The National Arts Festival 2014: Beyond the impressive figures and what they might mean for Fringe Theatre

The National Arts Festival has released its final statistics for the 2014 Festival that has marked its own 40th anniversary as well as the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa. The Festival’s media release states that “a dazzling array of international performers from over 40 countries, and over 2800 performances in eleven days all contributed to a record 225 538 attendees at the National Arts Festival…”

The release goes on to say that “attendance at the event grew by 6,5% over 2013…” and “ticket sales, in rand terms, also hit a new high breaking R7m for the first time. This puts more money into the pockets of performers than ever before”.

These are indeed impressive figures, and yet, anecdotal experience of the Fringe in particular – where artists seldom feel “more money in (their) pockets” – but also of the Festival generally where it did not feel as though there were more people than at previous festivals, beg further interrogation of these statistics. Every artist would love the Festival to have growing attendance and to have this translated into greater income for artists, so the question is, why is this not the case for most artists, particularly those on the Fringe which is where the risk is greatest (productions on the Main programme are – generally – guaranteed their production and performance costs, while events on the Fringe are entirely dependent on box-office income and whatever sponsorship they may have managed to raise).

What, then, do the Festival figures mean for Fringe productions?

Let’s take a relatively cheap, pre-existing, two-person show from Cape Town as an example. The company would include the two – entry-level or relatively “unbranded” – actors and a stage manager at least, if not a director. These three people would need accommodation for 6 nights, at a cost of R350 per night each in a residence for a total of R6300. The road transport – assuming their set and props could be accommodated in their vehicle – would be in the region of R2000, with per diems for 6 days and performance-related fees amounting to about R12 000 for the week in total. The Festival application, ticketing surcharges and venue hire might amount to a further R4000 at least. It would cost this company R25 000 just be at the Festival for their six performances.

For six shows in a venue with an average of 110 seats and at R45 per seat, the production would need to make an average of R4170 per show just to break even; this would require an 85% attendance over the Festival run.

Should the two-person show be a new production that premieres on the Fringe, production costs including rehearsal fees for the actors, the stage manager, the director, designer fees, set, costumes and props would all need to be factored in and, for a relatively cheap show, could come to at least an additional R45 000. Such a new show would add to the costs of premiering at the Festival, as it is likely that the director would need to be transported, accommodated and have fee and per diem costs catered for.

But even with production costs of R45 000 and Festival costs of R25 000 for a total of R70 000, a new show – premiering at the Festival – would need to run at full capacity for its six performances with tickets costing R106 each (more than double the cost of an average Fringe ticket) just to break even.

The point is that it is extremely challenging for a production on the Fringe – and probably impossible for a new production premiering at the Festival – to cover the costs of its participation in the Festival merely through box office income.

On the Fringe 2014 alone, there were about 350 live shows, including 109 dramas, 69 comedies, 29 dance productions, 36 music theatre/cabaret shows, 56 contemporary music shows, and 15 physical theatre and 15 family shows.

If the R7m plus that the Festival generated through ticket sales were to be allocated just to the 350 Fringe shows, they would each receive an average of R20 000, unlikely to cover the real costs of participation of most Fringe shows at the Festival. But the R7m includes the Main Programme, and according to the Festival organisers, ticket sales are – roughly – divided between the Main and the Fringe at 40% and 60% respectively. Thus, should 60% of the R7m be allocated to Fringe productions, that R4,2m would – on average – account for R12 000 per production, even less to cover the costs of their Festival participation.

Clearly then, it would be in the interests of Fringe productions that the number of Festival attendees grows so that a 6,5% increase in attendance should be good news for Fringe artists. However, two points need to be made about the 225 538 “attendees”.

The first – and not so obvious point – is that this number does not refer to the amount of people who come to Grahamstown for the duration of the Festival. If this were the case, the population of Grahamstown would more than triple for the “eleven days of amazing”. There simply is not the infrastructure nor the beds to accommodate such an influx. This “record number of attendees” needs to be divided over the hundreds of events that comprise the Festival, with one “festino” being a multiple “attendee” i.e. one person could attend fifteen events, and it would be the “attendance” at those fifteen events that would be counted towards the figure of “225 538 attendees”:.

The second important point about this figure is that it does not refer only to ticket sales; it also includes complimentary tickets (media, sponsors, etc), free shows, events such as Sundowners and the Art Reach programme, attendance at the Fingo festival as well as attendance at exhibitions, although the “Village Green” craft market is excluded from the attendance figure.

The Festival uses “conservative” estimates of 50 people per day for attendance at Fringe exhibitions and 120 per day for Main exhibitions to so that with 24 Fringe and 12 Main exhibitions, this would account for at least 35 000 attendees over the eleven days. If one doubles that number to include attendees at the daily Sundowner events, Fingo Festival performances, the first shows of many Fringe productions (of which there were more than 150), free tickets as part of the Art Reach programme, complimentary tickets for sponsors and the media, including Cue writers, free shows offered by the Festival, etc, this would account for about 70 000 non-paying attendees. This would then mean that in the region of 155 000 tickets were sold for this bumper 2014 programme, including both Main and Fringe events.

This 155 000 would also be the approximate number of tickets sold if one divided this year’s record R7m in box-office income by an average ticket price of R45 (155 555 tickets).

(The actual number of tickets sold and the breakdown of these between Main and Fringe and then a further breakdown between drama, comedy, classical music, jazz, physical theatre, etc would be useful to determine trends, but this information is for the Festival to divulge at its discretion).

As indicated earlier, if the Fringe/Main proportions of income had to be applied to the box-office income, then the 350 Fringe productions would share 60% of R7m – or R4 200 000 – between them, an average of R12 000. It is more likely though that a few shows would do relatively well, earning R50 001 or more at the box office, a second tier would generate R30 001-R50 000, a third tier R20 001-R30 000, a fourth tier R10 001-R20 000 and then a number would generate less than R10 000. I would venture that most Fringe shows – and particularly new shows that premiere at the Festival or that come to the Festival without any significant hype or branding from previous outings – fall into the fourth and fifth tiers i.e. of the more than 200 Fringe theatre-related shows, more than half would generate less than R20 000 at the box office.

If 155 000 tickets are sold across the Main and Fringe programmes, how many people are actually buying these tickets? This would provide a better indication of the actual “box-office market” of the Festival. Assuming that most festinos stay for an average of 3 days and see 3-4 shows per day, the actual ticket-buying market for the Festival would be about 15 000, significantly less than the “225 538 attendees”.

While it is understandable that the Festival would provide us with figures that show regular growth, there is another way of evaluating these figures i.e. since the Festival prides itself in being the largest Festival of its kind in terms of the number of offerings, how many unsold seats are there at the Festival? And, what is the year-on-year trend in this regard?

The Festival has stated that at any one time, 10 697 people may be seated at its events. Assuming then that there is an average of 6 time slots per day for eleven days (some venues have more, some have less time slots), that would amount to more than 700 000 available tickets. But, if only 155 000 tickets have been sold, that would account for sales of just over 20% – or nearly 80% unsold tickets!

In simple “free market speak”, this would mean that there is a gross oversupply of goods for the market that the National Arts Festival provides.

While the Festival revels in being the second largest Festival of its kind in the world after Edinburgh, and promotes the idea that artists have more money in their pockets as a result of the increase in rand value of ticket sales, in reality, it means that the income is spread more thinly between artists as the number of shows – and artists – has increased.

In the media release announcing its final statistics, the Festival states that there was “a dazzling array of international performers from over 40 countries”. While this would affirm the international standing of the Festival and is essentially true, one production – such as the Swiss Ballet Company and as pointed out by the Festival itself – comprises performers from 13 (of the “over 40”) different countries. There is very little participation in the Festival by African artists, with the most significant form of participation being through the Analogue Eye platform with video art work from 16 African countries (also considered as part of the “over 40” countries) – besides South Africa – but without the artists necessarily being present themselves. In truth then, The Festival does not have productions from over 40 countries as one might assume from the media release.

The National Arts Festival is the most important arts platform in South Africa. The interrogation of these statistics is not to undermine the Festival in any way, nor to lessen its national and international status.

On the contrary, the purpose of this analysis is to move beyond the hype in order to understand the Festival in more depth as a practicing artist and as an activist in the arts and culture space in order propose ways in which the Festival may be improved, and perhaps increase its national, international – and hopefully – continental status.

A few points that may be made in summary:
1. being the biggest Festival of its kind in Africa and the second-largest in the world in terms of the number of events it offers, does not translate into being the Festival with the largest paying audience (the two-day Cape Town International Jazz Festival attracts more box office income than the 11-day National Arts Festival – 34 000 people X R395 day rate = R13,43 million, nearly double the National Arts Festival’s box office income)
2. while box-office income may have increased to record levels at just over R7m, it is not necessarily the case that artists leave the Festival with more money in their pockets than before, since this income is spread over an increasing number of productions (and therefore, artists)
3. although the Festival is billed as a democratic space in which all may equally compete for income and attention, this is not the case as Fringe productions are competing against Main productions at generally the same ticket prices, but with Main productions being largely subsidized, while Fringe productions carry the full risk
4. even though it may appear that at least on the Fringe, all are competing equally in a democratic environment, this is not the case with productions that come with institutional support (such as my and other productions supported by Artscape), that have more “brands” associated with them, that are more resourced in terms of skills, finances and marketing, etc, are more likely to do well commercially and artistically than those that may not have all or any of these

If the financial gains at the Festival are so limited for many, why then, do practitioners continue to produce on the Fringe? Some answers to this question would include the following:
1. to obtain a space at a theatre to showcase one’s work is infinitely more difficult than to hire or book a space on the Fringe
2. the Festival carries significant prestige and status so that to perform there is to bask in this prestige and status, even if one’s production does not have to pass any artistic criteria to be staged there
3. the Festival is the most important place at which to benchmark one’s work against the work of practitioners in the same genre from around the country
4. should one have the resources, it is the best place to attend productions and learn from the work of others
5. the Festival serves as a hypermarket for local and international producers and promoters so that it presents many more opportunities than any other event for one’s work to have a national and/or international life
6. with the Ovation and other awards on offer at the Festival as well as the opportunity to have one’s work reviewed, the Festival provides potential recognition of one’s artistic work, and could therefore contribute to building or affirming one’s brand as a practitioner or the brand/artistic merit of the production
7. the Festival is a great place for networking, for socializing and for meeting and interfacing with colleagues from around the country and internationally
8. by making a potential impact on the Fringe, a practitioner’s future bids to be on the Main programme will be enhanced
9. the Festival provides a good place to acquire experience as a theatre promoter, producer or entrepreneur

Some may participate in the Festival because they are unaware of the particular challenges posed by the Festival and thus be unaware of the possible financial losses (at least one production packed up and returned to Gauteng after only three people attended its first performance this year).

So, then, based on this analysis, what would be proposals for the future of the Festival?

1. The Festival should resist the temptation – and burden – of being the “second biggest Festival of its kind in the world” which will place ongoing pressure on the Festival to provide more and more productions and programmes and, on an annual basis, to show increases in its audiences in some way or another. The Festival is the most important platform for arts in all its diversity in our country, and it is this whether it has 300 or 600 productions or events. There is no other festival or event that can compete currently with its stature, its programming, and the diversity of its artists and audiences. The Festival should seriously consider:
1.1 limiting the number of productions at the Festival to facilitate a better distribution of the box-office income
1.2 increasing the size of the Main Festival with more curated works selected from other festivals and theatres of the preceding year
1.3 place less emphasis on “premieres” than on showcasing the best works produced during the preceding year
1.4 making entry into the Festival Fringe more competitive to ensure an all-round greater level of quality, with a higher emphasis on innovation, originality and risk-taking
1.5 working with institutions in each province to identify, nurture and produce new work for the Fringe and Main programmes

2. The National Arts Festival should position itself as one of the key platforms for the arts from the African continent. Numerous promoters and producers attend the Festival to select work for their institutions; the Festival could become a major conduit for showcasing and projecting the best of African dance, theatre, music, film and visual art into international markets. The Festival could work with a range of institutions that promote and artistic collaboration and exchange on the continent. Fishers of Hope and The Baobab were two 2014 productions that showed the potential for collaboration between South African and African theatre- makers.

3. The Festival provides good information about what Fringe artists might expect; however, it might be an idea to provide – particularly new Fringe productions – with a mentor – a volunteer theatre-maker who has attended the Festival at least five times before – who could advise the production about “working the Festival.”

Conclusion

The Festival has achieved 40 years of artistic endeavor and there have been numerous positive innovations in the last few years. Having reached this milestone, it is necessary for the Festival to look beyond itself as an event, and to its location within the broader South African and African artistic landscape, and on the basis of this, to determine a vision and strategies that will enhance its position as the leading arts festival in the country. This would require some hard decisions, but the Festival (and its key audience, artist, sponsors, etc) stakeholders might be the better for it.

Mike van Graan
Executive Director: African Arts Institute
Associate Playwright: Artscape

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About mikevangraan

Mike van Graan is currently a Richard von Weizsaecker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. He is a playwright, and most recently served as the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute. He was the founding Secretary General of Arterial Network, a civil society network of artists, activists and creative enterprises engaged in the African creative sector and its contribution to human rights, democracy and development on the continent. Currently, he also serves as a Technical Expert to UNESCO on the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
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2 Responses to The National Arts Festival 2014: Beyond the impressive figures and what they might mean for Fringe Theatre

  1. mikevangraan says:

    Comment from Tony Lankester, CEO of the National Arts Festival.

    Hi Mike
    Interesting analysis – and one which I’m sure will provoke some discussion and debate….which I’ll observe and leap in as I feel moved.
    I just wanted to make two corrections, two observations, and add one further dimension which greatly affects the economics of performing on the Fringe. And I want to pose a challenge.

    THE CORRECTIONS – (1) we are not the second largest Festival in the world and have never claimed to be. That is something that has crept into popular discourse and repeated so often it now gets trumpeted as fact by many, including on occasion, some employees of the Festival. But it is not an appellation that we want. Of course there are many ways of deciding “biggest” – ticket sales, number of performances, number of productions, or any one of those divided by number of days to get a daily figure. But by no measure would we rank second….at best, for most, we might climb into the Top 5. Apart from Edinburgh, there are Adelaide, Avignon, Brighton, Edmonton and I daresay a couple of others. And of course for us we count Main and Fringe together because we are one business, whereas most others separate their numbers because the two wings are operated by two wholly separate companies (who quite often compete rather than co-operate).
    In any event, it’s not really about the size because, as you say, Grahamstown can’t really take that many more people so is there any sense in trying to be/remain the biggest?
    (2) I would have to work it out, but the figure you cite of 700 000 available seats at the Festival is pretty overstated. I would say available seats are probably closer to 450 000, maybe even slightly less. It assumes that each venue has 66 performances in it. They don’t. The Guy Butler Theatre only had 15 performances across the whole Festival – so 15 000 seats, not 66 000 your figures suggest. Graeme College had 18 performances, not 66. Similarly Rhodes Theatre, Victoria Theatre, Rhodes Box, Alec Mullins and others. Also bear in mind that some of those seats are for film and lectures, and so would need to come out if you are talking about benefit to performing artists. (I’m not criticising you here – I have the luxury of all the figures at my disposal and realise that you are working with the pieces of the puzzle we could/did provide you with).

    THE OBSERVATIONS – (1) Just to throw into the conversation is the fact that the Main/Fringe line is already becoming blurred. What we – and our stats – call “Main” includes recent innovations such as the Featured Artist, the Arena, the Solo Season – all of which include work which, previously, would have sat on the Fringe and been counted as Fringe numbers. So we have widened the Main considerably, to include a lot more artists. Similarly by including contemporary music and comedy on the Main, we are broadening its reach and using the built-in marketing muscle the Main has to help “Fringe” artists (e.g. The Comedy Show this year in the Guy Butler theatre, artists like Nakhane Toure and Arno Carstens etc etc) So already a shift is happening and if the Fringe pie is getting smaller, so too are the number of artists who rely solely on it to survive their Grahamstown runs.
    (2) I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of why performing at Festivals is important for artists. And my observation is that exactly the same debate gets played out after Edinburgh every year, just as it does after every other major festival…..festival runs are seldom about the money. Of course it is easy and glib for me to say that, I’m not the one trying to make a living through my art, I get that. But it is part of the reality that performing Festivals are a means to an end, not an end in themselves (the average attendance at an Edinburgh show is, as I recall, 3. And it is one of the most expensive cities in Europe to spend a month in in August. It has crippled many an artist and sent them back to waiting tables….)

    THE ONE OTHER DIMENSION (which is actually two) – You paint a pretty bleak economic picture for artists performing on the Fringe, and broadly speaking you’re not wrong, many do not do well. But I sign the cheques and I know, to the cent, how much each producer takes home. And I know that there are a lot of producers who make a lot of money. How? Two things – firstly, they collaborate and multi-task….the most successful producers are presenting two or three or more shows on the Fringe, thereby tipping the scales completely. One person doing two shows amortises their costs, and doubles their income potential. Going from needing 80% sellout to 40%. Suddenly, it becomes achievable. Performing in two, directing another and producing a fourth helps even more. One artist was famously involved, as director, producer or actor, in 13 productions in one Festival a few years ago. So entrepreneurial thinking, and working in collectives to share marketing and other overheads, can drastically change the equation and make it more viable.
    And the second way is by accessing other funding – I don’t have the figures to hand (because they are not always disclosed to us) but I would hazard a guess that around 30% of productions which come to the Fringe come with some sort of funding – from the NAC, from local municipalities, from provincial performing arts councils, from the Lottery, and so on. And they get that funding not in a general, annual grant….but they get it specifically to bring that production to Grahamstown. And the funding ranges from R5 000 to R40 000…sometimes even more. I have heard of one particular company who got a grant, came to Festival, cancelled their entire run the moment they arrived citing poor ticket sales, then blew their grant having a great party in Grahamstown. I would argue that funders need to be more vigilant and see, at the very least, marketing plans and ticket sales reports after the fact, certified by the Festival office, to assess the return on the grant. But there are others who receive the grant and use it wisely, and get a lot from the experience.

    THE CHALLENGE – I arrived at the Festival in 2008 to do this job. Since I have been here I have not been aware of one single major corporate sponsor who has been brought to the Festival by a Fringe producer or company. Not one. The last major sponsor to come onto the Fringe independently of the Festival office was Old Mutual who sponsored Die Taphuis as a music venue. They got huge value out of it (and stopped doing it because their Sponsorship Manager, um, well he went a bit mad and took another job…..) So why aren’t Fringe artists out there pitching, selling, wheeling and dealing to get corporate sponsorship? Why is it that – in seven years – I have only been asked once by a Fringe artist to help them put a proposal together for a potential sponsor? Out of 350 productions a year. Why aren’t artists bundling their runs in Grahamstown with runs in Oudtshoorn, Hilton, Johannesburg, Blomefontein….and then finding a corporate to help offset their overheads?
    Your article focuses purely on ticket sales, yet ticket sales income accounts for a single-digit % of the Festival’s overall income. It should, similarly, form a small percentage of each and every Fringe artists’ income…yet those who don’t receive grants as detailed above rely on ticket sales for 100% of what they earn. Madness. How can you create art with integrity when you constantly have one eye on the turnstiles?
    So my challenge to Fringe artists is to get paid what you’re worth by putting a business hat on, or finding someone who can do that for you. It’s not about selling out or selling your soul, it’s about creating partnerships which give you space to do what you need to do and add value for sponsors.

    THE CONCLUSIONS – So what to do? Keep talking and listening. Try a new Fringe in Cape Town and see how that goes. Think about how we might manage the Grahamstown monster in the future – I do not think that selecting/restricting/otherwise gatekeeping is the answer. We do that already for contemporary music on the Fringe (because Music venues are so expensive to set up and we the economics of adding more don’t work) but I think doing it for Theatre and Dance becomes problematic. Who chooses? How? And if someone can raise their own funds to get to Grahamstown and wants a shot at it, who are we to turn them away?
    As a Festival our priority is to grow audience – and that’s why the ‘big number’ is important to us. We are looking to drive day trippers from PE or East London because then we aren’t constricted by the shortage of beds. And we’re looking at more shuttles between Port Alfred and Kenton and Grahamstown, and improved public transport within Grahamstown, to make it more viable for people to stay out there. I think we could grow ticket sales by 20% yet if we can overcome the accommodation obstacles.
    But maybe I’m wrong and maybe we’ll need to forcibly shrink things. Either way, it will be interesting watching the landscape unfold.

    Tony

  2. Simon Cooper says:

    Mike van Graan’s insightful analysis above and Tony Lankester’s response have raised a number of thoughts and questions [with me at least]. I will put these comments up on Mike’s blog and on Megan’s Head because of the references to the Cape Town Fringe.

    Figures & Numbers :
    Mike analyses what the 2014 ticket sales numbers might mean and he makes a number of good points. My thoughts on numbers at this year’s and last year’s Festivals are based more on observation than stats.
    In 2013, one of our well known performers said to me [not in jest] that when one did not have to book a table at the Spur, you know that Grahamstown is empty. While you might dismiss this as just being clever with words, the ease or difficult with which one gets a table or a parking space is a valid indicator of how many people are at the Festival. The 2013 Festival was bleak in this regard and this year’s Festival, while better, never felt like it was full, full. Why should this be? Cost is clearly a factor. I agree with Mike that it is expensive to mount productions at the Festival but equally the cost of attending the Festival is heavy. Accommodation is very expensive, getting there is expensive and it is not difficult to spend R1500 or more on tickets if you spend 7 – 10 days at the Festival. This of course excludes food and the inevitable drink or 3!
    I believe that this had lead to an increase in the number of day-trippers from the surrounding areas [more of this later] and shorter stays for those who come from further afield. This in turn leads, I believe, to more people [given the reported increase in ticket sales] seeing fewer shows which means that fewer producers/performers do well and more do badly as the concentration on popular shows and well known names grows and the others are ignored. It seems that most of the popular shows do better in year 2 than in year 1 and some do even better in year 3 as word spreads through the pool of patrons concentrating on popular shows.
    I am not sure how one combats this other than by looking at your production, as far as the Festival is concerned, as a 3 year project and being brave enough, or perhaps wise enough, to cut your losses when necessary.
    So I agree with Mike that increased ticket sales do not necessarily mean increased prosperity for producers/performers.

    Working on the Fringe :
    Mike spends some time dealing with the cost of putting a piece on the Fringe at the Festival [and here I refer both to pre-performance costs and the costs of getting to and being at the Festival] and he is quite right if perhaps a bit conservative in that regard. But working on the Fringe is not easy – yes, we all go into it knowing that but I do feel that there are areas where the Festival organisers might look to stack the odds a little more in favour of Fringe practitioners – these are my thoughts and I am sure that others who work on the Fringe have many more – well people perhaps now is the time to vocalise those thoughts?
    Let no one think that I am looking for confrontation here – I do not. I seek a co-operation with commitment to improve the Fringe and what it is like to work there.
    1. The Festival advertises itself as “11 days of amaz!ng” – it isn’t; it is about 9.5 days. Most of the first Thursday and just about all of the last Sunday are effectively dead and in any event are mostly free and half-price days respectively – Sunday should be the grand finale of the Festival with people fighting to get tickets for the last performances of shows. OK so you might argue that people like to travel home from the Festival [patrons not performers, I mean] on Sunday to be back at work on Monday and that whatever you do the last Sunday is going to empty. So then why not [a] start on a Wednesday and officially end on Saturday at midnight but make it compulsory for people to perform [if scheduled to perform] on the last Saturday; [b] scrap the free first day and the last half price day; and [c] make the first Wednesday a non-compulsory 2 for 1 day. This means that performers can perform “at home” on the weekend before the Festival, travel Monday, tech Tuesday and start Wednesday.
    2. One way or another the Festival needs to find a way to schedule 11 performances of those productions who ask to perform 11 times during the Festival. This year I asked for 11 performances for all 5 of the productions in which I was involved as a producer and not one was scheduled for 11 performances – rather we were given between 8 and 10 performances. The loss of income from a performance, especially one in the middle or toward the end of the Festival makes a difference and makes it that much more difficult to at least break even.
    3. I believe that the pricing structure of the Festival has to be looked at. In general terms a lot of theatre in South Africa is underpriced. A lot of the Main productions [theatre genre] were priced this year at R65 a ticket – this is of course in a sector where the financial risk to the producers/performers is very considerably less than that borne by Fringe practitioners. If that price was a Fringe ticket price, the net income to the producer / performer would, by my calculation [including service fee and commissions] be about R54 – if Mike’s figure of R70000.00 is correct, this means one has to sell 1297 tickets at the Festival to break even. If you average out at 9 performances over the Festival, that means about 144 tickets per show – more than the capacity of some venues. And that is exacerbated by the failure to schedule a full 11 performances.
    The point is that Fringe prices are kept lower by the Main prices as producers feel that an economically stretched Festino will make prices a major factor in choosing shows [unless it is Raiders of course – tip of the hat to Nic]. Main prices have got to go up radically and allow Fringe prices to start moving toward where they should. If I have it right, most Main prices are set by the Festival organisers and I suggest that R100 per ticket should be the minimum on the Main and that will allow Fringe prices to go to R80 to R95 per ticket.
    4. I can hear the howls already – one the one hand, you say, you bemoan the numbers issue and say cost is a factor and on the other you want to make it more expensive. Vry Fees which has just finished has many ticket prices for drama of over R100; the KKNK – ditto; Aardklop – ditto. Why not the NAF? It may take some time for people to get used to it but without it, maybe the Festival will be adversely affected.
    5. Cue needs to be overhauled – radically. Because Cue does not properly review Fringe productions in any large numbers, most people [I suggest] rely on the 50 word mini-reviews. These are written by students [mainly], a lot of whom are not journalist students or know very little meaningful about theatre. Yet these reviews can make or break a production. Cue contents itself with writing about personalities, Main productions and some general stuff, and every now and again, about a Fringe show. 2013 was shocking in this regard but, while I will concede that 2014 was a little better, a lot remains to be done. Word of mouth plays a huge part at the Festival and this is, and needs to be, encouraged by media coverage. Cut out the crappy pictures of this shoe and that scarf, and the irrelevant views of people about what pick up line they are going to use, and devote that space to more Fringe reviews – after all on pure numbers alone 60% to 70% of Cue should deal with Fringe and this should be written by reviewers who know what they are talking about. If other people can see 5 or 6 shows a day, so can reviewers, and what with the IT resources available these days, those reviews can be written and submitted immediately.
    Oh and before the Festival organisers turn around and say ‘Cue is a Rhodes thing and we can’t tell them what to do”, no guys, don’t buy that, you must and do have influence and if you agree with this, I am pretty sure you can persuade them to change.
    6. Some way also has to be found to keep those reviews not only available [i.e yesterday’s news is today fish & chips packaging!] but at the forefront of visibility. That is back to IT – surely a much more visible and a much more publicised site can be created where reviews can be posted and comments made – maybe even [with some moderation] Festival goers could write reviews or their thoughts on productions seen. My feeling is that the IT resource is currently underused and that stuff which can be accessed on phones and tablets needs to be there, and people have to be made aware of it and encouraged to use it. Word of mouth in this day and age includes IT / social media.
    7. Finally in this section a few small things –
    1. the response to technical issues needs some bulking up – this year we had a special at Glennie Hall that was important to the play and that was simply not fixed for a period of about 5 or 6 days despite repeated requests;
    2. running over time : both this year and last we had people before us who just ran longer than the advertised time and, despite dire warnings in the Application form in this regard and requests that it be dealt with, nothing was done;
    3. scheduling : perhaps it might be worthwhile giving producers / performers a venue schedule when the performance schedule is made public, and allow a time to comment on both. I say this from personal experience and in the context that some shows need longer to set up than others, and while we all accept that we get no longer than a hour, scheduling shows that run for 75 mins and even 90 mins before a show that has a complex set up, is not helpful. Maybe the Application form should have a question about how difficult/complex set up will be? I accept that not everyone can be accommodated but maybe some problems can be mitigated;
    4. networking : if you are like me and would love to meet overseas producers / festival people and the like, is it possible to give more than 18 hours notice of a gathering? By that time people like me have already planned the next few days and may not be able to break away on short notice.

    The Cape Town Fringe :
    This has really generated some debate, hasn’t it? I have no intention of inserting myself into the Choritz – Furniss / Mahomed argument [basically because I will probably end up being shouted at by both sides!] but I do want to say this to Ismail : while I understand that Megan might [does] infuriate you, I do feel that your response on Artslink was, in parts, gratuitously and unnecessarily aggressive, rude and demeaning to someone whose voice is listened to in theatre circles and whose views are taken account of. With the greatest respect I do not think it sits well on the Artistic Director of South Africa’s largest Arts Festival to respond publicly to a theatre practitioner in this extreme way.
    That said, back to the Cape Town Fringe. Not a lot has been said [as far as I aware] of the motivation in creating the Cape Town Fringe, and in particular how this is intended to, or might, affect the Grahamstown Festival. I, for one, am holding back on making any decisions about how I feel about the Cape Town Fringe as I want to see how things develop. That it complicates life for at least Cape Town based theatre practitioners is beyond argument in my view.
    Question : why should I, as a Cape Town theatre practitioner, incur the expense of moving people to Grahamstown, accommodating them, moving a set and so on if I can do it in my own City two and a half months later? Well one apparent answer might be that Grahamstown is not curated [i.e you pay your buck and you perform] while the CT Fringe is. So now in January when I have to apply for Grahamstown, I don’t know if I will get into the CT Fringe and if I go to Grahamstown does that prejudice my chances of getting into the CT Fringe?
    Question : what will be the criteria for acceptance at Cape Town ? My 2 applications were declined and this is what was said in the relevant email “The main criteria we applied were around shaping a programme which was balanced across genres, contained a healthy mix of established and new work, and which biases work which hasn’t yet been staged in Cape Town. Those criteria, together with a number of other factors, governed our decision.” This by the way in turning down a 2014 Ovation Award winning production with one 4 week run in Cape Town and accepting a production that has had at lkeats 2 long runs in Cape Town if not 3. Does this then mean that I can’t / shouldn’t produce work in Cape Town until it has been at the Cape Town Fringe ?
    Question : is it the intention to shut down or significantly reduce the Fringe at the Grahamstown Festival in the medium to long term, assuming the CT Fringe takes hold? If that is not the intention, is it a matter of concern to you if that is the result or a result of the CT Fringe taking hold?
    Question : if the intention is not to affect Grahamstown deliberately or otherwise, how do you see the 2 working together from the perspective of [a] producers / performers and [b] timing – applications and so forth and [c] Joe Festival goer [I can hear some people saying – why go to Grahamstown in June if I can go to Cape Town in September!]
    It may be early days but I think we do need some clarity here on at least these issues and I appeal to those running this show, to provide full answers publicly.

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