Cape Town Fringe: Get experienced

Mense mix it up at Makukhanye Art Room.

This is the fourth year of the fringe but this time around it’s a whole new beast.

The CBD-centric programme is gone and in its stead shows are spread across a wider range of this city’s still disparite communities.

It’s a new experience for the organisors, the National Arts Festival, moving away from the previous concentration of venues and fringe hub (bar/restaurant/coffee-shop/hang out spot) at the City Hall and spreading out across the city.

“It’s been an interesting shift in focus for us,” says NAF CEO Tony Lankester.

“In essence what we’ve done is a good thing, moving our focus away from the centre (of town). But that comes with a heap of other insights and learnings.”

One of these is learning to let go of controlling the venues, says Tony. Makukhanye Arts Room and Zolani centre have a better idea of their audiences and their needs than the NAF team working out of their pop-up offices at the German Club, so beyond broadly marketing the Cape Town Fringe as a whole, it’s up to them to market individual shows to their audiences, “because they know best how to reach them”.

They also have the leeway to shift performance times if a bus full of people arrive early (or late) for instance.

It also means ticket sales have been a bit of a “mixed bag”, says Tony. Where venues have come to the party and galvanised their audience, attendance has been great, while at other venues its been a bit dismal. But South African artists also need to do their own marketing, whether it be handing out flyers on the streets or getting the word out on their own social media channels. Where artists have done that, they’ve been rewarded with bums on seats.

So it’s also about “aligning the expectations of artists and venues with what the fringe does”.

What Tony doesn’t say is the Cape Town Fringe, after being criticised four years ago for being elitist and imposing an external structure on our sensitivities, has evolved into a bridge that enables artists and arts venue managers to cross our city’s divides. This is not really fringe’s mandate but it is a natural side effect of an inclusive programme.

Artists who may only have played in Khayelitsha or Delft are also getting new audiences at Hiddingh and Alexander Bar, and vice versa. Venue managers who may have been a bit too caught up in protecting their own turf for whatever political and economic reasons, are on the same festival platform and have a great opportunity to exchange ideas and possibly collaborate. Much more of this can and should happen (I would love to see In Whorefish Bloomers go down at Zolani Centre) and hopefully will. It’s not something that can be forced. Just create the opportunity, keep creating it, and hope that eventually curiosity beats fear and resentment.

‘Cause if something is going to help heal and bind this wounded city, this wounded country, it sure isn’t politics, and we lose too often in sport.

Singer Samkelo Mdoloomba gets mobbed by fans outside the Alma Cafe.

Bring on the artists.

There’s drama, dance, music and storytelling in Khayelitsha at the Makukhanye Art Room, all of that and more in Nyanga at Zolani Centre, plus all of that is going on in Delft in the Black Box and in Philippi at Ithemba Labantu. Obs is also in the mix with fantastic shows playing at the Theatre Arts Admin theatre – it hosted inarguably the best game show in town brought to you by those irreverant Joburg ous from Kiri Pink Nob over the last three days.

Students have been packing out the Alma Cafe in Rosebank where some of Mzansi’s best new music is being played, and of course we can’t completely ignore the city bowl, it’s in such desperate need of actual local culture after all. So there’s shows at the Alexander Bar, including the sharpest, sassiest cabaret you might ever see (last show this afternoon), and a host of shows at the venues on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus.

There’s also great beer and comedy shows at Cape Town’s most underrated bar – the German Club – which is also the hub of this whole fringe operation.

Also, there’s this kief spot down by Princess Vlei called the Jolly Carp that’s got a great mix of music, children’s theatre and drama.

Actually, if you went to one show at each of the venues, you’d have a much broader and deeper understanding of this ugly beautiful cranky city parking like a carbuncle on the bottom of Africa than most of its solipsist inhabitants.

Ok, ag sorry Capetonians, I know I’m insulting you but yissus man, there’s a small miracle of festival happening around you, in which actors are telling heart-rending and side-busting stories, dancers are asking abstract questions with their bodies, comedians are wearing their hearts on their sleeves and muscians are stretching space and time while you post selfies on the beach or the mountain. The beach and the mountain are going nowhere people, the Cape Town Fringe is ending in exactly a week. Get the programme (here) get out of your comfort zone and get a new experience.

Cape Town Fringe runs until next Sunday, October 8.

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