Edward Tsumele in Grahamstown
At the halfway mark of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, organisers are reporting a "gratifying" set of attendance figures and ticket sales even though it appears as if the number of people attending the festival is smaller than last year's.
"Despite the economic downturn, we're seeing that ticket sales are slightly higher than the numbers for 2007, both in terms of rand value and number of tickets sold," festival CEO Tony Lankester said.
"This is good news for the arts.
"It shows that even when times are hard and there is greater pressure on disposable income, audiences are still prioritising theatre-going and making space for it in their budgets," he said.
However, actual figures will be released only at the end of the 10-day festival, which closes on Saturday.
"Performers have been telling us they are seeing fuller houses this year, and the figures bear that out.
"While this obviously wouldn't be the case for every production, the overall trend is still positive," Lankester said.
Anticipating a tougher economic climate, the National Arts Festival organisers decided to keep ticket price increases to a minimum.
"It's still the only place in the country where you can see big, spectacular productions like African Celebration for R45 and Don Quixote for as little as R54," he said.
"The average price across all main productions is in the region of R36 - cheaper than a movie ticket back home in Johannesburg or Cape Town."
The festival has also relaunched its "Friends of the Festival" programme, offering discounts to patrons.
And, through its Arts Encounter and Outreach programmes, it is opening the doors of its productions to greater numbers of disadvantaged communities and a wider audience, especially those in the adjacent township of Joza.
Now in its 34th year, the National Arts Festival has grown to be one of the leading arts festivals in southern Africa.
It is sponsored by the Eastern Cape government, Standard Bank, the National Arts Council, the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund and the SABC.