The 49th edition of the National Arts Festival is happening.

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The 49th annual National Arts Festival opened on 22 June 2023.

That is correct. This is number 49!

Walking into the 1820 Settlers Museum, I was greeted by walls of posters – reminiscent of what it felt like in the days before Covid.

The donkeys park where they like!

Last year one could still find parking in Main Road, but this year there is no such luck, which is good news.

Makhanda has seemingly shaken off the Covid blues. The town looks good. Multiple stakeholders, including the Makhanda Circle of Unity, the municipality, local businesses, schools and residents worked together to keep the streets clean, fix potholes, clear waterways and storm water drains, and remove illegal dump sites and recycle waste. It shows.

Security is visible and well positioned.

Through the Social Employment Fund programme over 2 000 temporary jobs were created.

Mungo the Clown

I would love to see more people in the theatres, though. The quality of the productions warrants our bums on the blue cushions provided by Standard Bank. (It may just be time to donate new cushions, but for now the old ones are still there and we need to sit on them to support the shows.)

As always, the big names do attract the big crowds. A friend who lives in Makhanda says the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (with Benjamin Zander conducting) was sold out.

The Village Green was packed when I was there – entry is free.

The SAfm Sundowner Concerts at the Monument at 5 pm daily are also free and on Saturday evening the hosting amphitheatre was packed to capacity.

The many art exhibitions are free as well.

Money is tight. In each show I attended there was a decent and appreciative audience, but, sadly, also far too many empty seats.

Festival CEO Monica Newton said in a press statement:

We’re optimistic that visitors are starting to return but we’re also realistic about the realities of current economic pressures on disposable income. We’ve responded by creating a Festival to fit the times. The programme has been carefully planned to ensure our venues are backed up during loadshedding and so we have fewer venues with more shows in each and we’ve selected a diverse programme of works in terms of origin, genre and subject matter for the multiple interests of our audiences.

I experienced real joy being at the festival and would encourage anyone to try to attend a few shows.

Tickets are not expensive. I paid R120 for Woza Albert, which is a big show, and R85 for Pieter Odendaal’s Droomwerk, which is part of the curated programme.*

If you are a Standard Bank card holder, you will get a huge discount when buying your tickets.

The curated programme has been planned carefully to ensure that festivalgoers get value for their money. At the same time, I have often also seen amazing shows on the fringe. This year The king of broken things is my heartfelt pick of the festival so far – it is a fringe production. Fabulous. Please see my review below.

I often go the lesser-known shows and I am seldom unhappy about what I see.

The National Jazz Festival always produces amazing shows, with some of our best artists participating. You cannot go wrong spending money here.

I saw four shows on 24 June and will return to see four more on 28 June. My reviews of the shows I have attended, with the pictures** I took, are listed below.

Kumnandi apho!

Kom kuier mense!

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* I am accredited as a press photographer at the festival, so I obtained complimentary tickets to a number of shows. I paid for others.

** I have permission to take pictures during the events – something which is strictly forbidden otherwise.

See also:

The king of broken things by Michael Taylor-Broderick at the National Arts Festival, Makhanda

Pumla – rest at the National Arts Festival, Makhanda

Jakob by Michael Taylor-Broderick at the National Arts Festival, Makhanda

Hairology at the National Arts Festival, Makhanda

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