NAF 2021: The importance of being present in a time of absence


The National Arts Festival 2021- July 8-31,2021

Where: Online https://nationalartsfestival.co.za  – NOTE- no live events taking place in Makhanda, 2021

NAF 2021 online includes: Curated Programme (96 works), Fringe (127), Standard Bank Jazz Festival, exhibitions, workshops, Eastern Cape Showcase, Theatre for Young Audiences  

The National Arts Festival 2021 starts today, July 8, 2021 on the NAF’s dedicated platform https://nationalartsfestival.co.za The Curated Programme runs until July 31. The Fringe will stay up, online, after July 31 but offerings may change.  Will you be present in a time of absence; in a time of grief and loss; in a time when creatives need an audience? According to NAF, CEO, Monica Newton, last year, 2020, 83,126 users attended the online NAF. That is from Google Analytics. Of that number, 77,6% were local and 22,4% were international.

 In year two of the pandemic, in the midst of our devastating 3rd wave, I invite you to spread the word. We must strive for a spirit of equanimity. It is not only about online bums-on-seats. For creatives, it is about having work received; engaged with; appreciated. It is about dialogue and that is essential in this winter of 2021; South Africa. It is about being present at NAF 2021. Monica Newton says it is about “making an appointment”: Watching shows at an appointed time; together in spirit, but apart physically.


Online is not easy to navigate and as I write this, I hear you: You are streaming fatigued. You would rather watch Netflix or watch a sunrise and sunset or go for a hike. Some people have told me that they bought tickets to 2020 NAF and “it didn’t work” and they “gave up”. I cannot answer that- over 83 thousand managed to click in for the 2020 festival. This year, there is a chat facility on the NAF site. If you do encounter issues, there is help on hand. There is also a customer care line on the site. It costs R1000 for a full festival pass which provides access to the Curated Programme (Main) and R800 to the Standard Bank Jazz Festival but if you buy the Festival Pass, you get access to the Jazz. You can also buy single tickets to the Curated Programme. There is no festival pass for the Fringe. Right, so that is the housekeeping – the cost of attending. Yes, data costs in South Africa are high and if you don’t have a home or business internet plan, that is another factor.


During the pandemic, a lot of arts content has been available “for free” – free musicals, concerts. There is a view that arts content should be “free” and that is why people are resistant to purchasing tickets for the arts.  Let us unpack that one and bust that myth. I have been attending many online arts events which have been “free” with no ticket required and even then, attendance has often been abysmal. Many die-hard creatives and theatre goers have told me that they have “forgotten” to click in or been busy; watching sunrises and sunsets, hiking.  It takes effort to be present at any time – at an event and in year two of the pandemic- active effort is required to make an appointment to see a show. We are all tired; fatigued; in a fugue; absent to a degree.

A vital aspect of the 2021 NAF- the #vNAF is livestream offerings on both the Curated and Fringe Programmes. In 2020, at vNAF, some shows went out live – like The Big Comedy Show and there were other events. With vNAF2021, live has been activated across platforms. It is about gathering; communing at the same time, online. Most of the live shows will be recorded and then can be watched as VOD – video on demand. If you miss your “appointment”, you can catch up with VOD. It must be also noted, that the VOD content is available from today but live offerings go out according to the festival diary and then if feasible will be recorded and be made available as VOD. For example, Heather Massie is presenting her award winning solo play, Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr on July 10, 2021, at 5pm as a live stream from then RVK Fringe Festival in Reykjavík. Yes, that is in Iceland. Yes, the show will be live streamed from Iceland on the NAF website and there will be a Q&A after.  The Austrian born Hedy became a Hollywood film star and inventor. While navigating stormy relationships, as an inventor, she laid the groundwork for Wi-Fi. Now her story, evoked by Heather Massie will be live streamed from Iceland to the NAF in South Africa and then routed to viewers around the world. This is an indication of the scope of online. It is a medium in its own right –not a substitute. The 2021 NAF, is trailblazing the way – exploring the potential of online – and how it may be embraced to benefit creatives and audiences, no matter what lies ahead with Rona.

Jitsvinger – of the Jitsvinger Trio will be performing at NAF 2021, online.
Monica Newton – CEO of The National Arts Festival, online for the 2021 edition from Makhanda in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.