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Grahamstown: See How Little Style Costs

2008-06-30 17:55
Watch the video mash-up medley of Deon Esterhuizen live singing "Meisiekind, ek will jou hê".
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Anyone who's done the festival knows that it always costs you way more than you planned. For starters, Fringe shows come in at around R60 a go, and the mains are much, much pricier. Then there's the drinks and coffees you have between shows to pass the time rather than walk home, and the hats, scarves, and other stuff that you buy that's of no future use to unless you live somewhere colder - and that's unlikely. Add it up? You're lucky if the festival comes in under R250 a day for two shows and survival, before accommodation.

Sure it's worth it if you got the cash to gamble on whether you'll enjoy a show, or not. But gambling on art's not within the price range of most of the people who actually live in Grahamstown. The kids who busk (or beg, it varies) as mimes might be able to club together for a plastic toy gun at the end of the day, but they're not going to the shows, or desperately queuing to score the last tickets to the Old Mutual Acoustic Encounters.
That doesn't mean that the festival isn't a completely different time bubble - and that the kids in the streets and the old lady rationing her carefully-kept pension won't remember each festival forever. The whole town really seems in on it, and into it. The festival isn't just for art. It's also for the mama car-guarding in a skirt and no stockings until two in the morning, to the kids watching the free stuff around the village green. It's for the crowds gathering at the old Apartheid-styled Settlers Monument to see snippets of shows together with out-of-town punters every evening. It's also for returning guest stars, the P.E. police force... they'll include you by stopping you for a friendly body-search if you're caught walking around being black in the suburbs. It's just like old times, sometimes. But friendlier.

So ultimately, whoever you are, it's a FESTIVAL. Which is good. And retailers like Russels, who know how little style costs them, are in on it too. They hired sokkie-singer Deon Esterhuizen to perform in the street outside the store with his CDs on sale, facilitated by his friendly estate agent wife. While he sang, families danced with their kids on the pavement, and mauve-flower-clad tannies gathered in wonderment, waiting in line for a hug. All for free! A passing grandpa bought the album for cash.

So the Grahamstown National Arts Festival is everybody's. But different, not equal. And great fun.

- Jean Barker

For richer or for poorer, the arts festival is anyone's game. The kids, the mamas, the thesbians, the lesbians, the shoppers from P.E... and Russels Furniture Store, who hired crooner Deon Esterhuizen to perform sokkie love songs live outside their shop. That's how very little style costs you.

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