Record attendance at Grahamstown Arts Fest

Solid growth and sold out shows  characterised the opening of the 2012 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, organisers say.

“Our first-half figures show that, compared to the same period last year, the number of tickets sold has grown by around 11.8% across both the Main and Fringe,” Festival CEO Tony Lankester said, although he cautioned against predicting similar levels of growth for the whole event. “There are a number of big shows still to come which sold out on pre-sales. Those sales are counted in the first weekend’s figures, even though the tickets will only be used later on in the Festival,” he said.

The 2011 Festival reported record attendance of just over 200 000, and organisers are hoping to match or improve on that figure.

The Festival attributes the influx over the first weekend to the unexpectedly warm weather, which saw an increase in day visitors from Port Elizabeth, East London and other parts of the Eastern Cape. Traders on the Transnet Village Green reported strong sales for the period. “Even the first Monday – typically our quietest day – saw the town and Green packed with Festivalgoers,” Lankester said. Forecasts are that the warm weather is set to continue for the rest of the Festival, which ends with a ‘50% Fringe’ day on Sunday 8 July, with all Fringe tickets being sold at half of the full price. “There is some rain predicted for Saturday, so we encourage audiences to get themselves booked in to theatres on that day, and to get their shopp ing on the Village Green done before then,” Lankester said.

The first half of the Festival saw more than 120 sold out performances, including productions such as Three Little Pigs on the Arena; Vortex and Afternoon of a Foehn – two productions by the Non Nova Company which formed part of the French Season in South Africa; Cape Town City Ballet’s Giselle; theatre productions RedRace and the world premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris, the Gala Concert; and, on the Fringe, Dark ImaginingsThe Brothers StreepBig Boys Don’t DanceLondon Road and perennial Festival favourites Theatre for Africa’s 2012: The Mayan Raiders.

“We’re very pleased with the number of sold out shows,” Festival Director Ismail Mahomed said. “But there’s plenty more to come across the Main and the Fringe, including the launch of our first ‘Season of Solo Theatre’ this week. The second half of the Festival – which features Pieter Dirk Uys; Mango Groove; Sibongile Khumalo; visiting productions from Switzerland and Italy; a production from the Market Theatre (Little Foot), Artscape presenting Fred Abrahamse’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Baxter and State Theatre’s production of Mies Julie – should be equally str ong and we look forward to ending the Festival on a high note,” he said.

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, The Eastern Cape Government, The National Arts Council, City Press and M Net.

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