Pilgrim in reverse

For the first time in 20 years, I will be going to the National Arts Festival, rather than Naf coming to me.

This Cape Town Fringe is obviously not the first time Naf has left its mole hole down in the basement of the Monument Building to see the world, but it’s definitely the first time the entire edifice (that mighty handful of techies, execs, the creative director and a consultant) is going bakkie-full to another city to run an arts fest from, as CEO Tony Lankester put it, “top to bottom”.

Indeed, for the first time, I am the pilgrim, not those other thousands of poor artists and fans who made the long annual trek to Grahamstown.

It’s an odd sensation, like you always knew you’d struck gold and thank god they didn’t know how awesome it when that the world/circus/carnival came to me!

We were so spoilt that we actually lived across the road from the Village Green and our girls used it as their personal playground in their heritage pre-Raphaelite frocks and day-glo takkies.

So ja, 10 hours to Cape Town it is. What to expect? Even Lankester, that master schemer and business whizz,  is wearing his K-Way extreme adventure pants.

He thinks he has an idea of what the Cape Town market is going to be like. But also, he doesn’t have a clue.

As an Eastern Cape festival writer, never a reviewer OK, just an experiential writer, (Gosh, we coined the phrase, or rather Guy Berger and coms on the hill did when they started the David Rabkin Project for Experiential Journalism) so as an experiential writer, I too am wondering what the Cape Town crowd are like in their own bekyard.

Will they be a snobby bunch, or overly theoretical and existential, throwing out long trains of obscure, abstract bollocks? or fresh, interesting and eternally innovative?

What to expect? Andiyazi.

The early signs are interesting. At the Naf awards party (that Sunday morning thing where the coffee is strong and the performers look surprisingly bright and breezy because they know they are in the running to win something), Lankester spoke about the money. Always the money, ne? He said he asked Cape Town City if they wanted a festival, they said yes and they promised him money.

This week, Tony said they were getting R2.7-million and Cape Town’s City Hall as the festival hub.

Now there are serious politics going on here. The Eastern Cape government took a while to get behind the festival and in those early years of post-94 liberation politicians felt nothing to take the Guy Butler Theatre stage and ram a verbal spear into the heart of the Monument’s 1820 Settler ancestry. Lynette Marais, festival pioneer for the first two decades, burned a lot of rubber on the road to Bhisho to get the bucks to run the event.

Bhisho would cut it so fine, it was uncertain if the money would be paid in time.

But it came through, and that negative political position has done a total reverse: the provincial government now loves the festival and holds it so close to the chest during the traditional Thursday opening night that it’s a bit hard to breath.

So here we sit here in the faraway Eastern Cape hills wondering what the colonial mom city has up its sleeve for our festival, which was forged in passion and dedication yes, but also acrimony, whinging, madness, and even blood. People have died and been hurt on the road to Grahamstown and back.

This was our post-apartheid frontier. These arts came and opened our minds and hearts; we fought for this thing, we dhacks sent out words like seeds blasting in their thousands from aloe pods. And we laughed and cried and asked what the F***k was that all about?

Do we really wanna go? Have these execs become too smooth for us? Will Cape Town embrace us like we have embraced Cape Town with our terrible accommodation, iced-up metal seating with that blue cushion shaving?

Will there be wind, fire, hail, blackouts and bizarre statuettes of poor kids silently chooning you with intensely expressive eyes?

Or will it be smooth and rich and horribly comfortable?

So far the news is that Cape Town has indeed rolled out the carpet, but in the form of faux green grass leading up to the booking office.

Festival media spokeswoman Gilly Hemphill says Cape Town city has made it really nice for her team of media trainers.

But anyhoo, let me first get into my car, put hands on the wheel, pray that I get paid in time to put petrol in the tank, and get on the road.

I have arts, waves, friends and my children waiting there for me. What more could a man want? — Mike Loewe



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