Fun — and escapism — at the festival

2008-09-14 00:00

By lunchtime yesterday, Witness Hilton Arts Festival organiser Sue Clarence was exhausted.

Things over the weekend went well — even the weather came to the party — but this year’s festival was not all plain sailing. When the National Lottery announced support for the festival well over a year ago, there was jubilation, but to date, only one payment out of four due has been received. On Friday, the first day of the festival, Clarence was told that she would receive the rest (just under R2 million) “by the end of next week”.

A lot of use that is — assuming it happens anyway — when Clarence had been hoping to use some of the money to underwrite ticket prices. She could hardly spend money she had not got, and although the prices have not gone up since last year, tougher economic times have meant a drop in sales, probably by around 10%.

Away from the organisational hassles and number crunching, things were more relaxed. A quick look through questionnaires being handed in yesterday suggested that most people were having a good experience — apart from being unable to find the kind of food they wanted, where and when they wanted it, and somewhere to park off and eat it. That has been a gripe for all 16 years of the festival, and Clarence admits they still haven’t got it right.

The theatrical programme had a good mix of the light and the serious this year. Judging by the questionnaires, Shirley Valentine seemed to be most people’s favourite show, an indicator that South Africans feel the need for escapism.

But there were a couple of things at the festival that offered a comforting perspective on where we are. Magnet Theatre’s exquisite Every Year, Every Day, I am Walking gave an insight into the plight of refugees, while UKZN’s Mike Lambert touched on the same subject in a talk on how Greek theatre, 2 500 years ago, tackled the subject of xenophobia and how to create identity in what was then a very new political system — democracy — where foreigners were coming into the newly democratic city states. Reassuring to know other people have been there too.

Then, slipping into the Chapel for an hour with the Kerimov Trio, it was quite something to be told by Boris Kerimov that the Amati cello he was playing was made in 1580. Times may be tough, but survival is in the air. The arts don’t have all the answers, but they have some and at least they identify the questions. And still leave you time for the escapism.

Long may they continue to do so.

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