CityLife Arts

Folks, If you were planning a trip to Makhanda for the festival, shelf the plans –it is online now

After canceling an attempt to have part of the festival catering for audiences that would attend shows physically the National Arts Festival instead goes fully online for second time 8-31 July.

By Edward Tsumele

I am sure am not the only one who told themselves that it looks like things will be normal again as far as bringing the arts alive again is concerned, especially with the disruptions that have almost destroyed the entertainment industry in light of the Pandemic for half and one years.

I am talking about when news was announced that the National Arts Festival was not only going ahead this year, but that it was going to take the format of a hybrid event. That news meant that it was going to be both an event with a live audience, as well as featuring some shows online at its traditional home in Makhanda, Eastern cape.. For the culture vultures, at least that was better than just attending this festival only virtually. In fact I personally had friends who after hearing about this news asked me If I was going to join them on our usual trips to Makhanda for the festival over the years.

I personally had cautiously welcomed the news of the festival putting up some shows that would be attended by audiences in the physical, while those who would want to be part of the action while at home would also have an opportunity to do so by watching the festival online. That was going to be fair, wasn’t it?

This discussion was taking place only less than two weeks ago. But then these days two weeks is too long a time for things to turn dramatically from good to worse, well sort of because the National Arts Festival will still take place, but now all of it virtually. Therefore for those that thought well, they will, be dealing with the cold in Makhanda as they enjoy live performances of theatre and music after such a long time of live performance drought, just accept it –you will not be going to Makhanda after all this year. You will be glued to your laptop screen with the rest of us at home, because that is where the national Arts Festival will be accessed.

The decision to cancel all  the shows that were  going to take place in Makhanda itself with an audience , was taken in light of President Cyril Ramaphosa taking the country back to Level 4 because of the deteriorating situation of infections that happened especially in the last few weeks. Under the current lockdown level, it is a crime for people to gather for cultural or political activities and the National Arts festival falls in that category of banned activities unfortunately, and therefore fellow culture vultures, you will unfortunately have to wait for next year and see how the situation would be. This year, forget it and it is official –the National Arts festival, just like last yea, is now happening online. This is our new normal indeed, and we better get used to it, at least in the short term as the situation of the virus remains pretty much uncertain at the moment.

But now here is the recap on the new plans about the National Arts festival in light of all this:

“Already envisioned as a ‘hybrid event’ with both live and online shows, the Festival had planned to stage a small live programme in its home town of Makhanda from 8th July and, prior to that, had flighted a live programme of shows called Standard Bank Presents in Cape Town and Durban – but suspended audience attendance for the Johannesburg shows due to rising Covid-19 numbers in the city. Live shows were also planned for Gqeberha. Working quickly, the team moved to record all these shows for inclusion in the online programme. Now the Festival will be fully online for its second stay-at-home edition,” NAF said in a statement released yesterday.
Says National Arts Festival CEO, Monica Newton, “Our 2021 Festival was built with change in mind, we knew we might need a Plan B and this was a part of our risk mitigation strategy from the start. The Festival team is working at 200% to adapt our live programme to this new scenario in order to stick to our original 8th July opening date. We are confident that we can pull it off and the National Arts Festival Online will take place from 8-31 July”.  

Fortunately, the Festival was held online in 2020 and the infrastructure was built and refined last year. Newton said that shed acknowledges the exceptional resilience of the artists involved in the project. “Together with our team, they are working incredibly hard to ensure work is filmed with all the professionalism and passion they had planned to put onto their live stage performances. Everyone has just taken a deep breath, adapted their plans and moved forward. After a devastating year for the arts, it felt very important to us to honour our commitments and financial obligations to all the people involved in the 2021 Festival. We also have a great programme so the show simply has to go on!” 

 The reimagined Festival will be hosted on the Festival’s website and visitors to the experience will be able to purchase tickets and watch their shows off the same platform. A new addition to the Festival is a ‘live stream’ element with shows being broadcast live into the homes of online audiences. The Standard Bank Jazz Festival is also fully online and features a knock-out programme of shows filmed in cities around the country and also features some amazing international guests. 

 The Festival programme will, as always, feature both curated works and an independently presented Fringe Festival. Visitors can also look forward to a number of online workshops, events and discussions, many of which are free. 

 Tickets for shows are between R 40 and R100, but avid arts lovers will be able to buy a R1000 Festival Pass which will give them access to all the shows on the curated programme and Standard Bank Jazz Festival programme, or they can just binge on jazz with a Jazz Pass for R800.  Fringe ticket prices, with 90% of the sales going to artists, range between R40 and R80 per ticket. 

 The Festival will still showcase many of its planned shows.The Ecstatic (a Swiss/South African pantsula dance piece), Van Wyk, the Story Teller of Riverlea (a tribute to author Chris van Wyk), the new work fromTony Miyambo and Phala O PhalaCommission Continua, and the reimagined work AnotherKindby Distell National Playwright winner Amy Louise Wilson will all be featured online.  

 Some of the top acts to catch on the Standard Bank Jazz Festival include concerts from Lira, Judith Sephuma, Feya Faku Sextet and Richard Bona. Performances by 2020 Standard Bank Young Artists Lulu Mlangeni (dance), Sisonke Xonti (jazz) Nthato Mokgata (music), Jefferson Tshabalala (theatre) will be on demand and an exhibition by visual arts winner Blessing Ngobeniwill be free to explore.  

Rob van Vuuren and TaylorMade productions bring the Festival’s beloved all-star comedy line up The Very Big Comedy show to your living room. A stellar line up of 12 of the country’s best comedians will bring you an hilarious winter tonic to lighten your lockdown mood. Expect names like Marc Lottering, Alan Committie, Robby Collins, Mojak Lehoko, Tumi Morake, Schalk Bezuidenhout, KG Mokgadi, Khanyisa Bunu and more. 

The full National Arts Festival Online programme comprises 96 curated works, workshops and exhibitions on the online programme and 127 shows on the Fringe.

.The new 2021 National Arts Festival has been reloaded and is open for booking at
Tickets can also be purchased directly from the programme page. 
calendar view of the Festival programme is available to view and download.

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