CLIMBING TO THE TOP OF THE NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL
... AND WHY IT SHOULD STILL BE ON YOUR BUCKET LIST
Grahamstown has once again opened its doors and hearts to the outside world with the annual arts festival which, for those who have not been there, is a bucket-list experience.
It lasts for just over a week and comprises nothing but art and pure creativity, with almost every avenue of art well represented.
Why then did it feel a little low key this year?
The hype around the festival prior to the start was almost nonexistent but this hasn’t stopped a few notable productions coming to town to provide some entertainment.
Although it is all systems go, the sleepy town is not as full as you might expect.
You would imagine there would be too many people but, on the whole, things aren’t manic. But those who are here appear to be hungry to take in as much art as they can.
The man at the helm Tony Lankester is confident the festival will be a success.
The CEO also addressed rumours that the festival might migrate in years to come. He reassured arts lovers that Grahamstown was the home and birth place of this national treasure and it would take quite a lot for it to be uprooted. A name change for the town is already on the cards. The new name is Makhanda, in honour of the legendary Makhanda kaNxele‚ a warrior who fought against the British when they arrived in this region.
Lankester also let slip what some of the hottest tickets in town are.
“The work of our Standard Bank young artists is always popular and this year is no different – Jemma Kahn’s The Borrow Pit is a big hit, as is Thandi Ntuli’s first show as the young artist for jazz. Coming up we’ve got Amanda Black, Vusi Mahlasela, an amazing evening of new musical talent by Afropoets Bongeziwe Mabandla and The Brother Moves On, and Grammy winner Suzanne Vega, plus our flagship Very Big Comedy Show, loads of theatre and dance,” said Lankester.
He said it would be best to prepare for a full lineup in the week ahead – and perhaps for the cold. Surprises are around every corner with some amazing buskers providing free entertainment.
The village green and market space will boast acrobats, magicians and some ingenious fashion designs. Night time will be party time. Having two central streets, High Street and Main Street, makes it quite easy to find the party in this quiet town.
The shows are, of course, the main attraction. “We’re very pleased with the response to our programme – we’ve seen a healthy number of sold-out performances, have to add some additional performances in response to demand, and the critical response to many of our premieres has been great,” said Lankester.
The comedy fraternity always seems to send a strong contingent and this year is no different with Khanyisa Bunu, Robby Collins and the Gola brothers all spotted around town.
City Press bumped into the director of South Africa’s first western movie, also showing at the festival. Sean Drummond was seen cruising around with one of the principals of this film, Warren Masemola. Drummond briefly mentioned that he was saddened by the fact that his film was on circuit for nine weeks while the latest Tyler Perry sensation, which opened in the same week, is still showing. But he seemed happy to be around nevertheless.
Lankester offered a little advice on how to approach the festival.
“Biggest tip is keep an open mind and eavesdrop on everyone’s conversations, because that’s how you’ll discover the hidden gems and the productions flying beneath the radar that will amaze and inspire you.
“Those festival discoveries are what make this event so special. Stay warm, bring a friend, but also don’t be afraid to go solo and explore alone.”
Perhaps it would help if the festival could attract some of the bigger names in local art.
MOVEMENT MAVERICK Mamela Nyamza is the featured artist at this year’s festival