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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

HILTON FESTIVAL WRAP-UP (article first published : 2005-09-20)

This was never going to be an easy year for the Witness Hilton Arts Festival. In May - only four months ago - the festival organiser Sue Clarence received a curt email from Nedbank terminating their sponsorship. She then asked the National Arts Council for half a million rand so that she and Ellis Pearson could instigate a project in the Umgeni valley to involve the community there in the festival. The NAC came up with R30,000 towards the festival's administration costs. And to add to financial woes, this has not been a vintage year for South African theatre.

Even so, when business closed on a hot Saturday night, 87%** of tickets on the Main festival had already been sold - a better figure than last year's. In real terms, this means 9,204 "bums on seats" out of a possible 10 582 - and that was still with a day to go. The Fringe did not do so well at 65,5% by Saturday night, although both Music Revival and Brainfest were producing good figures.

Saturday's heat meant a tough day (600 litres of mineral water were sold) for stallholders and performers - and audiences- but the festival was humming and for once there was no Hilton mist or rain all weekend. There were highlights and low points - see separate article for what the Witness's team of reviewers liked and disliked. There was also tragedy. The KZNPO played with an empty chair in the second violins, a red rose placed on its seat in memory of Carol Muir, the 28 year old pregnant wife of the orchestra manager who was killed in a car accident on Friday afternoon.

For the first time, the festival received a visit from the provincial minister of Arts and Culture, Narend Singh, who told Clarence he was delighted with what he saw - and wants to meet her again and talk some more. As he is known to be keen to see more crossover between the various communities in KZN in the arts field, it will be interesting to see what comes of it at a time when the malaise in the management of the South African arts scene is becoming more and more damaging.

Corporate sponsors are pulling out, and while the appointment of Dr Pallo Jordan as national Minister of Arts looked encouraging for a while - he showed a new broom to the NAC and attempted to sweep their board to oblivion. But no new board has yet been appointed, and almost nothing is being done to close the gap between commercial and community theatre - the main way for any kind of fusion or crossover to be created.

In reality, the gap is widening, and it is pointless to blame theatre managements for still being Eurocentric when they have to please the only audience they have. Over the past decade, there have been glimmers of hope, but they have mostly flickered out.

However, looking into her crystal ball on Sunday morning, Clarence was foreseeing good things for the 2006 festival. Let's hope she is right and is seeing something hidden from most of us. Margaret von Klemperer

**At the end of the Festival, the percentage of tickets sold on the Main was 94%.

The 2006 Witness Hilton Arts Festival takes place from September 15 to 17. Book your accommodation now!




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