Cost of entertaining: Most independent theatre makers, especially with new productions, experience financial losses at the Fringe in Grahamstown.Picture: SUPPLIED
Cost of entertaining: Most independent theatre makers, especially with new productions, experience financial losses at the Fringe in Grahamstown.Picture: SUPPLIED

Exciting, fresh new theatre makers rely on the annual National Arts Festival Fringe in Grahamstown to showcase their work. It raises their profile and often leads to opportunities in SA and internationally.

But it is expensive to be there, says independent theatre maker Philip Rademeyer, who has taken his productions to the Fringe since 2012. The festival takes place from June 29 to July 9.

Most independents, especially new and unknown productions, experience financial losses at the Fringe — a platform for independent theatre because it has open access, unlike the main programme that is curated by a panel.

"As an independent theatre maker, you need to book venues, which cost up to R600 per performance and which you have to pay for irrespective of how many people attend," Rademeyer says.

"You also need to pay the travel costs and accommodation for your production and crew, including 12 nights in Grahamstown, and you need to market your production to attract audiences. Despite this, it’s a key platform for recognition and opportunities. I have been able to take productions to Amsterdam, Artscape and the Market Theatre because people experienced them at the National Arts Festival. And many other independent theatre makers will tell you the same."

To assist independent theatre makers with their costs, this year the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) awarded a development grant to The Edge, a theatre hub that has a well-deserved reputation for innovative, high-quality South African productions. Now in its 11th year, it is run by Rademeyer, Tara Notcutt and Wynne Bredenkamp.

ACT is this country’s premier independent arts funding and development agency, funded by Nedbank Arts Affinity to extend arts and culture opportunities to all communities.

Individual artists or arts organisations in any genre in SA can apply to ACT for funding through its diverse programmes. The Edge is one of 12 recipients recently awarded a grant from ACT’s Professional Development Programme for the first half of 2017.

"Getting the ACT grant means an enormous amount to The Edge as it allows us to give directly to independent theatre makers, pay some of their venue-hire costs, market the productions and the venue and transform the venue and its surrounds into a vibrant space where people want to gather," says Rademeyer, who has a reputation for bold, exciting work.

He won’t be taking a production to the Fringe in 2017, but will be co-ordinating The Edge’s eight productions at the Princess Alice Hall in Grahamstown, which seats about 180 people.

"Being part of The Edge helps independents in many different ways. It has a good reputation among festivalgoers, which helps you garner more attention and gets your name out there," Rademeyer says.

"Being part of a highly committed, creative group means the artists also support and encourage each other. It is stressful taking a show to the Fringe and it can be a very lonely process."

The team is known for their high-quality work and in this production James Cairns recounts an epic tale of Faustian proportions as Billy Markham decides to gamble with the
devil

The Edge also builds administrative and management capacity to collectively produce and promote independent companies. In 2016, Rademeyer’s production, The Graveyard was staged at the Fringe and won a silver ovation award. Sillage, which he co-produced in 2016, won a gold ovation award. It returns to the Fringe in 2017, written, directed and produced by Penny Youngleson.

"The term sillage refers to the scent of a perfume that lingers in the air and this production is a poignant and hard-hitting story about a mother and daughter who get to know each other by packing up their family home," he says.

"Productions often return to the National Arts Festival several years in succession as they gain momentum, exposure and popularity," Rademeyer says.

A popular returnee to The Edge in 2017 is the 2016 silver ovation award winner, We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants, directed by Lindiwe Matshikiza and performed by festival favourite Jemma Kahn and Roberto Pombo.

"In this production, Kahn and her sidekick tell seven stories based on the seven deadly sins, using a traditional Japanese form of storytelling, kamishibai. The stories will seduce the sinless and astonish the immoral."

A new production with The Edge in 2017 is The Devil and Billy Markham, written by Shel Silverstein, directed by Jenine Collocott and performed by James Cairns.

"The team is known for their high-quality work and in this production James Cairns recounts an epic tale of Faustian proportions as Billy Markham decides to gamble with the devil," says Rademeyer.

Cattle Drive, written and directed by Luke and Nicholas Ellenbogen joins The Edge in 2017. It deals with the great cattle drives through the bush of Botswana, which were a coming of age for young men. It is performed through a combination of movement, dance and storytelling.

Oh Baby, I’m a Wild One is written and directed by Louis Viljoen — one of the most prolific and celebrated writers in Cape Town. A young teacher arrives home from her sister’s wedding to an empty apartment, a  bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes. She has a story to tell, but doesn’t quite know where  to begin.

Another expected production is the 2016 ovation award winner You Suck (and Other Inescapable Truths), written by Klara van Wyk and directed by Francesco Nassimbeni.

"This hilarious and poignant show documents the misadventures of a Grade 9 girl, Pretina de Jager, as she tries to become part of her school’s A-group and offers crucial high school survival advice," says Rademeyer.

Undermined, directed by Tara Notcutt (2014 ovation award) uses comic book and African storytelling against the backdrop of urban Jozi and its deep mines.

Notcutt is also directing Memorable Moments, written and produced by Stuart Lightbody, an internationally award-winning illusionist who performs some of his favourite pieces from his past seven one-man shows and a few brand-new ideas.

The Edge has brought local entrepreneur Mlindi Nhanha on board in 2017 as a caterer, contributing to the local economy.

"Marketing and atmosphere is a huge part of the National Arts Festival and you have to put effort into maximising these if you want to attract audiences, attention, opportunities and accolades," says Rademeyer.

"All the members of The Edge pull together to achieve this, from assisting each other with front of house management to supporting each other through this exciting, stressful time to spreading the word that The Edge is the venue for must-attend shows."

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