KATE DAVIES has been working for the National Arts Festival in various roles since 1996 – we think someone should give her a medal (or buy her a Bells!). As Festival Manager, Kate is the keystone that holds it all together, liaising between artists, the public and staff members – an expert at calmly juggling all the thousands of pieces that make up this sprawling event, somehow finding a way to keep everyone happy.
What does your job entail? How long have you been at NAF?
I started out as a temporary cashier in 1996 and came back in ‘97 and ‘98 to save up some money for my next travelling jaunt – NAF helped me to travel overland from Hong Kong to London via Russia and the Trans-Siberian! In 1999, I returned full-time and was appointed Box Office Manager, I migrated to Fringe Manager in 2003, and am now the Festival Manager. I supervise the admin side of the Festival and the other projects NAF is involved in – Cape Town Fringe, Creative City, Movies at the Monument etc. I’m responsible for all publications, overseeing the Box Office, Front-of-House and Fringe, administer the Arena Programme, Student Theatre Festival and the Festival of Film and Ideas, and do (as we all do) whatever else needs doing. This year is my 20th year at the Festival on a full-time basis – although it’s my 23rd consecutive Festival. I have the T-shirt!
What is the biggest change you have seen at the Festival over the years?
Wow – there are a lot – but probably it would be the fast-changing technical world that has changed the Festival the most. When I started, Lynette, the then Festival Director was using Word Perfect 5.1 – we have moved on a bit since then with a website, app, ticketing system, social media, and the rest but it’s happened very fast and we are seriously kept on our toes keeping up with a very fast-spinning world.
What is the single greatest asset a Festival Manager can’t do without?
Patience. And a very close second would be loyalty and love – for the job and its purpose.
Best bits about your job?
Being at the door when an audience exits, watching their faces and listening to the conversation about what they’ve seen or experienced; hearing about Fringe companies getting extended seasons at other Festivals or theatres; having a glass of wine while doing the Stop Press [announcements for the following day] with whoever is left in the office at the end of a hectic Festival day; being able to treat my mom and daughter (from the age of 4 to 15) to tickets to the Gala concert and experiencing their joy at the little ‘surprises’ Richard Cock always has in store; getting mails from novice festival goers and/or artists after the event and hearing about their experience; being dragged to the Long Table by well-meaning colleagues and paying for it the next day; having a week’s holiday in August with my long-suffering family and not dreaming about the Festival.
Mmm – I’m not sure I should answer this one… Ok, here goes: people who point out (with a certain sense of satisfaction) the obvious typo in the programme after it’s been printed and I can do nothing about it; and carelessness – it drives me dilly, especially when it’s so easy to avoid and such a mission to remedy.
Which artists surprise you the most?
Alan Committie, Rob van Vuuren, Dylan Moran – all super nice people, brimming full of talent but with their feet firmly planted on the ground (strange that they’re all comedians). The ballet dancers from Cape Town City Ballet who usurp the smoking room at the Monument and the orchestra members who keep the bar propped up during symphony concert intervals. The guys from Police Cops – they’re humble, hard-working and so excited and incentivised by what they’re doing and, as a result, are such cool role models. Youngsters such as Pendo Masote and Neo Motsatse – what bright futures these two have; people like Nicholas Ellenbogen, who have never missed a Festival since the inception and are still going strong. I’ll stop here – I’m lucky enough to have met some really awesome people (as well as a good dose of drama queens) – it’s difficult to single out any one in particular.
Some highlights over the years – favourite or funniest moments?
The Soil chose the chaos of a mid-Festival, city-wide electricity blackout to come into my office and serenade me – I’ll never forget that – I was torn between their beautiful voices and the urgent need to help negotiate the situation of a black-out in 60-odd venues… the voices won out.
Danielle (our receptionist for the past 22 years) found what she thought was a (very convincing) doggy-do in front of her desk and came to ask me what to do about it – we eventually figured out it was a marketing gimmick by Gaetan Schmid for his production, The Dogs Bollocks.
The year that Tony Lankester (our current CEO, then running the Taphuis) floated a giant blow-up doll above his venue and the phone calls we received from Grahamstown’s ‘blue rinse brigade’ breathing hell and damnation upon us all (the doll was dismantled shortly after Tony’s visit to Lynette’s office…)
There are loads of behind the scenes things that go wrong and we scramble to put right that no one on the public side ever know about – when that happens there’s quite often a bit of hilarity in the office – from the adrenaline of a near-miss or the glee of not being caught out – those moments are cherished as fond memories (but, I can’t let the cat out of the bag now or ever).
What is your favourite stress-time snack?
Biltong and white wine – Or a Lunchbar when I’m tired and need a sugar rush
Something about you no one knows…
Everyone (at the office) knows that I make the BEST milk tarts; not many people know that I also make the BEST apple crumble. Also, I would love to be paid to drive a truck across America with my husband and (hopefully) discover that it’s not like it appears on the sitcoms… one day.