THE uncharacteristically warm weather during this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown has seen a much more successful opening in comparison to last year – with a significant increase in ticket sales.
Sunny skies and sold-out shows were the order of the day during the first half of the festival, which attracts thousands of arts enthusiasts from all over South Africa every year.
Although the final number of visitors has not yet been tallied, organisers are hoping to either match last year’s 200000 visitors or record an increase.
Festival chief executive Tony Lankester said there had been an increase in ticket sales at this stage of the festival compared to last year, but cautioned against the prediction of similar growth levels for the whole event.
"Our first-half figures show that, compared to the same period last year, the number of tickets sold has grown by about 11.8% across both the Main and Fringe.
"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 unexpectedly warm weather saw an increase in day visitors from Port Elizabeth, East London and other parts of the Eastern Cape.
Stall holders 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 festival-goers,” Lankester said.
With weather forecasters predicting the warm conditions will continue until the festival ends on Sunday, the fun is set to continue throughout the week.
"There is some rain predicted for Saturday, so we encourage audiences to get themselves booked into theatres on that day, and to get their shopping on the Village Green done before then,” Lankester said.
The first segment of the festival saw more than 120 sold-out performances, including for productions such as Three Little Pigs, Vortex and the world premier of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris.
Bay company Centrestage had been enjoying enormous support from festival-goers, with its seven shows all selling out by Saturday after a slow start on Thursday, owner Gary Hemmings said.
"Some of our shows are merely for a good laugh and not necessarily to take anything away from them,” he said.
Festival director Ismail Mahomed was pleased with the number of sold-out shows. "But there are plenty more to come across the Main and the Fringe, including the launch of our first Season of Solo Theatre this week,” he said.
"The second half of the festival – which features Pieter Dirk Uys, Mango Groove, Sibongile Khumalo, productions from Switzerland and Italy, a production from the Market Theatre, Artscape presenting Fred Abrahamse’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Baxter and State Theatre’s production of Mies Julie – should be equally strong, and we look forward to ending on a high note.”
Some of those who attended and performed at the festival took to social networking site Twitter about their experiences.
Buz Publicity owner Bridget van Oerle tweeted yesterday: "Sad to be leaving Grahamstown the #NAF2012 was amazing well done to @ismaildrama @tonylank & teams for a fantastic festival!”
Johannesburg-based eclectic urban band The Muffinz wrote: "Dankie #grahamstown, it was a worthwhile hustle. So sad it was soooo short. Siyabonga (Zulu for ‘thank you’).”