Intense, At A Glance

musings of a professional dreamer

No amount of preparation could have readied me for what I have experienced over the past two weeks. A few people have asked me how the National Arts Festival was, and my response is simply this: “Intense”.

I arrived in Grahamstown expecting to be blown away by a festival that has certainly lived up to (and possibly exceeded) its reputation in my mind. In all honesty, I didn’t really know what to expect, and as I drove into that small out-of-the-way town in the Eastern Cape, the nervous excitement was almost overbearing. I have to admit to it all being a bit of a blur now… a blur of flyers, posters, shows, early mornings and crazy late nights of brandy and laughs… and cold that challenged my Durbanness to its core (unfortunately it didn’t snow, although now I’m not so sure I would’ve enjoyed the added intensity). About five days in to the festival (which was fifteen days in total), it felt like I’d been there for months. The amount of work and determination that goes in to performing at this festival is wild, and nothing like I imagined. But that’s not to say I didn’t have the time of my life!

Attendance at the festival this year wasn’t quite what was hoped for, possibly due to overestimating the impact the World Cup would have, so to be honest, financially for me it was a bit of a disaster. Having said that though, if I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would. I met incredible people, caught up with old friends, experienced theatre and music that literally moved me to tears, I laughed ‘til it hurt, and on the business front, I made amazing industry contacts that will serve me well for the future, and scored some pretty sweet press reviews. I can’t wait ‘til next year!

The early stages of making a living as a musician are, at the best of times, a financial challenge, so prioritising what you spend your money on is paramount, and at an Arts Festival it’s obviously all about the Art and experiencing as much of it as possible. So living off a supply of cereal and soup (and the kindness of family and friends who popped into the festival for a few days at a time, treating me to slightly more nutritious options) for two weeks was only a small sacrifice in comparison to the incredible talent I witnessed.

My tastes at the moment generally lean towards lighter entertainment so I focussed quite a bit on the comedy talents showing at the festival – Paul Zerdin, Rob van Vuuren, David Newton and Dekaf – all of whom had me in stitches, lifting my spirits when the hard slog of the fest was overwhelming.

On the music front, I managed to catch sets by Guy Buttery (which was truly beautiful), Karen Zoid, Autopilot, Nibs van der Spuy, Gary Thomas and a super rad band from Jozi that I now highly recommend, Outside The New (who also won an Ovation Award at the festival). I’m looking forward to possibly collaborating with these crazy boys in the near future, and have to say I’m too keen to make some noise again. As a musician I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve never attended a jazz concert before, but that has now been rectified. I only made it to one jazz offering – Melanie Scholtz and The Love Apples – purely because, as a musician, I can only put up with so many solos before I start losing patience and interest. Don’t get me wrong, once I managed to focus my attention away from the fact that the pianist was very skilfully playing my dream piano (a beautiful shiny Kawai), I really did enjoy the show, but perhaps I need to be exposed to a bit more jazz to fully appreciate the vibe.

I loved the other productions that I made it to (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”, “Extra-Ordinary”, “Rumpsteak” and “Stilted”) and am more than satisfied with my detox sacrifices. But on the last day of the festival, after my final performance, possibly feeling a little emotional about the whole experience coming to an end, I treated myself to one last production and it was the perfect end to my festival. “Hats”. It’s physical theatre, which, even as a drama major, is not something I’ve ever had the chance to experience prior to the festival. The two cast members are incredibly talented and watching their physical theatrics in itself was a treat, but their execution of the story caught me unaware and I found myself moved to tears by its beauty. It was an emotional encounter that could not have been more perfectly timed.

Truly explaining the festival as a whole, and my full and overwhelming experience of it all, is not possible. So these small moments and thoughts serve only as a glance into an intense two weeks that taught me so much more about myself and my craft, and further add to the awesome ride that is this life on the road. It was intense.

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© Shannon Hope 2017