ATTENDANCE at the Eastern Cape’s 38th National Arts Festival (NAF) continued to break records with an extra 17465 visitors this year – 8.7% more than last year – making their way to the 11-day arts sensation in Grahamstown.
Good weather, a full, mixed programme, and a desire for audiences to become less passive and more engaged in dialogue with the artists, were some of the reasons given for the increase by festival chief executive Tony Lankester and festival director Ismail Mahomed.
The event is the Eastern Cape’s, South Africa’s and Africa’s prime showcase and sees 5000 artists offering more than 500 shows.
Prior to the event, Lankester said there had to be a ceiling on attendance at some point, but on Tuesday he announced that 218236 people attended the Main, Fringe and free events, up from 200771 last year.
Attendance has grown by 86336 from 131900 in 2004.
Lankester said the increase was fuelled by clear blue skies, a record-breaking number of productions on the Fringe, and one of the strongest Main programmes in recent years. Mahomed said: "An encouraging feature of [ticket] 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.”
This came through clearly in the capacity audiences for the Think!Fest programme, which included talks on the 100th anniversary of the ANC and the 200th anniversary of the founding of Grahamstown.
Audiences were deeply moved by the anti-genocide performance of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit A and shocked and inspired by Steven Cohen’s The Cradle of Humankind.
Lankester said: "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 and Mahomed said that faced with increasingly expensive international travel, South Africans were turning their attention to local destinations.
Lankester said: "Our efforts to keep our ticket prices relatively low are paying off. . . Audiences seem to have more disposable income than in previous years and are responding well to the stronger programme on offer.”
Sellout shows on the Main were 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 as well as traditional festival staples The Gala Concert and Cape Town City Ballet’s Giselle.
On the Jazz Festival programme, shows by Ernie Smith, the Bala Brothers, Mango Groove and Andy Narell sold out.
Fringe artists also enjoying success were stand-up comedians Siv Ngesi, Rob van Vuuren and David Newton. The 10th anniversary of The Chilli Boy was the top grossing comedy production, with the 2012 edition of the Raiders franchise close behind.
The festival employed 124 technicians, used 140km of cable and 1200 lights, 376 speakers, 56 tons of scaffolding, 320 litres of black paint and 12 tons of sound and lighting equipment at 47 venues.