What’s Happening Backstage?

The arts in Malta have for a long time been reflected and treated with less attention than a cactus. A clear example of this is the disgrace that is Pjazza Teatru Rjal (yes, I’m still bitter). However, the recent appointment of Elizabeth Ebejer as CEO of the Manoel Theatre takes the cake.  

I would like to make it clear that I have no personal nor political issues with Ebejer; however I do, as do many others in my position, have certain reservations regarding the position which was handed to her on a silver platter; that position being the Chief Executive of Malta’s National Theatre. What is especially infuriating is that the Culture Ministry simply gave Elizabeth Ebejer, a former Labour Party councillor for Mgarr, the position rather than announcing a call for applications which, hypothetically, would have required applicants to show some sort of qualifications or experience in the field. While Ebejer is a graduate of the University of Malta, her degree in History is hardly an adequate enough qualification for the job.

From the moment that Elizabeth Ebejer’s appointment was made public, the theatrical and artistic community in this country was left in utter disbelief; and with good reason too. Pia Zammit, a member of the Manoel Theatre board promptly resigned from her post stating that it was a matter of principle and, while she hopes that Ebejer turns out to be an outstanding CEO, she followed by saying that “We have so many people qualified in cultural management, a more suited candidate could have been found.” Another matter that Zammit brought up is the fact that V18 is hot on our heels and that “We cannot operate with an amateur attitude” for such a huge event. After a little while the issue seemed to die down and the theatrical community collectively began to hope that everything will turn out right as rain.

Unfortunately, these hopes were recently doused in oil and set aflame with the recent publication of an interview that Elizabeth Ebejer gave to the Times of Malta. It has been made clear that Ebejer has a negligible amount of knowledge regarding the sector within which she is employed. I will admit that she did in fact mention some very interesting points, however, she was unable to validate them. She mentioned her wish to attract more young people to the theatre and, while an outreach program through secondary and primary school is well and good, it is not the case for those who are in higher education.

Her lacking knowledge in the sector came to light when she claimed that there are “A lot of high quality productions on TV” and asked “What’s happening on stage?”. When one compares the quality of what we are forced to see on TV to what is being put up on stage, it is insulting to make such a statement. Maltese television productions are bearable at best and, if she actually bothered to attend productions both at the Manoel and at other performance spaces, Elizabeth Ebejer would figure out exactly what is happening on stage; and that the quality of the productions performed is, in most cases, by far much higher than that of what we see on television.

This country needs people who actually have a grasp and understanding of theatre in its many forms to take care of the different performing spaces that we have, rather than people who are making wild assumptions and who will most probably run the arts further into the ground.  The thing is, one doesn’t need to look far for a solution either.  There are multitudes of people with the skill-set to run an operation such as the Manoel; they just need to be given the opportunity to show what they are capable of rather than treated with indifference. That is why many leave Malta to pursue performing careers elsewhere, because honestly; how long are you going to keep trying to help a country that seemingly doesn’t want to be helped?

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