Mike Loewe

THE National Arts Festival drew to a close in glorious weather with festival bosses expressing optimism that the earlier reported increases in attendances could be sustained through to the end.

Artists applauded as a series of Ovation Awards, Student Festival Awards and invites for 13 SA shows, including two theatre company’s to perform at fringe festivals in New York, Brighton in the UK and Amsterdam, Prague, Perth, Adelaide  were announced by festival CEO Tony Lankester and creative director Ismail Mahomed.

The invites came from members of the World Fringe Alliance, a process driven by Lankester, who is the association’s first chairman.

Playwright and cultural activist Mike van Graan was given the Standing Ovation award for plays slating the excesses of the new political and economic order.

He said artists were guilty of economic self-censorhip for fear of not being able to raise funding or attract audiences.

While he as fiercely supportive of the space created by the festival for freedom of expression and creativity, he said too many of the shows delved into internal or personal stories, and did not directly challenge the broader social issues.

However, he said his works, which harshly criticise business and political thuggery, were drawing big audiences, which proved there was a market for work which occupied the broader public space.

However, the head of the Ovation panel, Adrienne Sichel said fears of a repeat of last year’s escapist works had been alleviated as she felt artists had returned to South African issues and material, with pieces exploring male sexuality in times of war, hidden histories about previously taboo relationships such as a white artist’s loving relationship with his domestic nanny, a woman of colour who mostly raised him. Another work delved into the rape of a handicapped woman

However, while there had been a return to 80s-styled protest theatre, she said the works were sophisticated and contemporary.

Sichel said audiences had reflected a good demographic mix with festinoes speaking unselfconsciously in universal terms about work, regardless of colour.