There’s no doubt that this is a complex, challenging and invigorating time to be South African – and this year’s Think!Fest, a series of panel discussions and debates held as part of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, 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 and the future of the Festival itself will all be up for discussion during Think!Fest, which runs from Friday 1 July to Friday 8 July.
‘This year’s programme is probably the most intertwined arts and politics programme we have produced yet,’ says Prof Anthea Garman, the convenor of Think!Fest. ‘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 highlights from the Think!Fest programme:
- CHALLENGING PERCEPTIONS: Decriminalising Dagga – a panel discussion and Weeding out Legislative Hypocrisy with Schindler Attorneys Senior Associate Paul-Michael Keichel, who will talk about how South Africa's @daggacouple are challenging the criminality of cannabis.
- BURNING ISSUES: A focus on student protests and politics on Monday 4 July will include a roundtable on The Hashtag Protests and Student Politics in South Africa, with students, academics, researchers and a journalist; as well as a panel discussion on whether free higher education is possible in South Africa. There will also be a screening of Disrupt, a feature-length documentary by Activate relating to the #RUReferenceList and rape culture at universities. It will be followed by a Q&A session with the film makers.
- THEATRE IN CONTEXT: Three panel discussions on the role of the arts in South Africa will be held on Sunday 3 July:
- Join actors Andrew Buckland and Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Irish theatre director Paula McFetridge, activist Gertrude Fester and author Marcia Blumberg for Reconciliation In and Through Performance.
- Women in Theatre: Phyllis Klotz, founder of the Sibikwa Arts Centre, actor and department head at Oakfields College Jackie Rens, director and teacher Warona Seane, and Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jade Bowers will share their thoughts and experiences as female art practitioners in South Africa.
- Mike van Graan, Gita Pather, Alex Sutherland, Emma Durden and Peter Marx will talk about the effectiveness of theatre as tool for activism and healing under the chairmanship of Chris Thurman.
- BOOK LAUNCHES and AUTHORS IN CONVERSATION: Look out for the launch of 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 Albie Sachs and Margit Niederhuber (My Johannesburg), Greg Homann (The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary SA Theatre); Sylvia Vollenhoven (The Keeper of the Kumm); Joanne Hichens (Sweet Paradise) and Fezile Sonkwane (Native Footprints) will also be hosting sessions during Think!Fest; and Rob van Vuuren and Danielle Bischoff put a family spin on things in their talk about the children’s book, Florence and Watson and the Sugar Bush Mouse.
Don’t miss the ART TALKS AND WALKABOUTS, including a presentation on Third World Bunfight’s past 20 years as a socially conscious theatre company by artistic director Brett Bailey (3 July). There are POST-PERFORMANCE DISCUSSIONS with the directors and artists themselves, offering audience members the opportunity to engage with the theatre-makers themselves immediately after the first performance of productions 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 South Africa today (5 July). The session will be co-ordinated by Festival CEO Tony Lankester and chair of the NAF Artistic Committee Brett Bailey.
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 (7 July).