Too Few People Attend Art Festival

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK The poor audience attendance of most performances during the first phase of the fourth annual Bank Windhoek Arts Festival last weekend is a major concern for the organizers of the event. This became clear during an Art/Life interview with Professor Aldo Behrens, and assistant organizer, Chrisna Beuke-Muir. “Due to this rather negative tendency the attendance figures varied between five and 25 people at the shows, resulting in cancellations of specifically theatre performances at various of the 45 available venues. This is a totally shocking state of affairs,” said a worried Aldo Behrens. Some venue managers Art/Life spoke to reported attendance figures of one audience member per play performance. “This situation can be ascribed to the fact the Windhoek audiences as well as play performers need to be educated to understand and appreciate creativity in all its manifestations. The one is dependent on the other. You cannot expect people to attend a weakly constructed performance at high costs,” said Chrisna Beuke-Muir, who told Art/Life that the producer of one play indicated that his actors would improvise his play on stage as they go a long. She admitted the festival is experiencing a lot of growing pains that need to be overcome as a matter of urgency if the event is to survive in the future. “A South African musical had to be cancelled before it was even staged due to a total lack of audience support – only three tickets were sold. The performer was forced to pack up and return home. There is also a lack of standards within the works of township plays, something that has had a negative effect on attendance figures,” said Behrens, responsible for the selection of plays for the festival. According to him people are tired of seeing plays that were written years ago appearing on the festival. Art/Life pointed the fact out to Behrens that some of these plays are timeless ones that can be performed within the next fifty years because of relevant content, to which he responded: “Naturally there are exceptions,” he tried to rectify his rather non-flattering utterance. By his own admission the play, The Porridge Queen, was the only sold-out theatre performance on opening night. This play is to be performed tonight at 18h00 again at the Katutura Community Arts Center (KACA) as part of the second phase of the festival that starts today. “We have learned a number of lessons. Firstly, that the pre-festival is much more effective than a main festival. We should rather stage three events per month under the pre-festival programme than jamming in ten or more shows happening at the same time. This will lessen the pressure on actors as well as audiences. We should restructure the festival to allow for changes and improvements. We also need to more strongly combine arts and commerce under one umbrella,” Aldo said. He expressed his satisfaction about providing sufficient and well-equipped venues for the festival. “Technically, things are going smoothly due to the availability of above average infrastructure. Next year we will work much harder to better the festival by using the synergies of all creative participants in the festival. We will also continue with the newly introduced project of commissioned works, money permitting,” he said. Behrens is optimistic that more people will attend the shows and performances starting today and running until Sunday, the end of the festival. Art/Life reliably learned that the budget for The Lion’s Roar was N$100 000 and that 300 complimentary tickets were handed out for opening night.