By BRUCE DENNILL
Live performance is both one of the main drawcards of being a performer and one of the most stressful parts of it. At one point in the process of being involved in a new project do you cross that line?
If you’re like me, and you may currently be a bit theatre-rusty, the first day of rehearsals can be quite stressful – when you are wondering what you’ve got yourself into and whether or not you are actually capable of doing this, combined with the rush of starting the shaping and moulding of a new performance. Opening night is certainly also a perfect example of this juxtaposition; the thrill of the audience’s immediate feedback coupled with nerves and jitters is a melting pot of frustration, excitement and the thrill.
Do you have techniques to improve either scenario – consistently enjoying the performance aspect (it is a job, after all) or mitigating the stress (of all the issues – from iffy pay to annoying audiences)?
I don’t really believe in techniques, mostly because I’m unable to sustain them. What I do try and do is to remind myself with every performance that the audience have paid to see my deliver my best, and that responsibility is one I do not take lightly. I also remind myself that theatre and live performance has the ability to change people’s lives and that a performance could provide escapism to one audience member, and be the personification of a dream for another starry-eyed audience member. These things keep you on your toes, and very much aware of the privilege and responsibility that you have.
How do you choose projects? What needs to turn you on before you audition for something?
I am always attracted to a challenge. Whenever I am unsure whether or not I can actually pull something off, a massive part of me wants to do it, just to prove to myself that I can. I am also attracted to talented people. So, whenever I see a project that has an incredibly talented group of creatives working on it, I want to be a part of it. I have taken on projects in the past just because of the director or the producer or the costume designer – creativity breeding creativity and all that… All of the above, and then of course the need to eat and pay rent. That tends to be a big motivation as well.
What are the hooks in a script that you like to hang a performance or the generation of a character on? Depth, dialogue, nuance, reality versus fantasy – what speaks most profoundly to you?
I am a dialogue-based actor. The way sentences are phrased, the vocabulary, the syntax. To me, that informs the performance more than anything. For example, with the dame in Jack And The Beanstalk, a lot of the colloquialisms, sarcasm and slang in the text informed the accent and the characterisation tremendously. The rest, for me, grows from that – as opposed to the text being secondary to a preconceived notion of the character.
The lifestyle of a working actor is a difficult one to square with family life, or a day job, or half a dozen other aspects of a traditional routine. How do you make it work?
Being single helps me a lot in this regard. To be honest, most of the time I don’t feel like I am making it work. It’s a constant juggling act of keeping all the balls in the air. Send in the clowns, and all that. But I have always been of the belief that with the right support system you can accomplish anything. People that you surround yourself with, who can jump in and help whenever there seems to be a conflict of work to life. I am lucky to have people like that in my life. Enough sleep, enough water and some prioritising will take you far, too.
Touring a show can be the holy grail for an actor – long contracts, plus the excitement of seeing new places and performing for new audiences. It’s also arguably the biggest challenge to relationships – distance, communication and so on. Where does it fit in your list of priorities?
At the moment, it is not particularly high on that list of priorities. I am very content with making a career in South Africa and building and growing at home first. That might change, when I get a bit restless sometime in the future. I am not always known for extensive future-planning, so I don’t know – ask me again in a year. You might get an entirely different answer.
As a performer, you’re often asked to deliver on a set of expectations – the playwright’s; the director’s; the rest of the casts’; the audiences’… What sort of input do you prefer to (demand to?) have as an actor?
I prefer to have clear, direct and concise input and feedback from the playwright, director or producer. I think this serves the production in many ways – especially from a time-saving point of view. It also helps to avoid confusion about what is expected from the actor. It does help if the feedback is also delivered in a sensitive manner – we actors can be fragile sometimes, you know. But above all, for me, the most important thing is that input and feedback is consistent and based in truth. The truth of the text. I have, sometimes to my own detriment, been known to question a note or input, especially when, to me, it doesn’t correlate with what the text specifies. I am easily convinced, though, so I guess that counts in my favour. To any future directors reading the above, I am actually a peach – don’t believe everything you read.
What other roles do you, or would you like to, play in the industry – now or in the future? Writing, production, direction? And what about each or any of those excites you?
I was lucky enough to be cast in a film (Kanarie) in 2016, which released in 2018. This was a monumental shift for me, in my career, and it changed my creative life. It gave me a new outlook on film and it also made me realise that I love that medium. So yeah, happythankyoumoreplease! I have thus far been lucky enough to do some theatre, film, radio and television and I’d very much like to continue working in these areas, but recently I have also become interested in directing and producing – especially in theatre and film.
That is not to say that I will give up performing anytime soon – not at all – but I am continually fascinated by the creative process, so I am keen to learn more about all its facets. That being said, if they ever do Into The Woods again, I’d love to be the Baker. I’d also love to play, on film, a person that actually exists or has existed in history as I believe the character study will intrigue me to no end.
Finally, I’d also love to be in The Color Purple, one day, because that is such a magnificent show – but that might just be a pipe dream, for obvious reasons.