Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Fear and Loathing in G’town

I cannot believe it’s that time of year again. I cannot. We have our schedule for our TheatreSports performances in the first half of the festival and, while it’s comforting to know that TheatreSports is a festival favourite, it still chills my blood and scratches my bones when I think about actually going to the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.

We didn’t manage to secure any funding (I applied to the NAC for TheatreSports funding to go to Grahamstown but we weren’t granted it) and so we are scraping together what little money there is in the TheatreSports kitty and carefully deciding what we are going to spend it on. Hectic.

The G’town festival is a bag of contradictions. On the one hand there is the overwhelming excitement about being involved in the biggest Arts festival in Africa. There is the possibility of seeing some amazing new work, the chance of reconnecting with old industry friends who live and work in Jozi (mainly) and the joy of performing a great show to an appreciating crowd. There is the sheer excitement of being able to see a new piece of theatre every day that you are there; sometimes two in one day.

Then there are the dreads. Doing publicity. Handing out flyers. Nagging people to come. That awful feeling that you can never do enough. That sad walk through the toys and plastic sunglasses section to the booking office to get your printout. The cold. The fear of not making your money back. The young drunks. The street beggars.

There are the issues that the festival brings up year after year. How productions are selected for the main festival. How tickets for the main festival shows are subsidised and end up being cheaper than those on the fringe, whose costs are enormous. How many fringe shows are one person plays. How many fringe shows are there for the second and third time. How many community theatre groups manage to find themselves at the festival with no money, no support, no food and no audiences.

All this adds up to me never being able to manage the festival two years in a row. I always swear the one I’m going to will be the last. Then, with a year or two’s break I’m back again. Like I said. Fear and Loathing in G’town. And what with me attending for the fifteenth time, you would think I’d know better. But maybe that theatre addict pull is just too strong.

Because I’m only going to be involved in one show this year I am really going to try and see a lot of stuff. Then I’ll write about it here, on meganshead. So, I want suggestions, recommendations and ideas. Let me know what you think I should see.

Here’s our TheatreSports blurb from the fringe booklet and our schedule for the fest if you’re there and want to check us out.

THEATRESPORTS
Improvision
Cape Town’s People’s Choice Award winner is back with improvised comedy at its best!
You could see a fi lm noir on Mars, or a cabaret song about a cheese obsession…
everything is made up on the spot and audience suggestions ensure the show is
always unique, unpredictable and hilarious!
Featuring Megan Furniss, Candice D’Arcy and Iain North
English All ages Previous Festivals: 5
Pro Duration: 60mins
DRILL HALL: 2nd @ 20:00; 3rd @ 14:00; 4th @ 18:00; 5th @ 10:00 & 22:00;
6th @ 18:00
Tickets: R55
Block: R48
First performance discount: R35

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12 Comments

  1. The Saint

    I have studied the Grahamstown programme this year and I fear that this is the beginning of the end for Grahamstown as a festival with any real meaning and any real importance. This us my 20th or 21st Grahamstown and I have never seen such a weak line up before. It is time that the organisers introduced quality control on the Fringe; it is time they looked at the issues of accommodation and food for the performers – too many hopefuls with no funding, a not so good show and little back up come streaming into Grahamstown expecting to make money and by the half way thru the festival they are on the bones of the backside out in the Grahamstown cold [literally]. The likely commercial appeal of shows put up for Grahamstown also needs to be looked at – OK OK I know that theatre is not all about commerce and some things need to be said/highlighted thru the means of performance but those shows need to be vetted closely for quality and the good ones, the worthwhile ones, funded in some way. I would really like to see accurate ticket sales numbers this year because I think they will be down again. Last year you could a ticket for just about any show at the door and small audiences were the order of the day, save for a few shows that enjoyed areal hype and a real buzz. The are fewer of these shows this year and more unappealing pieces than ever.
    I am not sure if quality control is the answer – anyone got any thoughts/comments/ideas/counters?

  2. megan

    I’ve looked through the fringe booklet and there are exactly three shows I actually want to see. Original Skin by Philipa Yaa de Villiers; she is an amazing writer/performer. High Diving, a Jozi production with Toni Morkel and James Cairns, and Mark Sampson’s Feel Funny, even though he has done it before.

  3. megan

    Now I’ve looked through the main fest booklet. There are exactly two things I might make an effort to see, Carmen (dance) and The Olive Tree. I cannot fathom how Grahamstown selectors managed to refuse Noah of Cape Town a premier at the festival. The mind boggles.

  4. Ugli Bob

    I can highly recommend “Original Skin” – saw it in Joburg recently, and it’s really really good.

    There’s a physical theatre piece on Joburg called “Paydirt” that looks really interesting too – they blog about it at http://www.paydirt.blogspot.com

    On the main, I’m off to see Helen Iskander and James Cuningham’s take on Ben Okri’s “The Famished Road”. “First Love” based on Beckett’s novel looks great too. As does James Ncgobo’s “Touch my Blood” – he’s a director to really watch right now. “Wit” stars Clare Mortimer, an old friend from Durban who is an exceptional actress, and I’m really looking forward to see her in it.

    What else? On the fringe, “The Human Voice” stars another exceptional young actress in Lucy Wylde. Andrew Buckland directs Richard Antrobus in “Stilted”, which looks promising. “Paraphrenalia” directed by Jacqueline Muygaarden sounds a treat, and I’m glad to check it here cos I missed it at Out the Box. If you vaguely into hip-hop/spoken word, check out Iain Robinson, AKA “Ewok’ in SPITFIRE. He is a classy dude and he can gooi some good wordage. And Ellis has a new mask piece in “Blackout – The Adventures of Jack and Donut” that looks and sounds delightful.

    There’ll be others popping up, I’m sure.

    As to the fest dying…well, I think it’s going through a change, and that ain’t a bad thing. New leadership, new look, same old Grahamstown. That’s where the change must come from the most, I always feel, with the town getting behind the fest more and not just milking it for what it can. Which is understandable. On the artists’ side, it’s getting harder and harder to recoup costs on just one festival, particularly on shows that involve more than one (hu)man and a black box. So that necessitiates a return sometimes, just to start making a bit of profit. And besides, returning to one (hu)man and a black box, audiences are getting tired of that, methinks, and want something extra/more. That puts extra pressure on the artists to bulk up production values, but that’s not a bad thing. Quality control? Hmmmm…that’s a poser. Always has been…

    So all in all, gonna be interesting. Gonna try and see and write about as much as possible…will never manage as much as you can Megan, but perchance a game or two of cyber theatrical ping-pong?

  5. Beilla Gans (Tante B)

    You are all mad as hatters to subject yourselves to such torture.
    Why not do something really exciting and important like sitting behind a desk all day and shuffling papers, or auditing balance sheets?
    May you all have a rewarding (R$R$R$) Grahamstown. Tante B

  6. megan

    Thanks Ugli Bob, you’re da guy. I will definitely check out Ellis’s new one. I forgot about that. Ellis is like, Grahamstown for sure stuff, a bit like Raiders and Andrew Buckland, and even TheatreSports! After 15 years though, I don’t know, I guess a bit of jadedness is par for the course. I saw Peter Hayes’ WIT at The Baxter some years back; a really good production starring Jacqui Singer. BTW, the blog for Paydirt is gone! The Famished Road is not for me(I’m one of those cultural loopholes that didn’t really get the book), although I might be changed by what people say about the production. Let’s touch base at the fest and swap notes!

  7. megan

    And of course I want to see Quack! I am so skaam to have left that off my (now growing) list!!! Askies Ugli Bob. I love the blurb of Quack! And the poster design. One question though. How come Quack! is not Cape Town Edge 2009?

  8. Ugli Bob

    Well, “Pictures of You” was chosen for Cape Town Edge, and it was decided that no one company could have more than one show at the venue. Besides, Quack! is a fairly experimental piece and we felt that a smaller venue would suit it better. Of course we paying for that now with very limited storage space and the like, but hey – what can you do?
    Jammer, my bad, blog for Paydirt is http://www.paydirtplay.blogspot.com/
    I’m amazed you can do fest at all with Noah looming large – I’d be a wreck of nerves!!!

  9. megan

    Paydirt just isn’t happening. Can’t make econtact. And Noah is the reason I’m festing. I am a bag of nerves with nothing really to do!

  10. The Saint

    While we are at it, add ~
    The Sitting Man – James Cairns [really good when I saw it a few years ago]
    Sleight of Hand – Stuart Lightbody [for a bit of light relief but fascinating when at KBT] &
    Every Year Every Day I am walking [if you missed last time]
    Don’t want to clash with Ugli Bob – he has a mean uppercut on him – but the people of Grahamstown are always going to go for it with a captive audience – they have only s few shots a year – this + some school stuff – to make a buck and they will try. Only when they realise that if they drop the rates a bit they will get more people into Grahamstown will they look at it but in turn that won’t happen whatever they do with prices until the quality of stuff on offer at the festival [viewed generally as I am acutely aware that I am talking to some theatremakers who are going to Grahamstown with good stuff]]. In fact I’ll bet that Grahamstown loses more adherents this year with this programme.
    As for new management, they have had a year and done very little to change that is substantive and apparent. Gatte moet geroer word.

  11. megan

    Just for the record; seen Sitting Man (I enjoy James) , seen Stuart Lightbody (great), but will finally get to see Every Year.

  12. Ugli Bob

    Finally saw “Every year E very day” in Buenos Aires, and it is really good too. Ditto “Sitting Man” a few years back.

    A mean uppercut? “Tis my sneaky nose-denter you gotta watch for!

    I hear you on Grahamstonians…and I remember when I lived in Grahamstown at Varsity there was a real weird rsentment feeling of being “invaded”, and sure, why not hike prices up and make as much cash as one can?

    I also agree the artists need to buck up and invest more in the work they present (and not be content with first options only). And there’s lots the festival needs to undertake (such as, basic minimum, sort out some of the poorly equipped venues). And then Grahamstown can maybe embrace what’s happening. But it’s difficult to see or say which one needs to happen first, or the most though. Which is probably why they continually crop up, as Megan says, year after year.

    I guess I would just hate to see or think of the festival as sliding through its end game to extinction. That would be seriously kak. So ja – we should all get our gatte skopped.

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