Smithfield Platteland Preview: Welcome to the Festival

The woman across from me at the table looked stressed.   She shouldn’t have been:  the food, the wine, the conversation were all excellent.  “I’m taking a show to the festival in Grahamstown,” she said, “and after dinner I must do a last run-through.”

In no time she was performing in the stone barn where we live, in front of a fire and a small but appreciative audience.   Next morning she said, “This is an idea that could catch on.”

And that’s how the Plattteland Preview was born.   The Preview provides shows heading for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown with a chance to iron out their creases.  Local people provide performers with free accmmodation and venues.   Audiences sit on couches and chairs close to the performers in the Red Barn whilst sheep nibble grass and weeds outside the other main venue, historic Bell’s Chapel.

We started with one show; last year we a had a full-on weekend festival; this year we’re already too big to manage on our own and we thank Rouxville, the next small town along the N6 , for helping accommodate some performers.

Fringe activities have also grown, with special exhibitions by local and nationally-acclaimed artists in local galleries (with the artists in attendance), shows of exquisite quilting and other craft, the witty work of a jewellery artist, food and other market stalls, and live music at our eateries.

The wider impact of an arts fest can be huge.  Few local adults have experienced the live arts, some of which directly challenge their world view.  Almost no child has seen live theatre, so we invite learners to a special show and let them chat with the cast afterwards.  A new idea of life opens up.

A festival like this, brief as it is, also means piece-work for the unemployed, an increase in income for struggling shops and bed-and-breakfasts and a real reason for improving social relations. The networking is amazing: local teacher Mary Maseli will attend the National Arts Festival this ear as an official guest. Her show tickets, board and lodging, skills development and mentoring have all been funded – imagine what she will have to share with her classes afterwards!

Another miracle: professional musicians, due to play this year’s festival heard about despondent local school music teachers who have no training n the subject.  They’ve now arranged a weekend crash course to help.

But these community advantages depend on performers benefitting from the chance for a run-through before opening in Grahamstown.  It looks promising:

So far the Preview’s “rehearsal opportunity” is achieving results.  Among “our” shows we already count several prize-winners, including two sought-after Standard Bank Ovation Awards, picked up in Grahamstown a few days after the Preview, with performers saying later that our festival helped by giving them confidence and polish.

None of this wold have been possible without local hospitality, and special thanks are due for accommodation and other preparations for making our guests feel welcome.

We welcome all the 2014 Preview performers and artists but we must mention three by name.   David Butler has brought The Ballad of Dirk de Bruin to town.   This is a new work by Chris Mann, one of South Africa’s major poets, and we are very lucky to have the world premiere in Smithfield!  Actor-director Jerry Mofokeng, the newly appointed director of the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State (Pacofs), has generously agreed to bring the full cast of his musical play, Grandma’s Song, to our festival, to preview the show for local learners and to run a youth workshop in Zastron afterwards.   We commissioned Yolanda de Kock of Oliewenhuis Art Museum to bring a special exhibition to the Preview.  Entitled, In Transit, the show involves some of the most exciting your Free State artists.   Don’t miss it.

Our thanks to ProBono.Org for securing the help of legal firm Spoor and Fisher whose attorneys steered our registration as a non-profit festival company.  And we thank the Arts and Culture Trust (ACT) for funding to help publicise the Preview – we hope this is the start of a wonderful relationship|

Finally, thanks to generous local donors for understanding the festival dream; to a festival committee for their hard work,, and to the mayor and municipal manager of Mohokare for their message of support.

Carmel Rickard

Festival director.