The organisers of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown have reported that 2013 was turning out to be a solid “business as usual” year for the event, with good weather and numerous sold-out shows as the festival heads into its last few days.
“The first half of the Festival saw us hold ticket sales steady on the 2012 figures,” CEO Tony Lankester said. “Overall sales, in terms of the number of tickets, are just under 3% higher when tested against the comparative point last year. The rand value of the tickets sold has increased by about 8% which is about what we would expect in terms of our ticket pricing.”
But Lankester cautioned against speculating that this would result in growth when the final tally is done. “The last weekend sees us host big music shows from MiCasa, Soweto String Quartet, Karen Zoid and Jonas Gwangwa. Advance sales for all these shows have been very strong, and those numbers are included in the [mid-way numbers]. This will result in a bit of a slowdown in daily sales toward the end of this week,” he said. While the number of productions at the Festival this year is holding steady (576 in 2013 vs. 574 in 2012), the number of performances has reduced significantly as part of the Festival’s Fringe management strategy from 2579 to 2295. “We have consciously reduced the number of performances to minimise risk to new productions coming to Grahamstown for the first time,” Lankester said. “Debut companies are given fewer performance slots in a concentrated period of time so that their accommodation and living costs can be contained while they develop a Grahamstown following, which we know takes a couple of years. This ensures that the companies are more sustainable and responsibly managed,” he said. It seems that festivalgoers are not being put off by the high price of petrol or the tough economic climate, with many businesses in Grahamstown and traders at the Transnet Village Green Fair reporting booming sales. The first half of the Festival saw 138 sold-out performances, including the controversial My Name is Rachel Corrie, the Gala Concert, performances by jazz trombonist Steve Turre and last year’s smash Three Little Pigs which returned to the Fringe fresh from their Australian tour and just before they leave for a month-long run in Edinburgh and at the Amsterdam Fringe. Comedy fans ensured that Festival favourite Siv Ngesi, Stuart Taylor and Riaad Moosa all enjoyed full houses, while other Fringe perennials – Big Boys II, The Brothers Streep, and Raiders also packed them in. A fresh crop of theatre productions on the Fringe also earned accolades and attracted the crowds – including The Snow Goose, Crazy in Love, An Audience with Miss Hobhouse and The Things you Left Behind.
There’s plenty more to come across the Main and the Fringe
“We’re very pleased with the number of sold out shows, particularly theatre,” Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed said.
“But there’s plenty more to come across the Main and the Fringe, including the work of our Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Drama, Prince Lamla; Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance Fana Tshabalala; two performances by Pieter Dirk-Uys, and the climax of Young Artist Anthea Moys’ cycle of performances in which she takes on the City of Grahamstown.These productions, and others, including our “Urban Ballet” project which forms part of our end of Festival Street Parade, will ensure that we finish the Festival on a high note,” he said.A finale fireworks display will be staged on Saturday evening, before the start of the Jonas Gwangwa concert in the Guy Butler Theatre. The Festival ends with a “50% Fringe” day on Sunday 7 July, with all Fringe tickets being sold at half of the full price, an initiative, now in its third year, which has proven hugely popular with local audiences wanting to cram as many shows into the last day as possible.
– By Michael Salzwedel