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Saturday, July 16, 2011


(The genre of aerial performance gained many new fans with "Madam Silk")

The 2011 National Arts Festival saw a 7.45% increase in overall attendance, with 200,771 attendees at the various events on offer, breaking the 200,000 barrier for the first time. This continues the trend of growth over the last seven years:

TOTAL ATTENDANCE (% change on previous year): 2004 – 131,900; 2005 – 139,100 (+5.18%); 2006 – 140,960 (+1.32%); 2007 – 143,403 (+1.70%); 2008 – 147,574 (+2.83%); 2009 – 170,045 (+13.21%); 2010 – 185.805 (+8.48%), and 2011 – 200,771 (+7.45%).

“The growth is particularly pleasing given that, in 2010, we had an extended Festival and this year we have been able to show an increase even though we spanned four fewer days,” Festival CEO Tony Lankester said.

The growth was driven largely by strong sales for the Festival’s Main and Arena programmes, which reported a healthy number of sold-out performances this year – including Angel Heart and Fourteen, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cape Town City Ballet and the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s presentation of Swan Lake, The History Boys, Sadako, Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Music Ben Schoeman’s two recitals, Lloyd Webber and Friends, Lara Bye’s ‘night Mother starring Sandra Prinsloo, and Auriol Hays’ concert.

“The high demand for tickets spanned a range of genres, including music, theatre and dance, demonstrating that the Festival is still seen as a playground for the artistically curious and for audiences who seek out quality performances, regardless of genre,” Lankester said.

The Fringe programme also featured its own share of box-office success stories. London Road, building on its premiere at the 2010 Festival where it was awarded the Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award for Theatre, was the overall highest grossing production on the Fringe. The next instalment of the perennial Raiders franchise, Rocket Raiders ending up as the biggest grossing Comedy production and ranking second overall.

Boo! frontman Chris Chameleon’s solo performances, which were awarded the Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award for Music this year, were both sold out, while Festival stalwarts Tony Cox and Steve Newman’s production Return of the Road Warriors was the biggest grossing music show at the Festival.

“Comedy is still the mainstay of the Fringe programme, accounting for 17 of the top 25 grossing productions,” Lankester said. “However, we’re seeing music and theatre doing well, too - particularly those productions which were awarded Standard Bank Ovation Awards this year and last.”

“The Fringe has shown that it contains many gems which create buzz on the streets of Grahamstown, and Fringe artists are enjoying the success of their hard work and marketing efforts,” Lankester said. He also noted that the growth in attendance would have been even greater had there not been a decline in the number of complimentary tickets issued at the event this year.

“The number of free tickets issued by Fringe artists dropped by about 20%. On the one hand this does negatively affect our overall statistics, but it shows that artists and audiences are beginning to place a value on their work and, rightfully, expect tickets to be bought rather than handed out for free, which is encouraging,” he said. Lankester made the same point from the floor at the ‘Funding of the Arts’ panel discussion at this year’s Festival, where he implored government, artists and business to protect the integrity and value of the work of artists by launching a campaign to reduce the culture of audiences demanding free tickets.

“If artists are expected to work for free then it becomes harder for them to claim a place in society as valuable contributors to the overall economy. If a ticket is perceived as having a zero rand value then that sends a strong message about the value that the ticket holder places on the work they are watching, and it shows a distinct lack of respect for the work of artists,” he said.

The next National Arts Festival will be held from June 28 to July 8, 2012. The festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The Eastern Cape Government, The National Arts Council, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, The Sunday Independent and M Net.