The Festival this year extended its duration from its usual 10 days to a bumper 15 day event, a decision which Lankester says is paying off: “While we had a slow beginning to the Festival by starting it on a Sunday, we saw a strong lift in ticket sales as the weekend approached.
South Africans this year clearly did their planning a lot earlier than usual, which resulted in higher than usual pre-Festival bookings. The World Cup has had a positive impact on the Festival this year with increased interest from international media covering the event, and with some audience members travelling from their base in Port Elizabeth to spend a day or two with us,” he said.Lankester also said that a strong offering on the Fringe was shifting the focus of audience attention, with theatre and dance productions showing some growth at the expense of some of the comedy offerings. “The Fringe theatre programme this year is incredibly strong — with productions like London Road, Breed, Stilted, Decadence and Karoo Moose all finding their way into the Top 20 grossing productions so far — a list that was previously dominated by stand-up comedy acts,” he said. On the Main programme, the Festival’s ballet and music offerings have proven to be the most popular. Other productions that have attracted strong audience and critical response include comedian Paul Zerdin, and theatre productions Man to Man, with Antoinette Kellerman, and Neil Coppen’s Tree Boy.Lankester is confident that the second half of the Festival will continue to attract audiences — with some productions already sold out. “Jazz performances by Judith Sephuma and Oliver Mtukudzi, together with Songs of Migration featuring Sibongile Khumalo and Hugh Masekela are helping to ensure a strong closing weekend. There is also plenty of great theatre and dance on the way – Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake, The Football Diaries, Richard III and Athol Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye should all get audiences talking in the second half of the Festival,” he said.A final feature noted by the Festival as being a contributor to the success of the event is the sharp increase in the amount of free work being staged as Street Theatre and the number of exhibitions open to the public. “Increasingly audiences are looking for a mix of entertainment — not just formal theatre, music and dance, but also work that livens the streets of Grahamstown and that brings an energy to the event. We’ve included both local and international work on our Street Theatre programme this year, all of which is adding to the festive atmosphere around Grahamstown,” Lankester said.The National Arts 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.Call the Festival hot line for all enquiries — 046 603 1103. Follow us on Twitter @artsfestival or join us on Facebook: facebook.com/nationalartsfestival.