Newcomers to the Festival may feel a little overwhelmed by the 700 productions on offer, so this is a short guide to navigating the programme. The key Festival programme comprises a Main and Fringe programme.
The Main Programme showcases works that have been selected by a 21-person artistic committee after a lengthy application and consideration period. Dance, theatre, music, performance art and visual art are all represented in this mix and audiences flock to these popular shows which include the work of the 2017 Standard Bank Young Artists. The Main Programme also features international work and new work from South Africa’s top talent. The Arena is part of the Main Programme and showcases the work of previous winners of the National Arts Festival’s Standard Bank Ovation Awards as well as international award-winning fringe productions.
The Fringe component of the Festival sees a mix of works across genres but these are not curated or selected. Anyone with a performance looking for an audience can enter on the Fringe and the result is an exciting lucky packet of shows. From bold new work to remakes of the classics, from debuts to familiar faces and everything in between – they are all on the Fringe. The National Arts Festival is part of the World Fringe Alliance and draws on a pool of Fringe talent and talent-spotters to stimulate an exciting and innovative global energy for both performers and audiences.
The Student Theatre portion of the programme is a platform for interesting new work from the universities and colleges of South Africa. Expect to see young creatives flexing their muscles both on stage and behind the scenes as they receive an invaluable introduction to the experience of performing.
Think!Fest is a non-performance element of the Festival. The ideas, emotions and conversations surrounding the Festival programme play out in this space, where speakers, groups and panels swap opinions and create an open floor for robust discussion.
Heading to the screen, the annual Film Festival is a collection of seldom seen films that are making an impact through their content and creativity. The programme features work from South Africa and abroad and reflects on some of the themes and ideas in the Festival’s stage programme.
The Standard Bank Jazz Festival is a hot highlight of the National Arts Festival. Bringing some of the best talents locally and globally to the stage, it is here that collaborations between musicians are either seen once and never repeated or form the basis for groundbreaking new projects. The Dakawa Jazz Series is another music highlight, a project of the Eastern Cape’s Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture; the series brings Eastern Cape jazz musicians to the stage for an annual showcase of the region’s talented artists.
In association with the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown, SpiritFest explores faith through a series of workshops, discussions, book launches and performances.
This year Grahamstown’s Child Welfare celebrates its 100th anniversary and there are plenty of family-orientated shows, talks and workshops at the Festival, as well as a daily story time where children will be read to by actors and others. Check in on the Family Fare section of the programme for more. There is also the Children’s Art Festival, held at St Andrew’s Preparatory school, with a daily programme of events for children aged 4-13. It is an ideal way for families to engage with the National Arts Festival at their various age and interest levels, and for parents to enjoy the Festival knowing that their children are being stimulated and entertained in a safe environment.
Beyond the scheduled programme there is always lots going on in Grahamstown during the Festival with a free daily SAfm Sundowner Concert at the Monument, street performances, the Fingo Festival, markets and free entertainment stages and the annual closing Street Parade through the streets of Grahamstown. The restaurants, cafes and bars buzz until late at night as Festival-goers debate ideas, mingle with artists and share their top tips.
Tickets range from R20 to R150 and can be booked directly on the National Arts Festival’s site.
For a guide to planning and booking of accommodation and travel, visit the National Arts Festival’s hospitality guide and FAQ’s on the website.
WHERE TO FIND THE PRINTED PROGRAMME (from end of May)
1. STANDARD BANK BRANCHES
EASTERN CAPE – Port Elizabeth: Provincial Office, Greenacres, Port Elizabeth Branch, Rink St, Walmer; Alice, Aliwal North, Beacon Bay, Berry’s Corner, Bhisho, East London, Fort Beaufort, Graaf Reinet, Humansdorp, Jeffrey’s Bay, Kenton, King William’s Town, Molteno, Port Alfred, Queenstown, Uitenhage, Umtata, Vincent Park
FREE STATE – Bloemfontein, Brandwag, Harrismith, Kroonstad, Welkom
GAUTENG – Alberton, Arcadia, Bedford Gardens, Benmore Gardens, Braamfontein, Brooklyn, Eastgate, Empangeni, Fourways Crossing, Hatfield, Hyde Park, Johannesburg, Killarney, Maponya Mall, Melville, Menlyn, Midrand, Northcliff, Northgate, Randburg, Riversquare, Rivonia, Rosebank, Sandton City, Staff Banking Centre, The Glen, Van der Walt Street, Vereeniging, Westgate, Vaal Mall, Vanderbijlpark
KWAZULU NATAL – Amanzimtoti Galleria, Durban North, Empangeni, Gateway Agency, Hillcrest, Kingsmead Branch, Kloof, La Lucia, Margate, Musgrave Road, Newcastle Mall, Port Shepstone Pavilion, Pietermaritzburg, Pinetown, Umhlanga, Westville
LIMPOPO – Burgersfort, Mall of the North, Polokwane Square
MPUMALANGA – Crossings, Nelspruit, Riverside Mall, Secunda, Witbank
NORTHERN CAPE – Hartswater, Kimberley, Upington, Victoria West
NORTH WEST – Barongwa, Jubilee Mall, Klerksdorp, Mafikeng, Potchefstroom, Rustenburg
WESTERN CAPE – Belville, Beaufort West, Cape Gate, Century City, Claremont, Darling, Fish Hoek, Franshoek, Gardens Centre, George, Helderberg, Hermanus, Knysna, Kromboom, Milnerton, Mossel Bay, Oudtshoorn, Paarl, Plettenberg Bay, Rondebosch, Sea Point, Stellenbosch, Thibault Square, Tyger Manor, Worcester
2. EXCLUSIVE BOOKS BRANCHES
EASTERN CAPE – Walmer Park (Port Elizabeth)
FREE STATE – Loch Logan Waterfront
GAUTENG – Bedford Centre, Brooklyn, Centurion, Clearwater Mall, Cresta, Greenstone, Hyde Park, OR Tambo International Airport (domestic departures), Kollonade, Killarney Mall, Mall of the South, Melrose Arch, Morningside, Nicolway, Rosebank, Sandton City, The Glen, Dainfern, Woodlands Boulevard
KWAZULU NATAL – Gateway, La Lucia, Midlands Mall, King Shaka International Airport
MPUMALANGA – I’langa Mall
WESTERN CAPE – Bayside, Canal Walk, Cape Town International Airport (domestic departures), Cavendish, Constantia, Somerset Mall, Stellenbosch, Tygervalley, V&A Waterfront
The National Arts Festival is grateful to the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture and the Office of the Premier, and Standard Bank of South Africa. Media partners include M-Net and City Press.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL
Now in its 43rd year, the National Arts Festival is the largest and longest-running celebration of the arts on the African continent. It is held annually in the small university city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, 130km from Port Elizabeth. The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, as well as a children’s arts festival.
ABOUT THE MAIN PROGRAMME
The Artistic Committee, comprising experts in various disciplines, selects the content of the Main programme. Work from both within and outside South Africa is considered, with the following criteria in mind: the artistic merits of any submission; the creation of a varied and balanced programme; and the costs involved.