Critique Against Arts Festival Format

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK The progressive Namibian theatre groups have expressed their profound disappointment in various aspects of the annual Bank Windhoek Festival, and will only take part again when a number of problems have been resolved by the organizers. “I am very disappointed about a number of aspects of the festival, something which had a very detrimental effect on audiences and a demoralizing influence on performers in the festival. Though a lot of advertising was done, I feel community performers were thrown to the wolves,” said the group leader of Homebrewed Productions, Vickson Angula. He blamed the weak audience attendances on the ill-timing of the festival. “The annual Ae//Gams Festival and the Bank Windhoek Festival are definitely overlapping. These two events should be shifted quite apart from each other because the one flows into the other, influencing the attendances. In my opinion, the latter festival should continue with its plausible format of a pre-festival so that people can rather focus on the first mentioned festival. This would be a win-win situation for both events which form an integral part on the capital’s cultural calander,” said Hangula, who staged the play, ‘Joseph’s Dilemma’. He also said the staging of the Bank Windhoek Festival is a misnomer insofar as it was presented at the time of the month when people have money to pay for shows. “Most shows were also exceptionally exorbitant and basically unaffordable. This had a profound negative effect on attendances, especially within the black community. It is my feeling that the festival is presently organized more like a one-man show. I propose Namibian artists be co-opted onto the organizing committee, because very little consultation took place between the organizers and the festival,” Hangula charged. In his opinion the festival, from an economic point of view, was worthless to most of the performers. “A new structure and format needs to be found so that everyone can gain. This I say with the fact in mind that many performers do what they do as a livelihood and to support their families. Very little money was invested in the community theatre productions whereas a substantial amount was budgeted for the commissioned play, something I find unacceptable. All productions should be treated equally,” Vickson asserted. In a press release, Committed Artists of Namibia (CAN), which staged the one-woman play ‘The Porridge Queen’, stated that the festival was organized in too much of a haphazard manner without taking the situation of community groups into consideration. “CAN has abstained from the Bank Windhoek Festival since its inception because of reservations the group had about the format of the festival, which is a far cry from festivals elsewhere in the world in which we have actively taken part. One cannot have ten plays opening on the same night and expect people to attend all of them at the same time. There exists a very small culturally active group of theatregoers who have been forced to divide their interests in shows during the festival,” the press release by the group’s organizing secretary, actress Felicity Celento, said on behalf of the artistic committee of CAN. “We will think twice before deciding to again take part in this particular festival, which presently needs a total overall change in format and structure. Once these changes for the better have been made, the festival has the potential to live up to the expectations of the Namibian people. Presently it only benefits a handful of people,” Celento said.