With improved ticket sales and higher attendance figures than in previous years, Stellenbosch University's (SU) Woordfees is going from strength to strength. At the festival that ended on Sunday (12 March), total ticket sales increased by 12% in comparison to that of 2016. Sales of books and visual art works were also up from previous years.
"This year's festival was a very positive experience for me; it was great!" says Saartjie Botha, director of the Woordfees. "I am very proud of what we have achieved and I am grateful to the people who worked so incredibly hard to make it happen."
According to Botha, theatre was very popular. "The ticket sales of the much talked-about works, like Wild, Sing jy van Bomme, Piekniek by Dingaan and Martelsang, showed growth during the festival. Ooms, So ry Miss Daisy, Laurika Rauch with Loki Rothman: Blou and Ballades were fully booked."
The film and writers' programme and the discourse series demonstrated a particular growth in attendance. People were keen to learn about topical issues, such as the economy, land reform, and even how America will survive under President Donald Trump. The Vriende van Afrikaans' discussion between former judge Albie Sachs and Saartjie Botha was a particular highlight.
Stellenbosch360's debate, "Is Stellenbossers dwarstrekkers?", drew much interest, with an indication that the mayor, advocate Gesie van Deventer, is determined to consult communities and that the University is keen to work with the municipality.
SU academics, students and alumni were well represented in all the genres at the festival – debates, book discussions, theatre and especially in music performances. The SU Symphony Orchestra, the US Camerata, who accompanied the famous Tim Kliphuis Trio (photo), the Stellenbosch University Choir, all enchanted people from near and far, as well as the Stellenbosch Libertas Choir, to name a few.
The WOW projects, whose aims are to extend learners' perspectives with different projects, was attended by about 2 500 pupils and 600 teachers from as far as Piketberg, Bredasdorp and the Eastern Cape. The WOW day for Grade 12 learners included a talk by a local role model, Sherlin Barends of GoodhopeFM and MFM, and also her interview with the Noem my skollie actor Dann-Jacques Mouton.
More than 300 teachers enjoyed a discussion by Marita van der Vyver on her youth book, Al wat ek weet. Later during the week the learners who are members of the WOW Readers Book Club participated in a writers' festival in cooperation with Lapa Publishers. Altogether 40 teams also participated in the annual WOW Debating Festival.
The paint and verse workshops, which combined literature and visual literacy, were attended by 250 learners and 60 teachers from primary schools in the Western Cape. About 200 Grade 2 en 3 learners also attended special theatre performances of Heidi and The Snow Queen.
The cash-free system, now in its third year, is also becoming more popular. "Festival-goers accept the system and there is greater acceptance every year, especially as far as the convenience and safety of the system is concerned," says Botha.
Two new venues – Jan Marais Nature Reserve and Cloetesville High School – worked very well according to Botha. It will definitely be used in the future, along with Amazink in Kayamandi, as well as Lückhoff and Stellenbosch high schools, which makes the festival a real town's festival.
Complaints from the public that peak traffic, especially Friday afternoon, caused them to be late for their shows, will be addressed in next year's scheduling, Botha promised.
The winners of the festival's WoordTROfees will be announced on 25 April. Next year's US Woordfees will be held from 2 to 11 March (depending on approval of SU management).