The National Arts Festival's Think!Fest to Offer Fascinating Food for Thought

A scene from Brett Bailey's IPI ZOMBI? Bailey will
discuss Third World Bunfight's 20-year existence as a
socially conscious theatre company as part of the Art
Talks and Walkabouts programme at Think!Fest.
Photo credit: Elsabe van Tonder

With South Africa facing complex, challenging and invigorating times, this year's Think!Fest promises to grapple with some of the burning issues on the country's agenda. Student protests and the #fallist movement, decolonisation, the plight of refugees and the migration crisis, multiple identities and belonging, gender-based and xenophobic violence, as well as the value of the arts, will all be up for discussion at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Professor Anthea Garman, the convenor of Think!Fest, comments on what 2016's edition of the annual series of panel discussions and debates holds:

This year's programme is probably the most intertwined arts and politics programme we have produced yet. It reflects the subject matter of the performances on the Festival programme and it draws a host of very interesting people into conversation with each other and audiences.

Some of the highlights from programme include: the "Challenging Perceptions" platform, which includes a panel discussion on Decriminalising Dagga as well as Schindler Attorneys Senior Associate Paul-Michael Keichel talking about how South Africa's Dagga Couple are challenging the criminality of cannabis in Weeding out Legislative Hypocrisy; the "Burning Issues" topics, which include a focused roundtable with students, academics, researchers and a journalist? on student protests and politics entitled The Hashtag Protests and Student Politics in South Africa, a panel discussion on University Fees and whether free higher education is possible in South Africa and a screening of Disrupt, a feature-length documentary by Activate relating to the #RUReferenceList and rape culture at universities, which will be followed by a talkback with the filmmakers; three panel discussions on the role of the arts in South Africa as part of a "Theatre in Context" conversation, including Andrew Buckland, Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Paula McFetridge, Gertrude Fester and Marcia Blumberg on Reconciliation In and Through Performance; Phyllis Klotz, Jackie Rens, Warona Seane and Jade Bowers on Women in Theatre, and Mike van Graan, Gita Pather, Alex Sutherland, Emma Durden and Peter Marx under the chairmanship of Chris Thurman on Theatre as a Tool for Activism and Healing.

Mandisi Sindo and Siya Sikawuti in Mike van Graan's
RETURN OF THE ANCESTORS. Van Graan will take
part in a panel on Theatre as a Tool for Activism and
, chaired by Chris Thurman.
Photo credit: Jesse Kramer

There will also be a series of Book Launches for titles like the latest Short.Sharp.Stories collection, Die Laughing, as well as the brand-new guide from Emma Durden and Roel Twijnstra, Theatre Production in South Africa - Skills and Inspirations. Authors in Conversation sessions will be held with Albie Sachs and Margit Niederhuber on My Johannesburg, Greg Homann on The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary SA Theatre, Sylvia Vollenhoven on The Keeper of the Kumm, Joanne Hichens on Sweet Paradise and Fezile Sonkwane on Native Footprints. Rob van Vuuren and Danielle Bischoff will put a family spin on things in their talk about the children's book, Florence and Watson and the Sugar Bush Mouse.

There are also Post-performance Discussions with the directors and artists of more than a dozen productions, offering audience members the opportunity to engage with the theatre-makers themselves immediately after first performances of pieces presented on the Main programme.

As a host of open and frank conversations, Think!Fest encourages all Festival-goers and Grahamstown residents to participate in a discussion on the role of a national arts festival in contemporary South Africa. The session will be co-ordinated by Festival CEO Tony Lankester and chair of the NAF Artistic Committee Brett Bailey. Now in its 42nd year, the National Arts Festival is the largest and longest-running celebration of the arts on the African continent. For 11 days, an eclectic mix of drama, dance, music, performance and visual art, street performances and family fare is presented in the transformed Eastern Cape town, enthralling and entertaining thousands of visitors. The community of Grahamstown is also invited to attend a discussion about the future role and positioning of the 1820 Settlers Monument, which was opened in the mid-1970s

The Think!Fest programme will be presented at the National Arts Festival with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands and in partnership with City Press from 1 - 8 July. All talks are held at Eden Grove on Rhodes University campus. To browse the Think!Fest programme and to book tickets, visit the National Arts Festival website. Tickets cost R40, with a concession price of R30 for students and pensioners, unless otherwise stated in the programme. Full details of the programme, speaker biographies and topic descriptions are be available in the Think!Fest brochure. Follow the National Arts Festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and using the hashtag#NAF16.

The National Arts Festival is grateful to the National Lotteries Commission, the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Provincial Government, M-Net and Standard Bank of South Africa for sponsorship.

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