The Sound of Music DVD coverThis may be a contentious issue, but then again that’s what blogs are for. I have just returned from a family outing to the State Theatre,where we watched an excellent performance of The Sound of Music. An outstanding feature of the show, especially in South Africa, was the fact that the cast was all white. Now, it would be a rare feat of casting if one or more of the seven Von Trapp children were non-white. Given the play’s setting (Austria in 1939) and history, it was entirely correct to cast it accordingly. It was interesting though, that the full orchestra was also almost entirely white.
For such a high-profile play, it is surprising that I have not heard any media reference to this obvious lack of transformation in a South African production. For those readers outside of South Africa, you need to understand that BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) is the single biggest factor in every industry in South Africa at the moment. In an absolutely correct and entirely necessary move, the government has decreed, and enforces, that previously disadvantaged people must not just be allowed to compete on an equal footing, but must actively be given immediate positions in an attempt to kickstart the redressing of past injustices. This must occur in everything from sports teams to big corporates and from schools to small businesses. I am in full and complete support of this.
But I’m also in full support of what happened at the State Theatre today.

You see, in the world of the arts, where talent cannot be faked and is your primary saleable commodity, you cannot just decree that “transformation” must and will happen, with no regard to the context or the available talent pool. It will be a devastating tragedy if, in 10 more years time, there are still no nonwhite musicians in the orchestra. It is also imperative to see more nonwhite producers, directors and even patrons of the arts. Given that this play was put on in Africa, it may even be conceivable that we could Africanise it, and drop a few black faces into 1939 Austria — it is theatre after all, that magical place where anything can happen.
But thought I had did not really concerned the theatre. Rather, I realised it was a great lesson for other industries. You see, right now there is a war for truly talented people. In a world where who you are is becoming more and more important, andwhat you do much less so, the most important strategic capability of company has is its ability to attract and retain talented staff. While BEE is critical, it must be implemented intelligently.
All the “actors” and “performers” onstage this afternoon had a responsibility to hone their personal craft, just as the director had an ongoing responsibility to get the best out of them. Behind the scenes, others are developing the next generation of talent. That same approach must be true for business if companies are going to succeed in the demanding connection economy. Talent is talent is talent. Talent must keep itself talented. Talent cannot be faked – not on the stage, and not in your business. Businesses need to take talent is seriously as theatre productions do. It is the only way we can be successful now. Businesses need to take future talent seriously. It is the only way we will be successful tomorrow.
BEE is not a blunt instrument for achieving externally mandated goals. It should be seen as a wonderful opportunity to increase diversity, thus enhancing creativityand secure your future. But it’s going to take more than appointing a token transformation officer to find, develop, and release the talent that is on offer in this country.

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