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HANDS ON! MASKS OFF! (article first published : 2008-06-7)

Artists and performers at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this year are not only being given the opportunity to showcase their talents on stage, but also to refine and learn skills in an innovative series of workshops and seminars titled Hands On! Masks Off!

“When artists step off the stage or out of their studios they often struggle to manage the business and strategic side of their careers – issues like copyright, marketing, dealing with the media, finding new platforms for their work and ways to stretch themselves creatively,” Ismail Mahomed, Festival Director Designate said.

Hands On! Masks Off! aims to fill those gaps, and is a programme featuring workshops, discussion forums, networking opportunities and seminars for artists, giving them the skills and insights they need to effectively manage their careers.

South African satirist Pieter Dirk Uys is headlining the big names in the industry who will share their skills with new and emerging artists by leading a one hour workshop with festival producers in which he will share the secrets of his success as South Africa’s No 1 brand in political satire. Pieter Dirk Uys will also launch the Hands On! Masks Off! programme at a reception hosted during the Festival. Joining Pieter Dirk Uys in this new initiative are artistic directors of some of the leading South African theatres who will discuss how fringe festival participants can grow their productions to become mainstream productions. Malcolm Purkey (Market Theatre), Aubrey Sekhabi (State Theatre), Linda Bukhosini (Playhouse Theatre) and Karen Meiring (Oude Libertas Theatre) will discuss the artistic visions and artistic policies of their theatres.

In a four part Breaking Barriers Series, producers who have successfully moved from the Fringe Festival to become part of the mainstream theatre industry will explain how they managed to succeed. Amongst these producers will be Mike van Graan, Rajesh Gopie, Jullian Seleke Mokoto, Mathew Ribnick, Geraldine Naidoo and Martin Koboekae.

“This is a commendable initiative which will see emerging managements grow beyond expectations”, says Dawn Lindberg, the Executive Director of the Theatre Managements Association South Africa (TMSA). “It is timely in that arts organizations are once again debating how to transform and grow the industry”. Dawn Lindberg will also host a workshop during the National Arts Festival for new and emerging managements who may want to know about how her organization, TMSA, can advance their growth in the industry. Dawn Lindberg will also answer questions related to the recent controversy surrounding the Gauteng-based Naledi Theatre Awards.

In another pioneering collaboration, Brett Pyper, the Artistic Director of the ABSA KKNK Festival, will talk about their commissioning policies; explaining how producers at the National Arts Festival can subsequently tour their productions to KKNK.

In the recent wake of xenophobic events around the country, the Africa Centre will host a series of three workshops on how to extend cultural exchange into and with the rest of Africa. Three of the productions on this year’s Fringe programme are from states in the SADC region.

A series of three workshops will focus specifically on the relationship between socio-political events and how South African playwrights reflect these events in their writings. Activist artists Bobby Rodwell and Lesego Rampolokeng will share with festival participants how they have used testimonies in the creation of their theatre productions. Visiting US academic Kimberley Segall will share testimonies from South Africa and those that she obtained from soldiers in Iraq.

The Hands On! Masks Off!! programme has invited prominent arts journalists to assist new and emerging arts publicists to grow the profiles of their productions. SAfm’s Michelle Constant and The Star Tonight’s Adrienne Sichel will offer a series of workshops which will teach participants the basics of putting together a good press kit for a production.

Hands On! Masks Off! deals with the many facets of being an artist. The all-important business side will be covered but there will also be opportunities for artists and writers to stretch themselves, to analyse and question the context in which they work, improve the technical side of their craft, and to meet like-minded artists, becoming part of a strong network of shared experience between successful practitioners and new, emerging artists,” Ismail Mahomed said.

Recently appointed National Arts Festival CEO, Tony Lankester, said that the series was part of the Festival’s vision to look beyond “ten days in Grahamstown” and to become a vital part of the broader South African arts community. “While we’re a significant showcase for South African talent we recognise that it is also important to make a contribution to the community’s growth and viability,” he said. “There is no substitute for practical learning from experienced practitioners, and we hope that artists will grab the opportunity with both hands.”

Through sponsorship from the National Arts Council, there will be no admission fee for the sessions which will be held at Oatlands School Hall in African Street throughout the Festival, although participants will be required to register in advance.

Full details about the Hands On! Masks Off! project and the programme for the National Arts Festival’s main and fringe programme can be obtained at www.nationalartsfestival.co.za




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