By BRUCE DENNILL
Rose is the personal confession of an extraordinary woman in her remembering of a life lived to the full. Three husbands and a hippy lover, plus experiments with memory and magic – this is the story of a survivor. The one-woman piece, written by Martin Sherman, was nominated for an Olivier Award when it first premiered at the National Theatre in 1999. Camilla Waldman stars as Rose in the Market Theatre‘s production, directed by Malcolm Purkey.
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?
I was trained in the theatre – at UCT Hiddingh Hall Campus, now many moons ago – and my acting work in theatre has been the foundation of all my work, both as an actor and a teacher. Returning to the live performance space is filled with love and respect for me, and aching trepidation. It always feels like a journey up a holy mountain – no matter that I have made journeys before. Each night, as I meet a new audience to share a story once again, I quake inside and must choose again, and again, to stand on the earth of this present moment, and say thank you, and choose fearlessness in the face of fear, again, and trust in the power of live storytelling, again.
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 have gratitude for being an actor, for creative voice. For being able to tell stories to an audience that we may reflect, celebrate, question, entertain our humanity.
How do you choose projects? What needs to turn you on before you audition for something?
In the uncertainties of our current acting work in South Africa, I encourage actors to have an expansive view of their craft skills and to use these resources in different and inventive ways. This goes some way to keeping actors in the industry. I inspire myself to see audition work as opportunities for acting exercise and growth and will generally encourage myself to attend most of the auditions that land in my world. If I feel a part is not for me, I will mostly step down and suggest another actor. This is intuitive rather than anything I could name specifically. Sometimes it happens that actor work will clash with my teaching, and I will step away again. I do believe in making choices. I rally myself to daily make many detailed choices as an actor, and commit to them. So if I have already chosen something, and something else arrives which challenges that – I will stand to the choice made. This is how I build trust with myself, and others – and it helps me to feel purposeful in the face of a lot I have no choice over.
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?
The words. It is in the script that I will discover the character’s skeleton, building from this ground, and it is from here that the process of interpreting and adding the layers of skin and clothing continues until the character becomes visible and intuited and begins to live, first in my own imagination, and then for an audience.
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?
It’s a daily challenge. It takes lots of planning. I find if I can plan for my children – my son already grown, and my daughter still at school – if I can arrange her schedules with as much care as I can, this calms me, and I can begin to forge pathways around my work. I have learned to be resourceful, to carry my scripts with me in the car and in my handbag, and to use little pockets of time as they arrive. A daily learning is to let go of what is not important and to remind myself of what is – knowing which balls can bounce back, and which ones need special care; a skill I have to practise all the time. I can fixate on small details and get overwhelmed and then must take some deep breaths and pray. I can then re-frame, and continue. A lifelong learning.
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 see the actor’s contribution as their ability to breathe life into character; this is our work in the team of telling stories for an audience. I focus on this, in communion with the script and the director and the audience.
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 am an actor and a teacher with actors. I love my work. I say thank you God every day for making me an actor and for being able to work with our actor-craft alongside actors.
Tell us about your current production, and what makes Rose interesting to play?
Rose is a survivor – not by choice, she might tell us. She stands in her own disbelief, and wry smile, at the truth of still being alive, despite all. She is the most challenging character I have yet met as an actor. Stepping into her story each night is a steep mountain face – I am thankful to Elizabeth Shapiro, to whom Martin Sherman dedicates the script – thankful for her story and the ways in which her survival shaped the story of Rose. Rose can laugh and question in the midst of shadows and a breaking heart. She embodies the human tension of living contradictions, of being one thing and feeling another, of loving and hating at the same time. For the actor breathing life into her complexity, Rose is detailed and intense as a character, allowing the contradictions inside her to co-exist. Finding both the humour and the pain, in her story is a challenge of each moment with her.