The National Arts Festival 2020 – vNAF – streaming from South Africa – epic and exciting arts festival in digital space

It is countdown to the 2020 National Arts Festival which begins on Thursday June 25 and runs until July 5. ✳ NOTE: The vNAF Curated Programme has been extended until July 16 2020. The vFringe has been extended until July 31.

The Festival will go live on on the morning of June 25, 2020 – the exact time will be confirmed and will end with the Standard Bank Ovations Awards on the evening of July 5 . More information is still coming in – regarding lift-off and events. Updates will be posted here, on TheCapeRobyn. It is a mammoth undertaking -taking a physical arts festival – in its 46th year –into a digital space. It is a work in progress. For now, it is about getting the word out. The purpose of this article is to provide information for artists who may still want to submit work for the vFringe – video-on-demand platform (applications close June 18) and to give audiences insight as to what is on offer; how much tickets cost and how to access digital downloads.

2020 National Arts Festival- at a glance – tickets

Location: online Note: there are no events taking place in Makhanda

Tickets for Curated Programme: R80 per day. R600 to attend the entire Curated Programme. The Jazz Festival is included in the pass for The Curated Programme. Pay R500 for access to the jazz only. But, for an extra R100, you get the whole package – jazz and theatre/comedy/etc. Tickets for the vFringe are not part of the R600 pass.

Tickets for vFringe – video-on-demand events: R25 – R80 per show

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival: A full pass costs R500. Pay R45 to attend a single show on the Jazz Festival.

Tickets for vFringe live/noticeboard: Buy from vendors who are hosting events on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Quicket etc. These ticket sales are not being facilitated through the NAF and the streams will not be hosted on the NAF viewing channel.

Full house price: If you want to attend the entire Curated Programme and the Jazz Programme that will come to R1 100- unless you buy Early Bird tickets. You will then need to add on tickets to attend the vFringe – video-on-demand. Tickets are only sold as singles for the vFringe vod. There are no day passes for the VFringe vod. Tickets to The Curated Programme and vFringe – vod are being sold on the vNAF website and recordings will be streamed on its encrypted platform. Early Bird tickets for the The Curated Programme will be released on June 18.

About the virtual National Arts Festival 2020, Covid-19

The 2020 NAF marks the 46th edition of South Africa’s premier arts festival which usually takes place in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown). The entire 11 day festival will be hosted online.

The decision to go virtual was announced on March 17, by Monica Newton, the CEO of NAF. That announcement was made when we were preparing for lockdown on March 26. The theatres had already gone into lockdown from March 15. It was a great call by the NAF to set the intention from the get-go. At that time, many people may have thought that there was a chance that a hybrid festival was possible. The NAF was prescient in deciding to go virtual as we see now, with the pandemic very much on the boil in South Africa.

In the early days of lockdown, many artists could not envisage presenting live on the internet. NAF publicist Sascha Polkey told me that there was initially uncertainty from artists as to how it could pan out but in the lead up to the festival, the submissions are streaming in. As I write, June 11, applications are being accepted for the vFringe – video-on-demand, up until June 20. Having said that, the festival will consider applications for vFringe Live/noticeboard right up until July 3 – “with a prerequisite 48 hours before the show can go live  Every attempt will be made to facilitate the process.

What to expect at the vNAF – recordings of live performance? Work which veers into art film?

Some creatives are recording live performance in a studio setting – to convey a sense of being there – watching a show. Other artists are tagging their work as films. For instance, dancer/choreographer/activist, Mamela Nyamza is positioning her piece, Pest Control as a Protest art film. She is working with a team of creatives – including a lighting designer and videographer. In taking live performance to a digital space, the medium of film has been used in its own right. This an art film, rather than a film recording. Pest Control is on the Curated Programme at the vNAF.

The structure of the vNAF 2020 (let us hope that there will not be a vNAF 2021 and that the fest will be live)

There will be two main platforms for NAF 2020

The Curated Programme and the vFringe (Virtual Fringe- the Fringe has two components – read on)

The selections for The Curated Programe have been made and have been locked down.

Applications for the vFringe – video-on-demand, are open until June 20. Submissions for VFringe Live/noticeboard – up to 48 hours before link goes live.

The Curated Programme

For The Curated Programme, the NAF is paying artists – like it always does. Tickets will be sold to attend these events on the NAF’s encrypted platform. This is the NAF’s dedicated streaming platform. It is not linked to YouTube, Instagram or Facebook. There are day passes and all-inclusive passes for the entire programme on The Curated Programme. The work will include theatre, music, and dance, films, live broadcasts, visual art ‘walkabouts’ and workshops.

vFringe – video-on-demand events

Artists who are taking part in the video-on-demand vFringe, are not being charged an admin fee as is the norm but these are not normal times. The NAF will take ten percent of the door which is a very decent deal for arts in the pandemic. Many artists do not seem to be aware of the benefits of VFringe vod, so if you are reading this, submit while you can. Tickets for vFringe vod, start at R25, with a variety of ticket options on offer.

The NAF has been shooting work across the country. One of the locations in Cape Town is 44 on Long Street. Many artists are also making their own arrangements. The Drama Factory in Cape Town is a theatre which has been re-purposed into a film studio and has been a popular venue for filming. As per level 3 lockdown regulations, strict protocols are being adhered to in terms of social/physical distancing and use of sanitizers.

Work that already exists- i.e. filmed recordings of live performance – may also be submitted – but has to adhere to the NAF specs for formatting.

Everything on the vFringe – video-on-demand and Curated Programme is going out in a pre-recorded format on the NAF’s encrypted platform. There are too many variables to navigate streaming live perforamance. But events will be live on noticeboard – read on.

vFringe live events- aka NAF noticeboard

The vFringe live – being tagged as ‘noticeboard” by many- is a platform for events which are being presented live during the festival period (June 25 to July 5). The event could be on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Events may include book and album launches. Send your proposal to the festival with the event link and it will be advertised on the vFringe platform. The placement will include a click through link to the event or channel. Artists may publicize free events and ticketed events. The NAF will not be involved as a ticket seller to these events/shows. It is up to event organisers to arrange ticket platforms or offer the events on a free access basis with the option of donation. The NAF requires that the details and a working link be sent through, a minimum of 48 hours before the start of the event so that it can be featured as a vFringe presentation. 


vFringe Visual Art Exhibitions

The NAF will be hosting a selected programme of visual art online and artists can present also present their work on the vFringe site. There is no charge to view. Buyers must get in touch directly with artists and galleries. The festival has no involvement in selling or commission.

vNAF internet advisory and access information

How it works: After purchasing your ticket, you will receive an e-mail with a URL link, which grants access to the show/s.

Can one rewind a stream:  You can watch it again. You can pause but not rewind or forward.

How many times may one watch on one ticket: If you have purchased a full festival pass to The Curated Programme and/or The Jazz Programme or for the vFringe – video-on-demand programme, you can watch each show five times. You will create a profile and as long as you are logged in on that profile, you can watch the show on any device up to five times in total across all devices.

Length of shows: It depends. Traditionally shows at NAF Fringe have usually clicked in at under an hour to allow set up and many artists seem to be using that as a guideline. However, there is no time constraint in digital space.

May one click in at any time for the whole Curated Programme: For example, if there is a walkabout, which has been pre-recorded, can one click in at any time? The answer from the NAF’s Sascha Polkey: “Yes that is correct. Unless it is a webinar or live event but that will be noted.”

Devices: Links will work on Windows/Apple/Android and other devices

Internet speed: If you have high speed internet, you should be fine. If necessary, use your smart phone as a hot spot and connect from there. It is the viewer’s responsibility to check on internet. Check your bandwidth.

Number of tickets on offer: The vNAF platform is equipped to accommodate high volumes of viewers but some shows are interactive and numbers are determined by the experience.

Encrypted platform: The vNAF has its own dedicated streaming platform. It is encrypted which means that links cannot be shared or copied. You can take a screen shot and that is it.

NAF info e-mail:

Helpline: If you get stuck, contact the helpline and ‘chat’  online between 7am and midnight or call between 9am and 10pm on 0860 002 000.

Helpline for Fringe – video-on-demand: As above but some producers on the vFringe vod are providing their own what’s app customer assist numbers. Read TheCapeRobyn – interviews will be posted.

Image credit: Pest Control -Mamela Nyamza. Photo by katty vandenberghe.