429 Handspring Puppet Company's Joey the War Horse was a hit in Grahamstown this morning when he visited the Drostdy Lawns at Rhodes University. Trailed by children and adults alike he walked and cantered around the lawns. 100714. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

The icy weather that has gripped Grahamstown these past few days has not kept patrons away.

Theatregoers are continuing to support the National Arts Festival regardless of the plummeting temperatures, according to organisers who announced a positive growth at its mid-point.

“We were about 6 percent ahead of last year’s figures in terms of tickets sold, and about 12 percent ahead in terms of the rand value of those tickets,” chief executive Tony Lankester said.

“With a massive weekend ahead of us (and temperatures rising), we’re confident we will see healthy growth for the final.”

The response has been “overwhelming” according to organisers for the 40th celebrations. “A rough count indicates that just over 200 performances have been sold out,” Lankester added.

These included performances by the visiting Geneva Ballet Company, which staged Midsummer Night’s Dream accompanied by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, re-boots of Ubu and the Truth Commission, Sylvaine Strike’s smash hit Black and Blue, and the Pieter Toerien-produced Tony-award winning Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike, as well as numerous performances on the fringe festival.

Audiences also seem to be gravitating to returning fringe hits like Big Boys 2, Crazy in Love, Gary Thomas, The Snow Goose, Epicene Butcher and Three Little Pigs – as well as brand new productions, including Hamlet! and Bash,” Lankester said.

“Artists who have developed a reputation over the years remain the big winners in the ticket race even if audiences are prepared to take some risks.”

Performances from visiting international artists, including Australian beatboxing and musical duo Jamie MacDowell and Tom Thum, the New York production Machine Makes Man and the smash hit from the Prague Fringe, Kafka and Son, have all played to sold-out or near capacity houses.

“I think we will see a bit of a swing towards the main fest this year, in response to the anniversary productions and the overall strength of the work,” Lankester added.

“We don’t think it’s a trend, rather a part of the natural annual ebb and flow between the two programmes. Audiences, mostly, don’t distinguish between the two, only seek out quality work.”

Earlier in the week, in a talk titled Life Begins at 40, he noted that predictions were a mug’s game.

“But if they don’t think ahead, 40 years on, the festival could simply disappear. What they’re aiming at is a new business model.

“They can’t keep relying on the festival to sustain itself. They have to diversify their revenue stream,” he said.

Already they have announced a Cape Town fringe festival, which Lankester hopes will supply a bit of a cushion. While he predicts the reliance on Grahamstown will shrink in future, it will always be their cornerstone.

The festival ends on Sunday. Read our coverage on www.iol.co.za