By BRUCE DENNILL
Live performance: the thrill versus the nerves – where are you on that curve as a new show starts?
As you know, we haven’t been able to perform live for about two (or is it three?) years, so this process has been an incredible rediscovery of preparing for a role and preparing for the production itself. I’ve been reminded of so much in this rehearsal, including the astounding amount of anxiety that goes with creating a new play. I thought I might vomit before our first preview, but as soon as the lights came up on the stage everything fell into place. Now, having had the benefit of a few previews, ‘the nerves’ are less debilitating and they’ve been replaced with excitement in journeying with the audience and feeling their surprise and intrigue as we unfold the story. Paul has written a complex treat, full of twists and turns.
How do you find a balance during rehearsals or other preparations?
As I mentioned, there is an astounding amount of anxiety in preparing and rehearsing and there is no balance in this process: it’s all-consuming. You go through incredible highs and very dark lows as you figure your way through in telling a new story. Anxiety is maybe not the right word, but it is a rollercoaster. These days, I try to stay grounded through routine and always keeping my personal and professional aspects of my life separate. I had the luxury of seeing a great acting coach and legendary actor, Camilla Waldman, who helped me realise a distinction between my personal life, my actor life and my character’s life. Previously, I have thrown myself into roles with no thought for myself and the end result has been quite damaging.
In a best case scenario, what do you look for in a role? What is the main basis for that decision – the script, the people involved, the challenge to your skills, the impact (positive or negative) it might have on your life in general, or perhaps something else?
That is definitely the best case scenario. Otherwise my answer, as always, is ‘The Munneeeee!’ In a best case scenario, in a theatre production, I would look for people I can get on with. And in this production of Borderline I have found amazing humans to work and be vulnerable with. Paul Slabolepszy’s humility in writing and rehearsing with us has been life-changing for me. And Lerato Mvelase and Maralin Van Reenen have shown such depth and insight. This play would have been impossible to do without all of their overwhelming generosity of spirit. No egos, just incredible warmth and commitment to the production.
Acting is often a vocation, a thing you can’t not do. How true is that for you now? Has it changed over the years – for practical, perhaps banal reasons? And how do you, or would you like to, keep your calling front and centre in your life?
You’re only the second person I know to refer to acting as a vocation. I really appreciate that insight. And yes, over the years, my feelings about the industry have changed, but I keep coming back to it even though it’s like an abusive partner at times. I am constantly chasing other opportunities, however. As I get older, I feel more ready for another level of responsibility in this industry. I’m not sure what that would look like, though.
What are the toughest expectations to deliver on – all the way from the first audition to the end of the run?
Each phase of a production has different demands; from blocking in rehearsals, to adjusting to the theatre space, to breathing the story with an audience. These challenges are the fun part. But dealing with rejection after auditioning is the toughest part of this industry. To be told ‘you weren’t quite right’ after throwing everything at an audition can be very unsettling, especially when it’s your livelihood that’s on the line. That being said, to anyone reading this and experiencing that rejection, hang in there, those guys can’t tell talent from eggs!
Tell us about Borderline, and what makes Raymond interesting to play?
Borderline is currently on at the Market Theatre. It runs until 3 July. It deals with issues around borderline personality disorder and boundaries, or the lack of those, that come from generational trauma. I think anyone who’s ever wanted to have ‘that’ conversation with their parents but has been unable to will experience huge catharsis watching this play. Paul has written complex characters and mine is no exception. Raymond, my character, has a deliciously dark sense of humour and is trying to heal himself in his own complicated way. There are so many challenges in playing this character: his vulnerability, his anger, and his humour. Finding his way to healing makes for makes for an interesting character to play.