And so the National Arts festival that traditionally has taken place in Makhanda is currently on until July 5, having kicked off on Thursday, June 25. There is not much that has changed, and yet there is a lot that is not the same. First let us look at the non changes.
The festival is taking place this year, just like it has taken place over decades. Complete with popular segments such as Standard Bank You Artist Awards which this year features Blessing Ngobeni for visual art, Jefferson Tshabalala for theatre, Lulu Mlangeni for dance, Sisonke Xonti for Jazz and Nthato Mokgata (also known as Spoek Mathambo)for music.
These artists are currently exhibiting their works at the festival. The popular Village Green is also there this year, and so is a full theatre programme. Also this year, just as it has happened over the years, there is the Main Programme of curated shows, as well as The Fringe Programme where independent artists pay their way to be on the festival, carrying the financial risk themselves. There is also the popular jazz programme to look forward to this year.
However there is also a lot that is different this year, the main change being that the whole festival does not have audiences physically attending the festival in Makhanda. The whole festival is happening on the virtual world, a different experience, but still being able to watch the whole festival as long as you have your ticket with you for a particular show, a day pass or a festival pass that costs R600 a full package (excluding the vFringe).
These changes have been necessitated by the devastating coronavirus in our midst which has devastated both social and economic lives world-wide. Because the virus is contagious, and therefore social distancing minimises the chances of contracting the disease and is therefore encouraged by the health authorities, the festival this year could not happen the traditional way.
It is in this spirit that the National Festival this year has gone virtual, and for this, the festival team led by veteran arts administrator Monica Newtown must be applauded. By going ahead with the festival, using a new and experimental format, which If it becomes a success will be emulated by many big events organisers in the future in the face of COVID-19 in our midst, this was a bold decision to make. Yes, it is risky, but someone had to take a chance and pioneer what may as well become the future way or alternative way of hosting festivals. We should therefore all of us support the festival and accept the imperfections in the execution of what is essentially a new experiment in hosting festivals around the world due to the threat to human life posed by the invisible novel coronavirus. The festival team did not have to host this festival this year. Just like many other big events, they could have easily gone the easier way, which is cancelling the festival, and therefore take away the livelihoods of artists during this difficult time. But they did not go that route.
And yes imperfections started showing yesterday when accessing shows became, a painfully slow process, forcing the organisers to issue a statement apologising for the hiccups. They need not be too hard on themselves, as anybody who is realistic expected some tricky situations to develop during the festival. After all this is an experiment and it will certainly get better next time. As long as the disruptions are kept to the minimum, festival attendees will understand, and apologising when mistakes happen is the first step in the right direction.
“We are writing to you because you have recently bought a pass or tickets to the Virtual National Arts Festival. As you may have noticed, we have been experiencing problems with the speed of the site today. We are currently working with our tech team to address these to ensure that your expectations, as our audience, are met.
The loading of shows to the vFringe has also been impacted by the server issues, and we deeply regret the delay. We are working hard to get this resolved as soon as possible.
All of the work that is on today’s line-up – in fact, all of the work on the Festival programme – will continue to be available every day of the Festival – right up until 16 July 2020. The same applies to all on-demand Festival shows – these will be available to view anytime until 16 July.
We apologise for the inconvenience and if we have disrupted your plans. Please bear with us a little longer as we sort this out and get things running smoothly again,” the statement release yesterday afternoon said.
To see what is on today and the rest of the week and to buy a ticket please visit https://nationalartsfestival.co.za/