The Witness Hilton Arts Festival is the largest theatrical event of its kind in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa’s most populated province. Staged over a three day period on the idyllic campus of Hilton College near the picturesque village of Hilton, just 50 minutes inland of Durban and a mere five minute drive from Pietermaritzburg, the bustling capital of KwaZulu Natal, the Festival brings together a feast of cultures attracted by the wide diversity of the theatre, dance and music productions on offer, as well as the vibrant atmosphere generated by buskers, craft markets, art exhibitions and workshops.
Established in 1993, the Festival’s mission of bringing high quality performance art to KwaZulu Natal remains. It offers the opportunity to showcase the cream of South African theatre and to support South African writing. The staging of an event such as this presents its own set of challenges however – various venues have to be modified – from classrooms to marquees, dining rooms to gardens – everything is converted to ensure that members of the audience will enjoy the best possible performance at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival – whether it be from a technical or artistic aspect – and of course, to provide audiences with affordable ticket prices. The Festival also faces the eternal challenge of remaining ‘new’ – and every year a wide variety of different productions of all genres, largely South African but, depending on funding, sometimes international, are sourced, ensuring that South African audiences remain challenged, provoked and entertained during their time at this unique event. It’s all there – from music to cabaret, comedy to tragedy, dance to drama.
It’s not all fun! The hard work that goes on behind the scenes serves as a breeding ground for developing new young technicians, artists, playwrights, and actors and also provides a unique opportunity to introduce the next generation to the magic of theatre – after all they are the audiences of the future. The Festival has been instrumental in training several sound technicians, one of whom is currently studying Sound Engineering at Damelin in Durban, while a music and drama project run in the months preceding the Festival allowed eleven trainees from previously disadvantaged communities the opportunity to become performers in their own right. The Festival aims to continue to promote the Arts to young people in South Africa, to offer opportunities where previously there were none, and to grow our young performers.
The Festival is not just about entertainment however – every year a growing number of school children take part in the activities on offer at the Festival – whether it be as a group attending the Festival for the weekend or part of the all new ‘school’s programme’ – a project which has been launched to schools throughout the province providing learners with affordable access to selected productions and arts related workshops.
And of course the Festival provides employment – from the many thousands of bed nights which are generated throughout the district – in bed and breakfasts, hotels, private homes and holiday homes to the bustling restaurants and shopping centres who all benefit from the influx of people from throughout the country, to the village of Hilton.
The Festival has many loyal business partners – from the naming rights sponsor and media partner, The Witness, South Africa’s oldest Newspaper with a readership of in excess of 160 000 daily readers, to corporate partners such as Nedbank, Production Projects, the National Lotteries Board, the KwaZulu Natal department of Arts, Culture and Tourism and Business and Arts South Africa to name a few. Of vital importance is the business partnership that exists between the Festival and Hilton College. Not only does the College host the event, making its grounds and facilities available to stage the entire Festival, but since its inception has underwritten the costs involved. Furthermore, the blue chip standing of the College, its history of excellence and the guaranteed efficiency of its administration and transparency of its audited accounts, means that any funding for a project run under its auspices will, without doubt, be utilised for the purposes it was given.
All of these partnerships have grown over the years of the Festival, and we would like to offer you the opportunity to join us on this exciting path. Dr John Kani, an icon in South African theatre, said at the opening of the 2008 Witness Hilton Arts Festival ‘The partnership of artists and business is as old as the Bible, if not older. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and all the other artists of their time did not paint those great paintings in the hope of selling them to some buyer or art gallery so that they could live. Oh no, they were commissioned to produce that work ...This then proves, without doubt, that the partnerships between business and the arts are essential for the development of art and artists in our country.’
This unique Festival offers you the opportunity to invest in our future, in the soul of our nation.