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Saturday, June 25, 2016


(The 1820 Monument overlooks the City of Grahamstown)

The final countdown to the 42nd National Arts Festival has begun and with six days to go, Grahamstown is a hive of activity as the Festival’s extensive infrastructure comes to life. Artists and musicians are already arriving and pop-up businesses are beginning to bloom as the town prepares to squeeze in tens of thousands of visitors.

The eleven-day Festival will see over 600 productions staged in a variety of theatres and inventive venues. A programme rich with theatre, dance, music, visual, performing and public art, comedy, cabaret, poetry, film, literature, debate and more will be presented in venues throughout the small Eastern Cape city.

Says National Arts Festival CEO, Tony Lankester: “The Festival’s diverse and exciting programme for 2016 is a textured and engaging representation of the country’s creative mood. Politics, identity, the quest for change and healing are very much at the forefront of this year’s works but there are, of course, many light and entertaining moments, so plenty for audiences to simply escape into.”

The Festival brings an important mid-winter economic boost (valued at around R350 million) to the Eastern Cape region. Of course, the cultural value of the event is incalculable and the Festival is a highly visible creative networking space for the country’s established and emerging artists. Scouts from international festivals also make their rounds of the shows.

It is the last National Arts Festival for long-standing Artistic Director, Ismail Mahomed, who says that he is proud of this swansong, “The works on the 2016 programme are relevant, interesting and sometimes heart-breaking. It’s a showcase for some of the extraordinary talent we have in South Africa right now and I urge Festival-goers to see as much as they possibly can.”

Hot ticket productions include The Firebird (produced by Janni Younge and choreographed by Jay Pather), the works – including a premiere of The Inconvenience of Wings - of featured artist Lara Foot, and the premiere of 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for theatre, Jade Bowers’ Scorched. Another 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist (for dance) Themba Mbuli, will also be staging his new work Sold!

“Visitors who leave it to the last minute to secure tickets for some of the international work on the theatre programme are likely to be disappointed,” says Lankester. “These shows have short runs and, once they’re over, the chance to see them is gone.” These ‘sleeper hits’ are difficult to second-guess, but all eyes are on the Dutch productions Barrera and Watching; while the renowned Belfast-based Kabosh Theatre Company’s Those You Pass on the Street is likely to get rave reviews.

Some of the big drawcard shows have sold out – including Ringo Madlingozi, AKA and the ever-popular Gala Concert. “At this stage there are inevitably some shows that are full – but the beauty of the Festival is that there’s always something amazing on somewhere – either on the main programme or as part of the National Lottery Fringe,” Lankester added.

While demand is expected to peak over the coming weekend (when the “post payday rush” is expected), music lovers can still secure seats for the 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for music Siya Makhuzeni, Simphiwe Dana, Prime Circle, Guy Buttery, the Muffinz and Chris Chameleon. On the comedy front, the Very Big Comedy Show is a gala event that pulls in a capacity crowd, while Alan Committie’s smash Love Factually is expected to sell out on his one-night-only performance in the Eastern Cape.

Spontaneous Festival fans can still plan a trip - with some accommodation available in the city as well as in the nearby surrounds. Arts and culture lovers who aren’t able to make it this year can tune in on the fun via the Festival’s social channels and by using the hashtag #NAF16:

Twitter: @artsfestival

The National Arts Festival is grateful to: the National Lotteries Commission, the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Provincial Government, M-Net and Standard Bank of South Africa.

(For more information and to view the programme online link direct to the NAF site by clicking on the large banner that runs across the top of this blog)