THE Catalina Theatre is set to give Durbanites a taste of the National Arts Festival (NAF) when it hosts its Not the Grahamstown Festival.
The idea behind the event is three-pronged. First, to give locals who aren’t attending the NAF an opportunity to see some of the shows that will stage there. Second, to afford theatre companies the chance of a dry run performance before the main event in Grahamstown and third, to help these companies raise funds for their travels to the NAF.
In an interview with Tonight the new artistic director for Keep the Dream/Catalina UnLtd, Rowin Munsamy, explained that this local festival is making a comeback after many years, with plans for it to be a bigger, annual event.
“The Catalina did have a Not the Grahamstown Festival many years ago. This year we decided we are going to relaunch it. First, because a lot of artists need to raise funds to travel to Grahamstown and this will give them a chance to earn a portion of the door takings and the Catalina is also sponsoring some money towards their travel expenses.
“We also decided to go with the festival so that these companies that are new and fresh and making theatre come alive again, will have a platform not just to perform, but also to have a dry run before they get to the National Arts Festival, so that they are more polished and prepared for it,” he explained.
With Munsamy having theatrical experience in producing and performing, as well as at the NAF, we asked how important it was for productions to pre-stage publicly before getting to Grahamstown.
“When you get to a place like the NAF, you are in work mode. It’s a big challenge to go out there, advertise your show and get audiences to come to your show.
“There are 400 shows in the NAF and you have to fight for the audience to choose to come and see your show over the others. So if you have the confidence that your show works, and you’ve already checked it against an audience, you can take that confidence and use your energy elsewhere once you get to the NAF – in terms of your marketing and promotion strategy.
“If you pre-stage it you don’t have to worry about whether the production works. Grahamstown is the second-largest arts festival in the world; you don’t want to go there wondering if you have a good enough show.
“We are giving a platform for people to stage their shows and once they get feedback they know which areas might need some working on. They can push for their shows to be the best they can be in an international festival like Grahamstown,” he said.
Because they are just getting the Not the Grahamstown Festival off the ground this year, Munsamy said they had been quite flexible with the programme.
“If you put in an application, we put you on the programme, because we wanted to get the festival off the ground. But moving forward, next year when we have the festival again, it will have requirements like the NAF or the other festivals we have in South Africa. We want to have an application process, certain requirements, penalties if you pull out your show, etc. This year was just trial and error, but we are learning from our processes and next year we will be better.”
That said, Munsamy affirmed that the calibre of the productions at this year’s Not the Grahamstown Festival was high with some of the best smaller production companies Durban has to offer on the programme.
“I think it’s part of my vision for the Catalina as the new artistic director, to make it viable in terms of bringing quality shows here.
“We have to have a synopsis; tell us what the show is about, where has it staged or travelled before, what awards has your show won and so on. I’m not saying productions must be award-winning, but we want the theatre to host work that is of award-winning calibre.”
This year’s festival will see five productions staging. ScruffySession Productions presents She Put the “I” in Punchline; the Actors Unemployed Company presents Super Mokoena; GP Theatre, Arts and Dance Academy presents Prince Senie – The Curse of Logozo (Part one); two of Durban’s finest stand-up comedians, Jem Atkins and Glen Bo get together for Ex Men – The Last Stand, and SoundGaze: Moving Images of Marie in Woyzeck sees collaborations between South African and Zimbabwean artists culminating in a multimedia theatre and live music experience.