Despite the current poor economic climate, the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown today reported a 8.7% increase in attendance at its 38th edition.
“Our attendance was 218 236 across the Main, Fringe and our various free events,” Festival CEO Tony Lankester said. “This is up on the 200 771 reported last year, and continues the trend of steady upward growth.”
“Our Main programme this year featured really strong work as part of the French Season in South Africa, our Season of Solo Theatre and a range of productions from many of South Africa’s top institutions and independent companies,” Lankester said. “This mix resulted in a programme that had broad appeal and helped draw audiences to this flagship event.”
The high attendance was also fuelled by a record-breaking number of productions on the Fringe, unusually warm weather, and a Main programme widely regarded as one of the strongest in recent years.
Main productions which enjoyed sold-out performances include An Evening with Pieter Dirk Eish; Sibongile Khumalo’s Reflect.Celebrate.Live; two productions from the French Non Nova Company, Vortex and Afternoon of a Foehn; and Race starring Michael Richard and Sello Maake Ka-Ncube. Traditional Festival staples The Gala Concert and Cape Town City Ballet’s production of Giselle sold out.
Meanwhile the lineup of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival once again demonstrated the broad appeal of this event-within-an- event with Ernie Smith, The Bala Brothers, Mango Groove and Andy Narell all playing to sell-out audiences.
“An encouraging feature of the sales this year is the extent to which Festival audiences are going beyond just being passive observers of art, opting instead to be part of a dialogue around the art,” Festival Director Ismail Mahomed observed. There were capacity audiences for several events on the Festival’s ThinkFest programme, including a series of talks reflecting on the 100th Anniversary of the African National Congress and the 200th anniversary of the founding of Grahamstown, as well as at the series of thought-provoking Performance Art pieces (most notably Steven Cohen’s The Cradle of Humankind and Brett Bailey’s Exhibit A).
Fringe artists also enjoyed success with stand-up comedians David Newton, Siv Ngesi and Rob van Vuuren doing well. Demonstrating the importance of building a reputation on the Fringe over a period of time, the 10th Anniversary edition of The Chilli Boy was the top grossing Comedy production, with the 2012 edition of the ‘Raiders’ franchise close behind. Enjoying their third seasons at the Festival, London Road was the top grossing Theatre production while …Miskien and Big Boys Don’t Dance played to capacity houses.
Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award winner, magician Stuart Lightbody, enjoyed full houses for his n ew production Dark Imaginings. Also proving popular among Festival audiences were two local productions – Rhodes University’s InTranceIt series, and the return of the ever-popular Boet ‘n Swaer.
The success of the Festival comes despite the global economic slowdown, with organisers acknowledging that South Africans are turning their attention to local destinations as international trips become more expensive. “Our efforts to keep our ticket prices relatively low are paying off.
The rand value of our ticket sales increased by 18% even though the average ticket price increased by just 6% (from R43.90 in 2011 to R46.46 in 2012). Audiences seem to have more disposable income than in previous years, and are responding well to the strong programme on offer,” Lankester said.
The Festival is a massive logistical undertaking, with around 124 technicians in its employ. To stage approximately 500 productions the 11-day event uses:
· 47 performance venues
· 140km of cable
· 1200 theatre lights
· 376 speakers
· 56 tons of scaffolding
· 414 metres of lighting bars
· 320 litres of black paint
· 246 floorboards
· 5.7 tons of stage weights
· 1460 rolls of toilet paper (single ply)
· 12 tons of sound and lighting equipment.
The Festival this year played host to a range of international producers and festival directors. The first global gathering of World Fringe Alliance members took place in Grahamstown, attended by the directors of the New York, Brighton, Prague, Amsterdam, Perth, and Adelaide Fringe Festivals.
“As a direct result of the Alliance meeting, several South African productions have been invited to tour to other Festivals,” Lankester, who was also re-elected Chair of the Alliance, said.
The New York Fringe has invited Three Little Pigs, …Miskien and Horn of Sorrow to their 2013 Festival. Fringe World Perth has also invited Three Little Pigs, and they have asked Follow Spot Productions (Big Boys Don’t Dance, Face the Music and Dark Imaginings) to send a selection of their work to Perth.
The Amsterdam Fringe, meanwhile, has invited Nicola Hannekom’s Hol; The Epicene Butcher and other tales for consenting adults; and musicians Nibs van de r Spuy and Guy Buttery. The Brighton and Prague Fringes have invited Owl and a selection of work produced by Follow Spot Productions, while the Adelaide Fringe has invited the Sibikwa Arts Indigenous Orchestra to present their work Origins.
“This is a major nod to South Africa’s artists, and represents a big opportunity for them to take their rightful place on the world stage,” Lankester said. “Now that the invitations have been extended, the National Arts Festival will work closely with the productions and with the National Department of Arts & Culture and other funders to make it possible for those productions to travel.”