07 December 2010 by Chris Marais

Here be Dragons, Flagons and Fun

I live in a small town in the countryside, where there’s no movie house, not much in the way of classical music and certainly no professional theatrical offerings.

I really like it in Cradock but, once a year in mid-winter, I’m one of the first to go tootling down the road to Grahamstown and the annual National Arts Festival. Ten days of wonderment and fun await, a scant two hours’ drive away.

I’m still a rookie ‘festino’, but I’m getting there. Veteran festinos dress in layers. They go to four or five shows a day, emerging with owl-eyes somewhere around 10pm. They’re usually older folk, fired up with strong coffee and well-briefed on the secret delights of the Festival. If you want to know what’s hot on the incredibly long programme, ask the mossy-head festinos. They’re happy to share.

Their Festival walkabout kit includes a knee blanket, well-marked programme, that day’s edition of Cue (the Festival paper), thick socks, flat shoes and the occasional cushion - venue seats aren’t always the softest.

The Village Green is good for bargains, fast food and gawking. One year, I watched a woman dressed as an alien stick insect ambling about with her handler/publicist, promoting their way-off Fringe show. A male Goth in black silk and spikey hair absent-mindedly stabbed his equally Goth girlfriend with a tiny pitchfork. She didn’t seem to mind.

During Festival time, the street children of Grahamstown have their faces painted white and stand around immobile for long periods. They’ve become ‘street icons’ of the Arts Festival - part and parcel of this marvellous annual extravaganza.

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