The Festival will strictly enforce the wearing of masks, hand sanitizing and spaced apart seating. No food and drink will be allowed inside of venues, and each venue will be thoroughly sanitized after each performance. To reduce physical contact, the ticketing will be paperless and digital payment methods will be favoured. All Covid protocols will be enforced backstage too and staff will undergo daily symptom screenings.
“It is vital that the Festival team, artists and visitors to the Festival work together to make this a safe and sustainable event. We know that there have been successful in-person events elsewhere in the world where well-managed Covid protocols have proven adequate in preventing transmission. Our world class team has a proven track record of managing events at scale and under all kinds of circumstances, including producing work during L4 and L5 lockdown conditions! We’ve done a significant risk assessment and received our risk classification in terms of the South African Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act (SASREA).”
The Festival is working closely with SAPS and the Joint Operating Committee in Makhanda to deliver the live experience. The partner venues for the Standard Bank Presents shows in cities are experienced in staging live shows within Covid restrictions and the Festival team will be on site to add further oversight and capacity to ensure all protocols are met.
The National Arts Festival team has been holding events of up to 100 audience members in Makhanda over the past year, and the technical team also successfully produced the on site filming of 113 shows safely and without a single Covid transmission during the Level Four lockdown for last year’s Virtual National Arts Festival edition.
In countries where large-scale vaccine programmes have already been rolled out,there is a return to significantly larger gatherings. In Wuhan, China where the virus is thought to have originated, a live festival saw thousands of maskless attendees gather on 1 May 2021. In the UK an events research project is underway testing live events to measure the impact of mass gatherings. Despite a new daily caseload that is higher than South Africa’s, on 2 May 2021 Event Republic hosted a 5000 person music concert in Liverpool’s Sefton Park that was maskless and without social distancing. The impact of the event is being carefully monitored by a team of researchers to determine the path for future live events and entertainment. Large scale religious gatherings such as the “Umrah” pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia are also presenting good practice examples of how large-scale gatherings can be held safely.
Newton stresses that South Africa is definitely not at a point where big, high-contact events are feasible but these developments do suggest there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, the National Arts Festival will adhere to the strictest levels of government and health advisory protocols, and will work closely with the authorities to do so. “There will be a zero tolerance policy with regard to mask wearing. Anyone who takes off their mask during one of our events will be asked to replace it or leave,” says Newton. “Our artists and audiences have been longing for this return to a live experience but it is imperative we do this safely and responsibly if we are to move forward. It will be a smaller Festival, it will be different to what we’ve had before, but we have created new and interesting experiences in our Standard Bank Presents city shows and of course we still have our exciting Online Festival for anyone who would prefer to stay at home.”
Newton confirmed that there is a Plan B, “should circumstances change and we enter another hard lockdown, the Festival will migrate to a fully online format but we really hope that this won’t be the case.” Newton highlighted that online work will continue to form a big part of the Festival however, “The National Arts Festival Experience’s hybrid format is really exciting because it does reach so many new audiences and we look forward to sharing South African work with an international audience again. Thanks to last year’s online festival, some of our talent was picked up by other international festivals and artists secured invitations to future appearances at Edinburgh Festival and off-Broadway theatre. This has the potential to be a really exciting re-emergence for the arts as live and online blend into a layered, multi-disciplinary experience with significant reach.”