Yesterday the full programme of the 3rd CT Fringe was announced to media and theatre lovers at my favourite theatre and second home The Alexander Bar. I wasn’t there, but I was invested. I am involved in two shows on this year’s fringe. I am performing in the premier of a brand new play, The Finkelsteins are Coming to Dinner, and Niqabi Ninja, Sara Shaarawi’s play that I have directed, will also have five performances at this year’s fringe.
For those of you who know me, my participation may be quite a surprise, and even a radical turn around. Believe me, I am still trying to get my head around it too. So much about what I find problematic about the CT Fringe still holds true. Actually, all still holds true. Once again, the festival model puts all financial risk on the artist, with very little possibility of proper financial return. The financial outlay is big if a production is not sponsored, like Niqabi Ninja, where I have to shoulder the financial burden of registration, venue hire, publicity and actual production costs. Then I have to do big maths to hope that we have audience numbers that will not only cover costs but still be able to give the performers a decent cut. To be fair, this model only works in an artist’s favour if there is producer money, or proper sponsorship. But I am not sure how many productions go into the festival with donor money.
The other big thing about the CT Fringe is, who is it for? Who is its target audience? Is it another exclusive, elite Cape Town experience that further alienates those creating work in challenging conditions without helping them get the work out to the audiences it deserves? Why does the Fringe not serve the greater community of Cape Town? And the answer here is, it can’t. And that still remains terribly problematic for me.
So why am I doing it? Well, with The Finkelsteins are Coming to Dinner, the decision of being part of the festival was taken out of my hands, and as a performer I was happy to go with the consensus of the company. It was how it was, and I, like most not very famous actors, was delighted at the opportunity to be on stage regardless. I still am. So excited.
With Niqabi Ninja I have a deep commitment to getting the message of the piece out to a wider audience, and the CT Fringe seemed like a good place to start. I am so proud of the work, the actors, and the impact it has already had on the small audiences we attracted at the Alexander Bar, but I know that it needs to speak to a much bigger, broader audience, and this is just the start. We have made the work to be absolutely portable and festival friendly. And this will be our first festival outing, to test its waters, and gauge its response.
But, the main reason I signed Niqabi Ninja up was because of the gentle persuasion, encouragement, support and genuine engagement I had from the festival’s new guest Artistic Director Rob Murray. (Some of you will remember my experiences with the past one in not such genial circumstances.) I trust Rob (enough to shake a stick at him and know he will not bite). I believe in him. I believe he has, in as much as his position allows, a genuine understanding of the challenges faced by those who are creating theatre and trying to get it out to an audience.
So, for those of you who missed our tiny run at Alexander Bar, please come and support Niqabi Ninja at the CT Fringe. We have made the tickets as cheap as we can, to improve accessibility and affordability. We are in the City Hall 3. Here are our dates. 22/09 20:30, 23/09 18:30, 24/09 22:30, 25/09 20:30, 26/09 18:30
And then, come and laugh with (and at) me on stage at City Hall 2 in The Finkelsteins are Coming To Dinner. There are 11 shows spread over the whole of the festival. This one is going to be a winner.