtown this year, such as at the Potato Shed, will present opportunities for the foundation to draw in new audiences.

There are numerous challenges involved in the position, though, the biggest of which is the issue of funding. “We are reliant on government and donor funding and our biggest challenge is to continue to raise sufficient funds to support the work we do.”

However, Lebethe is confident that the compelling programming on offer will help them in this area. “We are kicking off the year with a fantastic offering of Woza Albert, a true South African classic; Somewhere on the Border; and Yellow Man,” she says. The Market Photo Workshop is also offering a compelling student exhibition called Picture.

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