Festival fun and funding

2011-09-06 00:00

ONE of the biggest headaches facing anyone working in the arts industry in South Africa is funding and for Sue Clarence, the director of The Witness Hilton Arts Festival, it’s no different.

Having come to the end of the funding awarded to the festival by the national Lottery, Clarence has had to do some creative­ thinking to ensure that festival-goers get the chance to experience some of the best theatre and music the country has to offer.

“This year has been much better,” Clarence said. “Relying on government funding is so difficult. We did have Lottery funding at one point, and thanks to that money we were able to start a development programme with children on the Hilton College estate. Unfortunately, we’ve had to stop that and the children have been left very disappointed.

“We’ve turned to business and have even been successful this year, both in the increase of companies forming partnerships with us and an increase in quantum from existing partners. However, relative to other festivals in South Africa, we’re still really underfunded, which is reflected in the ticket prices. If we got more funding then the ticket prices would be lower. We need old-fashioned cash money.”

In her festival message this year, Clarence said that in the past, artists had patrons. “Michelangelo spent much of his life chipping away at marble and producing some of the world’s most loved sculptures thanks to the patronage of the De Medici family. In the 21st century patronage of the arts has mutated into mutually beneficial business partnerships between arts events and companies,” she adds.

Businesses that have stepped up to the plate this year include Sappi; Nedbank Business Banking, which Clarence said had almost doubled its support for the festival; Spar, which has also radically increased its contribution; and new sponsors, Grindrod Bank.

“I’m especially grateful to Grindrod,” Clarence said, “because they’re sponsoring our new MindScape initiative. The MindScape programme profiles the important balance between IQ and EQ: the very balance which makes the arts a vital part of the human psyche and the soul of the nation.”

The Grindrod Bank MindScape is a series­ of lectures, debates, documentary movies and workshops covering a variety of themes from crime writing and fine art to green issues and trips to China.

Among the highlights will be advocate and novelist Chris Marnewick (Shepherds & Butchers) interviewing freelance journalist and novelist Sifiso Mzobe (Young Blood) in the CFI lecture theatre at noon on September 17 and a crime writers­’ panel featuring Marnewick, Mzobe and Sue Rabie (Boston Snowplough, Blood at Bay, Fallout) at the same venue at 2 pm on September 17. Both events are free.

“It’s going to be trial and error,” Clarence admits. “We’ve tried to do this year’s MindScape on themes, like the crime-writing theme, and we’ve tried to introduce films that, in turn, relate to these themes. For example, the issue of graffiti — art or vandalism, is examined.

“I’m also keen to do more of a green theme in the future. I’m an obsessive, compulsive recycler and I’d love it if we could recycle every single piece of paper at the festival. It’s something we’ll be working on with Sappi.”

This year the drama centre has been renamed the Spar Drama Centre and the Long Table Bistro now carries the Tops branding in recognition of the company’s support.

The festival is also offering a special workshop, Hands on, Masks off, with National­ Arts Festival director Ismail Mahomed­, which is aimed at theatre and arts practitioners in the province.

And for the young residents of KwaZulu-Natal there is Jongosi — which is taken from Johnny Clegg’s word from the Afrikaans­ meaning jong ous which has become absorbed into Zulu parlance — and offers around 1 000 pupils the chance to enjoy a day’s programme of age-specific arts events on September 16.

These will include the chance to watch Neil Coppen’s beautiful Abnormal Loads; Grahamstown hits Body Language and London Road; the hilarious The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged); Zimbabwean actor Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala’s moving work, Cockroach; My First Sony from Israel; Iain “Ewok” Robinson­’s Rapped in Truth and the Metro­ X documentary, which forms part of MindScape; the satirical gem Barflies; My Afrikan Dream, which features pupils from Maritzburg College and The Wykeham Collegiate; and Creative Madness’s three children’s shows, Froggy Fairy Tale, The Great Big Enormous Turnip and Rumplestiltskin.

Participants will also have the chance to take part in workshops on choreography creation, a talking drums session and a look at the history­ of the Market Theatre.

Individuals or schools wishing to have more information should phone Sheryl at 033 383 0126 or via e-mail at sh@hiltoncollege.com Costs are R240 for high school pupils for the day, R150 for senior primary schools and R100 for junior primary schools. The workshops need to be booked separately.

Clarence is thrilled that this year’s festival will be hosting Coppen’s Abnormal Loads. The Standard Bank Young Artist for Drama at this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Coppen’s work has been born from the history of the province and is frankly, one of my personal picks of the festival.

Clarence’s other highlight is the staging of three works by Roy Horovitz and his actors from Israel. Clarence first saw My First Sony and Timekeepers in Grahamstown­ in 2010 and was keen to take them to the festival. Problems with timing scuppered those plans for a year, but both plays, and a third play, Volunteer Man, can now be seen, thanks to the efforts and sponsorship of the Embassy of Israel, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and               Victor Gordon, the head of Tararam.

Asked why she believes people should see the plays, Clarence said: “They are completely different from South African stories­ — and The Timekeepers is especially interesting as it is a holocaust story told by Israelis.”

But even as she prepares for this year’s 19th edition of the festival, Clarence is already looking ahead 12 months to next year and to possible productions and people­ she’d like to get on board.

“I’m hoping [Durban-based storyteller, author and actress] Gcina Mhlophe will take part in Jongosi next year, and I am keen to get the English comic-ventriloquist Paul Zerdin. It’s our 20th festival next year and I really want to make it something special,” she said.

How to book

BOOKING for The Witness Hilton Arts Festival is open with the full programme available online at www.hiltonfestival.co.za

Programmes are also available at selected Spar and SuperSpar stores throughout KwaZulu-Natal, at Exclusive Books (La Lucia, Pavilion, Liberty Midlands Mall and Gateway), Adams in Musgrave Centre, Bookworld @ Cascades; the KZNSA Gallery in Bulwer Road, Durban; the Crouse Art Gallery at 254 Lillian Ngoyi (Windermere) Road; the Pietermaritzburg Publicity offices in the CBD and Liberty Midlands Mall, at The Witness offices in Willowton Industrial Estate Pietermaritzburg, The Corner Café in Glenwood, and the Hilton College Theatre (weekdays office hours).

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