Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Leading to a twinkling future

In the almost two years that I have started working professionally I have not had it easy. After my honours year (for various singular reasons) I couldn’t get an agent. When emailing and calling yielded no results I signed a yearlong contract with a casting agency in January last year. I figured that it was better than nothing at all, and any experience would be good. A casting agency is very different from an agent, and although they were good to me I can’t earn a living from the occasional briefs they sent me. What I needed was an agent. An in November last year, a friend I had met on set graciously gave me the number of a friend of hers who is also a booking agent for a really good agency in Johannesburg.  

So I phoned him, and sent him my CV. I received a reply via email that they were interested in signing me, but it was problematic as I was still bound in contract to the casting agency. I informed him that I would be able to terminate the contract in January without hassle. He then told me to contact him in January once I had done this, and we would then be able to talk about me joining their agency. Thank heavens for mothers who make her overeager daughters call the agency before I terminated my contract. Because when I did call in the beginning of January voice mail and automated replies informed me that my contact was out of the country and that I should contact him again in February. So when February rolled around I called again. I was assured the head of the agency would look at my CV the following day and a decision would be made. So I called again the next day, and was told that my CV was being looked over at the very moment. I received an email moments later. After I had been following exact instructions I received correspondence that ran somewhat to the tune of:

“Unfortunately after speaking to the head of the agency it was confirmed that the position he wanted to place me in was filled. It’s a pity that we cannot keep open slots for so long.”

About a month after this communication a good friend of mine signed with the same agency.

So I started the whole dry canvassing and emailing thing again looking for an agent. I have many friends at agents, who I’m sure wouldn’t mind speaking to their agents for me, but a part of me at that stage still felt that somebody with my qualifications should get an agent without needing to ask friends for help. A resolve which I regretted after email upon email told me that they weren’t taking on actresses in my ‘category’. And it started taking its toll.

 So I stuck it out, focussing on my Masters. And I did have an incredible year, full of opportunities. But opportunities which I had to get all on my own, especially as I only did one job in January via the casting agent. So when October rolled around, the time at which most agents start bringing in new talent as the universities and colleges start closing I friend I was working with at the time who knew about my ‘agent situation’ and offered to speak to his agent for me. I sent my CV along, but as I learned earlier this year I could not rely on any one agency. So with new photographs I started phoning again. One of the agents I phoned was Leads Artists Agency. I was transferred from the general line to one of the agents in the company. He asked me a few questions, gave me his personal email address and asked if I had any footage, or youtube links to my work. I sent the links, my CV and photo, but had learned better than to expect anything. So when my phone rang the next day I was caught completely off guard.

I was told that they liked my CV, and that he also liked the sound of my voice. We made a date for me to go and see them at their offices. We had what I felt like was a good session. And by the end of the session I was told that if I still wanted to sign with them I needed to let them know within 2 – 3 weeks. And then, if they were still interested in me we could talk.

About two and a half weeks after I spoke to my Mom on the phone on a Thursday saying that I would phone Leads that Monday say that I would like to sign with them. The next morning I received an email from Leads…

And now its website official. Just when I thought the year was nearing its end for me the New Year is twinkling with the lure of possibilities.  

Monday, 2 December 2013

Animated Auditioning

"Never say I don't take you anywhere interesting" has become a favorite phrase of mine, and is fast becoming a joke between my ever patient boyfriend and myself. While shooting I have been to, shall I say interesting, locations: The streets of Joburg at night, I've driven through a ploughed field I was sure would brake the suspension on my car, a home google maps couldn't find and dusty back corners of the state theatre. For an audition, however, the strange location I found myself in in an industrial area of Edenvale was a first.

Via the wonders of social media I heard about an audition to do some pro-bono voice and body work so that a company could pitch for funding for an animation. I figured that it would be really good experience, even if it was for free. I emailed the contact person as to what I should prepare, and the location of the audition.  I was given the address, told just to pitch up and it promptly left my frontal lobe making room for more important matters.

The morning before the audition, I received an email reminder for the audition at 8 the next morning. I was then also told that I needed to prepare a minute monologue, from an animated film. Of course I was working in a theatre the whole day and of course I get told what to prep the day before. So after getting home after 9 I spent an hour googling "female monologue animated film/movie" and I found something I deemed reasonably appropriate. I memorized it...mostly...and checked via the ever faithful google where exactly I would be auditioning in the morning. Google came up with nothing. Nothing in the given area matched the street address I was given. After the third attempt I checked the first email. There had been a spelling mistake in the reminder. So I googled the correct address in an attempt to forage a path for myself for the morning. Streetview did not look promising. At all. But at that hour of the evening I decided that it was a problem I would deal with when I got there.

The next morning while I was showering I said the words of my monologue out loud for the first time, playing with a few ideas, but the practice needed to end with the water as I dried myself into some semblance of put-together-ness. And then I was off to find this location for my audition. A quick google told us that the venue was an institution which trained/prepared models for the camera. This made sense as it was an on-camera audition. 
These are no ordinary tyres...
I always try to be a little early for an audition, but when we arrived at what was the correct number on the door at 5 minutes to eight and the venue was entirely locked up I started becoming doubtful of the legitimacy of this pro-bono project. I decided that if, by a quarter past eight, no one had arrived I would invoice the group for my petrol costs and be on my way. So with time on our hands we explored the industrial area, with sheets of metal and power cables existing the space next to our said venue. And right across the door we found where tractor tyres went to die. An entire graveyard of tractor tyres stacked up dwarfing me (although my freakishly tall sibling would comment that dwarfing me isn’t exactly a challenge).

Just meters from the entrance to the audition venue.

As we headed back to the car two more cars arrived, with apologetic people clambering out and unlocking the venue and carrying equipment. I filled in the paper work as they set up before the first round of auditioning for an animated super-hero. A communal yes and more signed paperwork moved me to the second round. Even though they seemed to like me, and the audition went really well I have not heard back from the team of animators. It comes with the territory. So you post pictures online of tractor trucks that dwarf you, you laugh at the circumstances, you find yourself in, and you prepare yourself for the next audition. Cause maybe this time it will be your day.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Kids and Snails

For me, this year has been the year of the short film, and last Monday I got to be involved in another one. And you know its going to be interesting when the director can only send you a hand drawn map to the location because she cannot find it on google maps. I was thankful for the high suspension on my car as I drove the rocky dirt roads to the stunning home of an artist which was serving as our location for the short film. And a brand new challenge which was awaiting myself, and our young director, Rita-Mari Ludike.

Setting up the shot, and getting the lighting just right.

I was playing the young mother of a five year old child, which meant shooting with a five year old child. Also an integral character of the short film was a snail ('Shelly'). Apparently while shooting the day before our cute five year old actress had no issues with carrying the snail around (well, three different sized versions of the snail). But when I had to work with her she started being difficult, and when asked to held the snail she plainly refused:

“The snail is spitting on my hand”

After which she dropped the unfortunate snail. One of the ‘extra’ snails was brought back to finish the shot so that the dropped snail could heal. For the sake of the camera different sizes of snails were used during the shooting. Which then became a family for our young actress, and a challenge for her mother and our director to remember which snail was the mom, the dad, the child, etc. And don’t you dare get it wrong!

Working with such a young child made me truly appreciate the gravity of parenthood, and that I am still greatly ill-prepared for such responsibilities. One incident specifically brought this into focus. During a break in shooting our five-year-old ran past me to the bathroom. A few seconds later her voice rang across our set:

“I need my real mom”

In other words, not me, her mother in the film.

“I made a big poo and I need my real mom to help me wipe”

As I said. Not ready for such responsibilities.

Rehearsing a scene
Through the two day-shoot Rita learned different ways in which to motivate the five-year-old, and to help her understand shot lists, and different camera angles. Our unfortunate Director of Photography was often ‘blamed’ for “not putting on his camera” in order to coax her into doing another take. A concept she could not understand if she had done it correctly the first time. And shot cards were used so that she could understand when a scene was wrapped. Lines also tended to become freer as if she happened to be in the right mood, you would carry on the shot no matter what, or attempt to coax her into giving the right reaction for the camera.

The short film revolves around three generations of women, and it was fantastic to do a film with only female characters, all brought together by our female writer and director, and supported by amazing male crew members. As my own studies focus on gender it was really special for me to be involved in a female driven story. And as always working with and meeting new and interesting people. Now, we wait for the post-production phase before we can see the final product.

Myself, our director Rita-Mari Ludike and the amazing Rosemare Errenrich Visser who played my mother.

Lights, camera, sound, primp...action!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Above and Behind Stage

A friend of mine and I have kind of a tradition. Since my first year every single November come exams or high water we do technical work for a local ballet studio’s end of year show. Even though its physically quite hard work, lifting large set pieces and carrying props around, the studio's teacher uses us girls to help the dancers  with quick changes, or to tie ballet shoes and such. Unfortunately last year I was working and could not do it, but this year I was awaiting the summons. Just before November started I asked my friend if she had heard from the Theatre Manager about the show, and if they wanted us to come in and work for it again. My friend said if she had not heard anything by the end of the day she would call the next morning.
Myself, and Miss Lian Bekker while packing up after the last show and
a nine hour shift. My partner in crime on these proceedings, and not just
 because were are all dressed in black.
About half an hour after our conversation a message appeared on my phone. We would be starting with a week's work on Monday.
Now every year there is some or other very large prop. A house that needs to be wheeled in midway through a dance, or a throne that weighs about the same amount as I do. And there's always something hanging from the fly bars. Whether it’s just flakes being released from the snow sheet, a chandelier that needs to be dropped or a mere sign.

This year we were spared the heavy lifting but four swings had to be released from the fly facilities which we had to catch as they were dropped down in the wings and then swing them on stage (in an aesthetically pleasing manner), and then later knot two swings together with a rope and have the other stage hands in the roof pull them back up again in literally a matter of seconds. The four swings were hanging in-between the lighting bars, so too much movement from the swings could not only move a light, but hook it and perhaps break it. After about half an hour of closing our eyes and not looking up while the teacher and various other people swung myself and my friend around on the swings, seeing how much movement could happen without the lighting being a problem they realised another solution needed to be found. So the bar with the swings on was holstered in a manner which would prevent it from swinging into the other lights. And after all our effort the swings were used for about a minute on stage before they were pulled up again.

We were also taught the knots to use so that the swings wouldn't come lose half way through a show and decapitate a dancer, or some such nonsense. On my side of the stage, with my friend being in the opposite wing, the rope which I need to tie the swings back up again with hung far behind me, and I needed to release it into the waiting hands of about ten dancers between the ages of 4 and 7. It’s entirely safe, but I need to grab the rope again later and children, being children, find the rope hanging from the heavens exceptionally fascinating.
Our stage manager commented on the dilemma:

"Its’ find having them play with it, they won't hurt themselves, but you know they will have wound it all around them by the time you need it"

"Yip, and there will be a suspended mummy hanging behind me by the time I need to tie the swings up again"
We decided to throw our ropes over one of the lighting fixtures instead of letting them hang behind us.
On one of these occasions when I had to release and retrieve my swings I was surrounded by the wings, unable to see much else of the backstage area or stage itself, awaiting the swinging moment. Afterwards I heard from our stage manager that she couldn’t see me, engulfed by the black curtain of the wing, and was starting a mild panic as the big moment drew nearer and she didn’t know where I was.
“I asked myself at what point do I abandon my com set and start looking for you. Where would I even have started looking for you”
Just as she was pondering this decision she said she saw the slightest sliver of my elbow poking out behind the wing, and she knew I was at my post, awaiting the swings from the heavens.

Some of the set pieces back stage we were moving around

As show business tends to go, there were quite a few quick changes. As the pre-teen girls ran into the wings my friend and I started unzipping the back of their dresses so that they could get the next costume on in a matter of seconds. As they realized there were two pairs of hands zipping and unzipping, and they didn’t need a friend to do it we had girls, high on performance adrenaline and time limit wiggling and jumping around in front of us “Zip my dress! Zip my dress”

Only by the last quick change did they realize that the whole process goes a lot faster when they actually stand still, or didn't squirm until the zips on the dresses stripped and Lian and myself had to safety pin the girls into them.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Slow-Mo Video

Whenever any work is done involving a camera a lot of waiting can be expected. Whether you’re waiting on set for your part to be filmed, or a light or camera to be moved, or fake sweat to be sprayed on. We call it hurry up and wait. And generally the longest wait is for post-production before you can see the final product.

About 6 weeks ago I danced for a music video. An acquaintance from my studies is in a girl group, and she asked one of my cast mates if she knew dancers who had time to dance for their video. And as I only had my taxes to do the day of the shoot I decided it would be more fun to help out. So earl on a Monday morning (filming tends to require pre-dawn wakeups unfortunately) I headed into an open retail space in a mall to dance for the Sandra Prinsloo music video. Shooting at really high speeds the director wanted us to dance, and then slowed it down. It looked amazing seeing the dancers jump and turn in slow motion.

Slow-mo ring leap for the video

With a limited amount of dancers the director didn’t want it to be obvious that the same dancers were in most of the shots. After a few takes the director came to me, to comment on my individuality:

“Is it possible for you to tie your hair? We don’t want it to look like we’re using the same girls, and your head is like a flaming ball of fire”.

After the video was released this last weekend my boyfriend put it on his TV while friends of ours were visiting without saying anything. My friend watched the video quizzically:

"Wow Chandré, that one girl looks just like you"

I just smiled and didn't say anything.

"No really. You could put this on your CV. She really looks like you"

"That's because it is."

Way in the background, you can see me about to film one my dance sections.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Going BIG parade style!

‘Go Big’ was the catchphrase for the MTN festival held at Monte Casino this past month. And part of ‘Going Big’ was a parade, held twice on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. 

The Pink Acrobatic Clown
The casting brief sent out by the entertainment company who put the parade together just asked for an acrobat. So when I auditioned I had no idea what my character would be for the parade. I knew there was going to be at least 2 saxophone players, and I knew there was going to be a Charlie Chaplin (the people I saw at my audition) but that was it. And when I arrived for a costume fitting I was presented a very large, and as it would turn out see-through, chequered clown costume, complete with ruffles. Now I don’t mind being a clown. As an acrobat one does sort of expect it, but I could not do acrobatics in a suit with ruffles tumbling over my head, hands and feet. I explained the lack of safety and visibility to the producer, who kindly said there would be another option for me at our rehearsal. What greeted me was an explosion of pink. Pink leotard, pink tutu and pink curly wig. I think many off my friends would imagine I chose the costume because of my personal obsession with the colour, but none this less, this was a lot of pink. And the pink puff of acrobatic clown came to life for the parade. I joined a host of other characters, all relating to the various special events which were being held at Monte Casino. For the kids there was Spiderman, Batman, a generic mouse to avoid copyright infringement and a large clock. There were showgirls for the entertainment, beer maidens for Beerfest, there were hip-hop dancers dressed as chefs and sports players and a mobile drummer keeping the beat. Our mad-cap group of diverse and interesting characters, and even more diverse and interesting people, danced around our parade route.

Preparing for the parade we had one rehearsal, before final dress and showing the client. There wasn't really time to learn names as we dived into our first rehearsal, and generally we were referred to by our characters. I was known as ‘Clown’ for the first few days, my friend Herman who portrayed Charlie Chaplin was called ‘Charlie’ right up to the end. Names only came around later, when you got to know someone. I did not know the two saxophone players very well, when during our first week of performance I lent one of them my shoes as she had forgotten hers at home. And a pair of sandals wasn't going to work with her costume. In our tiny dressing room space (you would imagine there would be bigger facilities) chaos always ensued once the second parade of the evening was over as everyone got out of the costumes as quickly as possible. I saw the saxophone players leave together, and about five minutes later, once I had wiggled out of my leotard I realized that my shoes had not been returned to me. I didn’t fancy a walk through the casino and its parking lot bare footed. Our production manager gave me her phone number and as about five people listened I said to her voice mail:

“Hi, it’s Chandré…the clown. I think you may have left with my shoes.”
Show Girls Caitlin Clerk and Bryony Whitfield
I think what I enjoyed most about the parade was watching the people in the casino. The different characters joined the parade at different times as we walked through the casino. Being a clown, I had to wait in a small vintage car until the parade came along. Then one of the other characters would open the door and I would, unexpectedly, pop out of the car and do a few tricks before the parade moved on. So, for about ten minutes before the parade I would sit in my clown car watching the patrons. Often children would notice me, and frustrated parents would drag them along without paying attention.  It was also entertaining as many people wouldn’t notice the ball of pink sitting in the car, and then get a fright upon realizing that there was an actual person in there. I also heard a young boy yell, as loud as he could when Charlie Chaplin came walking around the corner:

"Look Mom! It's Mr Bean!"

That was until I hit the pre-teens/teenagers.

As I was stationary in my clown car for a while the pink clown seemed to become the object for a group of teenagers to ridicule one evening. Sitting in an old vintage car, which I realized was quite fragile when seeing it from the inside, I did not want to give anyone permission to climb into it, especially while I was there. So whenever someone asked if they could climb into the car with me I would say with great enthusiasm: “It’s a clown car! It’s made for clowns!” This usually did the trick, and the passers by would laugh, take a photo and move on. This did not work for the teenagers, who stood around the car, pulling faces at me, and preventing me from interacting with the little children and eventually shaking the car (which did not help my slight claustrophobic tendencies). And as it is my job to be an eternally positive, happy and progressive clown there weren’t many options available to me. Eventually the beer maidens who were across the way saw what was happening,  stepped in and engaged with them. Essentially transferring their attention away from me. But interacting with the younger children, or people who got into the spirit of the parade was a lot of fun.

Caitlin Clerk, one of our Show Girls

Charlie Chaplin, or Herman Vorster and myself

Our drummer, the well-known Paul Ditchfield

One of our Beer Maidens, and Charlie Chaplin

There were children elated to see Batman and Spiderman, and a few that were brought to tears by the sight of them. In these instances our mouse was quickly called in to cheer them up! And many, many photos were taken of us. It’s part of our job to be friendly, and to take photos with children and tourists.  That’s what we’re paid to do. But now and then it gets out of hand, like when a group of non-English speaking tourists decided to keep me occupied for about five minutes as our parade moved on. Each wanting to take a picture with me. I was very relieved to see our amazing production manager and a member of the casino staff waiting patiently, and keeping an eye on me as the rest of the group moved along with the parade. Or when, as I walked past a possibly drunk older lady she grabbed me and pulled me into a bear hug (or perhaps more accurately 'beer' hug). Thankfully I was released quickly enough.  She was in the spirit of the parade. She was going big.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Lessac: Re-connecting

In January this year I had the great privilege and pleasure of attending the first Lessac Kinesensic workshop to be held in Africa. For three weeks I received intensive training from three amazing teachers. And met fantastic people at the course.

This past week I attended a four day course on the application of  Lessac work I did in January for acting specifically. Not only did I get to reconnect with some fantastic actors I had met in January, a new face of a well known director joined us, making us a total of seven for the course.
So, on Sunday morning at 8 I started physical warm-ups. The work we were doing is not light, and plainly put, incorporates your body, breathing and senses for vocal production, and finally it all comes together in an acting performance.

One of the exercises we were using is ambiguous dialogue. Two actors receive a sheet of dialogue, the no explicit meaning. And by playing around with different techniques different interpretations emerge. In so doing, as an actor, one experiences different options and choices. And then a lot of my preconceptions were shattered.

As I learned, and had previously believed, it is a common misconception that a lower voice is always better across the board. For acting and recorded work. And as the teachers and I worked we realized that I, along with another experienced actor both had the habit of speaking lower whenever we were on camera, and sometimes on stage. I couldn’t believe the range and expression that I had the moment I allowed to speak myself in my natural range.

As the workshop ended, and I said goodbye to our American teacher it felt amazing to hear both the good things and bad things I was doing. Getting a handle on what to work on, and being told to carry on.

Its always good to be told to carry on working. And although I’m not there yet, I feel like the right people are telling me to carry on.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Making it to the big screen

They say that life happens while you are busy making plans. Apparently computer glitches too. So after planning for our whole team to watch the first airing of our short film together at the Rosebank Nouveau Cinema our team leader could not book tickets for us to watch our short film for the 48 hour film project on Tuesday. So, scattered throughout the week, our team watched our film as each had the opportunity. For me, this was yesterday. I saw myself on the 'big screen' for the first time. And immediately strengthened my resolve to diet...

After a full day of Lessac voice training in a workshop yesterday my partner and I left Pretoria to watch the films of Group G (I was doing my hair and makeup in the car via map-reading lights). Ours was the fifth film to be show and I found it fascinating how involved and personally vested I was with the characters on screen, as well as making mental notes as to what I felt did and didn't work with regards to my performance. About half way through I realized how tense I was and consciously forced myself to relax and try to enjoy the film.

For those who don't know, the 48 hour film project is an international competition in which film makers have merely 48 hours to write, shoot an edit a film between 4 and 7 minutes long. After drawing the genre of your  film at 7 on a Friday evening teams have 48 hellish hours to create a genre specific film, including compulsory elements (a character, line and prop). You can tell how excited I am about this project as it the third I am writing a post on the subject, and I will probably post again once the films are released onto YouTube.

It was fantastic to see some of the other short films, and the talent that it is emerging in South African cinema. There were some really amazing concepts, and hopefully the beginnings of some fantastic careers.

As last night was the final screening of the films a small thank you was handed out to anyone representing the films. I was the only member of our team present, so when called for I stood up to fetch our little certificate and pop corn tub full of sweets as a "thank you", or more accurately, "Congratulations on surviving and making it this far" . I was welcomed with warm applause from the cinema audience as I walked to the front to receive our thank you.

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Monday, 23 September 2013

A peak of things to come!

A still from the trailer of  Unsolved

This past week I was again adjudicating a local eisteddfod for a small town in Mpumalanga. Besides running late on the first day due to 27 late entries, and missing out on my supper the eisteddfod was relatively uneventful. Well, besides the 5 to 6 year old category, the youngest of the eisteddfod, deciding as a group to walk onto the stage to collect their certificates after I had directed them to the floor space to my left to receive them from me personally. And a child with a silver certificate walking up to me and informing me her father would purchase her something or other if she received gold. I was not sure how to respond to this. So I was rather thankful when, on my second morning I was running ahead of schedule and had a full hour for tea before my second session of the day started. During this time I turned on my cell phone to receive a message on the whatsapp group for the team I was part of the 48 hour filmproject. The trailer for the film we had shot two weeks ago had been released! As the trailers for films friends of mine had been in popped onto social media throughout the week I was awaiting the release of hours with baited breath. And as I refuse to look at any of the takes while I'm busy shooting I was excited to see, on screen, what our film is going to look like.

Tomorrow the short film UNSOLVED for the 48 Hour Film Project, made by Zwoosh! premiers at Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank Mall. Most of our team, including myself, will be there for the premiere. Our film shows tomorrow evening at 20:00 and again on Thursday the 26th at 20:00, Saturday the 28th at 14:30 and Sunday the 29th at 17:30. Enjoy a couple of short films, and see the wonderful work filmmakers are doing in Johannesburg.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Big, BIGGER...Technical?

My directors have often said it to me, and I have said it to my casts: in live performance things go wrong. Somewhere you are going to make a mistake. It's part of what we do and what matters is how you handle the blunder, miss-spoken word, the entrance you missed or the choreography that temporarily vacated your current consciousness. And 2 weeks ago our cast had to deal with just that. The insanity of live performance.

CHASING had been invited to perform at the University's weekly 'Lunch Hour Performances'. So the week before the performance we changed the format of the show to fit the 40 minute time limit we had. Our director and choreographer could not attend these rehearsals and we were left in the equally competent hands of her business partner, friend and the designer of our show. With the time imposition placed upon us many of the transitions between the pieces of our show changed, meaning that entrances and exits were different, and people were on stage or off stage when they had previously been doing something else. Many of the routines were also shortened to carve our hour plus show into the 40 minutes. But knowing the show as well as we did, and being comfortable with the changes we weren't too stressed about the performance. That was until the morning of our show.

Checking the lights and setting up the morning of our performance.
We moved into the theatre, which none of us had performed in before, the night before our lunch time performance. We were informed that the workshop and props department had lost one of our four boxes. I found it odd that they were able to lose a box made of steel and wood, which weighed almost 5kilograms and stands about a meter high. But it was gone. A new one had made to replace it, so we were not too bothered about this first development. Two other props were also missing, including a black chair and an old fashioned typewriter, which was essential to some of the show's spectacular visual elements. We thought we knew where they were, and we would get them early the next morning before we performed.

And so we arrived bright and early on campus the morning of our lunch time performance, with earrings in place for later, we all realized, and costumes in hand. We found our typewriter without too much bother, but our chair was missing. This meant that while I was fixing the box used for my solo with contact adhesive which had broken in Grahamstown (using my fingers as a brush as it too was missing) our stand-in director found a stand-in chair, bought spray paint and painted it black (I ended up performing with a thin stripe of black paint on my forearm and bits of stubborn contact adhesive all over my fingers).

And then we heard the news that changed the energy of our entire group instantly: it had been made compulsory for the entire drama department to come and watch our performance. Classes and meetings were put on hold and rescheduled so that we would have an audience. And as we walked on stage, to an audience of about 700 people, more than double our biggest audience we had had before we realized that the black coats which were supposed to be hanging on a hatstand for the beginning of the show had not been pre-set. And there was nothing we could do in that moment. Thankfully one of our male cast members on the opposite side of the stage and the sense to put them on the hatstand in the momentary blackout we had after the opening of the show, and the show was off to a roaring start...and yet not without its hitches...

 A Section of the seating...which was soon filled.
The large rolls of paper we had never had a problem with before and which we use in our show decided to tear while being used on stage, or simply not to roll across the stage as they were supposed to, and had done so often before. In the second routine of the show the four ladies in our cast dance to a piece of music called "Fragment". The music comes from a poem written by the female poet Ingrid  Jonker, whose life serves as inspiration for the show. Essentially a large sheet of paper is held across the stage and in so doing our bodies are fragmented while we dance as the paper covers parts of us and only disjointed arms, heads and legs can be seen. When the paper tore this illusion was broken, but we carried on without batting an eyelid. This was followed by our essential, and incredibly heavy typewriter being put down on top of my dress and I had to keep my calm in order to free myself unobtrusively before we started dancing again. Seconds later the typewriter hooked on the edge of our new chair when it needed to be lifted high in the air, and I again had to unobtrusively manoeuvre the typewriter to get it to do what it was supposed to do. And my favourite moment of them all…
Our show

After my feet got covered in salt in the new format of the show, we performed the second last routine, a routine our cast dubbed 'chasing', and by implication involves quite a lot of running. As I jumped my salt-slick feet broke my trust in them and I fell on my (already temperamental) right knee. I was up in a flash and only grazed but only I will manage to do that in front of an audience of 700.

So despite the technical issues, and dancers forgetting cues, and spectacular falls I had fun on stage. And we performed our hearts out. I couldn’t be happier.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Sci-Fi Psycho...for 48

At the end of my third year I was not regarded as much of an actress. A physical theatre performer and dancer yes. But straight acting… Let’s just say that mine was not the first name that would come to mind in my year group. And the repercussions of this has affected my confidence in my straight acting and the agent I have now. Which made this past weekend both unexpected and rewarding.

Earlier this year a friend I had met via my Master’s studies, who had done his undergraduate work at a different institution asked if I would have liked to audition for a short film he and his sister were making. Although I didn’t get the role he and his sister remembered my work, and asked if I would like to act for their short film in the 48 hour film project this last weekend. So this last Saturday I joined team Zwoosh. It started with a message, summarizing that we had drawn the sci-fi genre, the wardrobe options I would need to take with and my character description: psycho bitch.

Some of the equipment in one of the unused rooms of the house we were graciously given full reign over by the owner. It was amazing to be supported in such a way...and his attitude towards us breaking more than one chair was refreshing: "Oh, its only material things"
So I arrived on set at 7 in the morning with freshly highlighted hair,  wardrobe options, a full makeup kit and my straightener. I was greeted by an amazing crew, tea, rusks and a script. Just before we were about to start our first read through of the script the tiny model who was playing my sister sat down on a low couch, and a moment after her I sat down. As I did the couch broke and the two of us were thrown to the floor. In a tumble of laughs we stood up. As the admittedly 51 kilogram model claimed she had picked up weight recently I joined the conversation:

“Well in that case it has to be me. I’m not sure my self-image is going to survive this shoot”

Our director, who had witnessed the fall,  joined in the laughter:

“Now that our two fat actresses have been knocked down a peg we can start”

The laughter set the tone for the rest of the day off camera, which was a fantastic change of pace considering the heavy subject matter of the shoot. My character was deeply disturbed, and the scenes my co-actor and I were shooting were very emotional and challenging. As we wrapped a very difficult scene my co-actor, who is more experienced that I am asked if I had ever done such challenging work before. I hadn’t, and neither had he. It was exciting to be challenged, in manner that wasn’t in physical theatre. and it was so much more rewarding when our director, editor and director of photography were all impressed with my work. Congratulations were handed out via fist bumps and the word 'respect' after scenes were wrapped. Considering how nervous I had been the day before I was not expecting it. Especially as I had always been considered more of a dancer than an actress I was happy and humbled by all the compliments. And considering how professional all the members of our team were I was blown away by the fact that there were keen to work with me again.

One of my favorite moments on set on Saturday was when I was doing Sudoku when I knew I wasn’t going to be filmed for a while. One the crew members walked past:

“You’re blonde, and you’re doing a sudoku.”

“And…? Just because I’m blonde doesn’t mean I’m stupid”

“Yes, but I do sudoku”


The character I played was married, and as is expected for a married woman, I was given a ring for my left ring finger to show this on film. As I was about to send a picture to my boyfriend my co-star saw what I was doing:

The little bits that make the character...
“Please tell me you’re going to post that photo on facebook.”

“No. I don’t think that’s wise”

“Just as a joke. I’ll comment and say that I was there, and that it was amazing”

After I finally got all the fake blood out of my hair, and assessed all the blisters on my toes from spending a day shooting in high heels I was happy. I had done challenging work, well. I had spent time, and laughed with an amazing team. And I’m not sure, we had made an amazing short film. The details of which I will write about once the film has been screened. For now, I'm holding thumbs that we will do well! Go Team Zwoosh!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Attitudes and Acro-tots

I started competing in acrobatics at quite a young age, and as I get older and reflect on the hours my parents spent with me, the time spent sewing sequence onto leotards and the trips to competitions I have an even greater appreciation for childhood. Especially regarding my parents’ attitude toward winning, and attitude.

As I gave my general feedback this last week to groups of dancers (and acrobats) after adjudicating a dance eisteddfod this past week my mother’s words poured from me to the parents and expectant dancers waiting for me to say my piece so they could collect their certificates:
“When you walk on stage it doesn’t matter what happened earlier. It doesn’t matter if your mom pulled your hair, or if you fought with your teacher or if yous costume is itchy. From the moment you walk on stage you are performing. You have the attitude of the greatest performer that has graced the stage, and you enjoy your dance. And the moment you walk off stage that attitude is gone.”

Adjudicating the dance section of the eisteddfod I have been adjudicating for the past two weeks turned out to be a completely different kettle of fish, as the organizer attempted to warn me before my first session. I had received detailed instruction via email informing how I should do my general feedback after each section. I was asked specifically not to mention any category winners. I do not usually announce category winners, but the week before at the high schools speech and drama section I was asked to do so when I didn’t. I was also not to hand out any certificates to dancers. Their coaches would receive them from a special certificates table to minimize any contact between performers, their parents and myself. As I was ferried out of a side door of the hall I was adjudicating in far from the reach of parents later that day I became more and more aware of why I was held to such stringent codes.

The competition between participants and dance schools at the dance eisteddfod, I was informed, had reached ridiculous heights in the previous years. The organizers of the eisteddfod were adamant to try and prevent this and apparently, questioning the adjudicator on why exactly a child had received a percentage higher or lower, affecting their ranks in the competition had been common place. At the beginning of each day the organizer reminded parents, participants and coaches that it was a dance festival, and not a competition or championships that the dancers were participating in, and that category winners and rankings would be conveyed to the dance schools at the conclusion of the festival. I don't think that this lessened any pressure, or pressure on me regarding the colour of the certificate I deemed appropriate for a dancer. Or the fact that on my first day, I was running late.

Due to a number of difficulties on the first day, including a problematic sound system, and participants who hadn’t followed the rules regarding the format of their CD’s my program was running late. As an adjudicator I do my best to stay on time, but sometimes these matters are not within my hands. A number of teachers also requested items to be moved due to clashes. The moment the organizer accommodated one legitimate request she was flooded with requests and I had to keep up. I ended up having a four hour session before my supper that day without a break in concentration. I was informed later that as I was ferried out of the hall for supper and a cup of tea a father approached the headmaster of the school where the eisteddfod was being held.

Apparently he could not understand why I was braking for supper and why I could not finish the last two and half hours of the day’s program, after my four hour session. The headmaster explained that the program had been delayed due to factors outside of anyone’s control. And that after my afternoon session I needed the break before finishing the day. Even if just to go to the bathroom. The father was not satisfied, as apparently I had also been sitting in the hall the afternoon.

This tale was related to me as I ate my supper, isolated from the demands placed upon me. When I returned home I asked my mother if the competition and pressure to win had always been so great, as I had never experienced it in the same way while I was competing. My mom laughed:

“Remember when you were at a competition in Roodepoort and I told you before you went on stage that you would walk home of you didn’t win?”

We had driven three hours to the acrobatics competition in Roodeport almost every year since I was 7 years old. The first year I competed I stood nervously with my mother before I had to go on stage, not knowing what to expect. My mom had said that to me, immediately calming my nervous before I performed as I knew my parents only expected me to do my best on stage. The statement reminded me that it was only a competition and that winning didn’t mean everything. It had become a joke in our household whenever my brother and I were competing in a competition.

“The reason I said it was because of the pressure to win I saw other children experiencing. Some mothers that heard me were horrified”

Not all families have our sense of humour.

Making up for the sense of competition, and truly making my week were the dancers in the 3 – 5 year old section. Specifically what we call the acro-tots. You never know what they are going to do on stage. Or if they will go on! But if they do it is always entertaining. For this section their coaches usually stand in the wings, showing them what to do. Many of them run forward as part of their routines, and more often than not on the completion of their forward action they look to their coach in the wing. Upon realizing thay they can’t see them they walk backward awkwardly until they can. Another little girl in a group piece ran to pick up the flowers her friend had dropped, and rightly ignored while dancing. And after a partner making a mistake in a duet piece the anger on the face of the second dancer sent the audience in to hushed fits of laughter. This was followed by a look of apology as the first dancer attempted to complete the duet.

One of the coaches, in her great wisdom, had thought it wise to put 3 three year olds in a large group piece. They were just supposed to sit on stage with their hands under their chins making a ‘flower’. A blonde curly haired three year old stood up a few seconds into the group performance, turned around to face the dancers and yelled at the top of her lungs “Mooi julle!” “Well done guys” as the group went into one of their lift sequences. She proceeded to walk across the stage, without regard for the other 15+ dancers attempting to perform the piece, hitching up her jazz pants as she went. At one point her teacher from the wing told her to make a flower, which she ignored and decided instead, from stage, to show the organizer playing the music for the participants how pretty the flares on the bottom of her jazz pants are. After this, while the rest of the group was holding a trick she decided to go, without fear into a backbend (a crab-stand in layman’s terms) on top of one of the dancers who was holding someone else in the air. Thankfully the weight of a wandering three year old didn’t disrupt the supporting dancer.

The tears were streaming down my face and that of my assistant as I did my best not to burst out laughing with the rest of the audience.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Judge, jury and executioner

This past week I returned to my home town to adjudicate the two-yearly eisteddfod of the region. I was asked to adjudicate the high schools speech and drama section, running for a week and hosted by my old high school.

My grade 8 English teacher contacted me in April this year asking if I would be able to adjudicate the section for them. I agreed, as I know this time of the year is usually rather slow and last Monday I once more walked through the turquoise gates (which hadn’t existed when I was there) of my old high school. It was surreal to see something which had a familiar feel, but which had been completed revamped in the years since I had last been there. Face brick walls had been plastered and painted, the old stage curtains, who’s colour had been of an unknown origin and name had been replaced and the boards which once held the names of top achievers had been taken down and replaced with photos.

I recognised a few faces as I walked to the school hall of teachers who had been at the school when I was there, and teachers who had attended the school the same time I had. It was quite surreal to have the people who were once asking me to produce homework now making sure that the food was to my liking, bringing me cups of tea and asking me if I was comfortable and if there was anything they could do for me. It took some getting used to.

Apparently I took some getting used to for the staff too. I realised this when whenever I saw a teacher who had once taught me asking me what exactly it was that I was “doing now”. One of my register teachers, in a gesture I appreciated told me as she opened the electrified gate that she had offered to do so as she was curious to see what I now looked like after hearing the staff-room gossip about my return. She wasn’t the only one who wat in, or came and greeted me as I walked into the usually empty staff room for my supper or tea. My favourite comment for the week from an old teacher was:

“Chandré, are you doing this?”

And another’s teacher’s surprise at the fact that I don’t smoke.

Even at a stalk-tea my mother attended during the week I was there she happened upon one of my old teachers who informed her that the staff was rather taken by how I had ‘turned out’.

I was glad that my stint at my old high school was not my first time adjudicating high school speech and drama, and that I was already confident and comfortable in my skill set. This came in rather handy on the last day, two events before I was finished with the entire session. One of the teachers assisting me in the week-long activities came to me, as apparently one of the participants wanted to ask me something. As a rule, participants and their parents are not allowed to have contact with an adjudicator. A rule which I have always appreciated, and which people that I know respected. I didn’t mind explaining my feedback, or translating my handwriting to a participant. And I enjoyed it if parents that I know came and greeted me once their child had finished participating for the week. I assumed that the participant just wanted me to explain something. Especially when I saw that the Grade 11 girl who wanted to speak to had consistently received a well deserved 90% and over during the week.

As a rule when I give feedback I always write down something that the students do well, and something that they can work on. I always try and give them positive and uplifting criticism as I want them to return again in two years and to do it again. I am convinced that scholars participating in eisteddfods breed theatre-going and appreciating audiences later on. So I am always very careful not to say anything truly negative, no matter how harrowing the performance and to focus on the positive and what they need to work on ‘for next time’. The last section that my querying Grade 11 participant had taken part in, I had started my general feedback by saying that the dramatized dramatic monologues which I had seen in this section were all of a high standard. And, especially with older participants, I try to focus on what they need to work on for future performances instead of writing pages on what they are good at and do right. I then told them that even if there is a lot of feedback concerning improvements they should not think that I did not enjoy their performances.

The Grade 11 crouched next to me, and started in hushed and angry whisper (might I add with an entire audience sitting behind us):

“I would just like to inform you that some people only function on positive feedback. And that some people get broken down when they don’t recieve it.”

My initial reaction was to say “You mean you” but I managed to refrain as she carried on with her tirade:

“And if they are not told that they are good they don’t know it”

I replied with batting an eyelid:
“You know you did well because you received a good mark. Why do I need to write pages and pages on how good you are. I’m helping you by teaching you so that you can improve next time.”

She was unphased. In fact, I don’t think she really heard what I had said:

“Well, some people don’t know that they are good unless they are told so”

I wanted to say that in life you are not always told how good you are. And that I was at least very guarded and positive in how I gave my feedback. I decided that with a participant waiting to go on stage, and a whole audience waiting for to the two of us to finish it wasn’t the time and place for me to be dealing out life lessons. And as I was not her mother I did not particularly care how she handled feedback. Especially as it seemed she had spent most of her life being told how fantastic she was and did not know how to handle uplifting criticism. I also remembered my own motto: “If I didn’t bear it, or buy it, its not responsibility to look after it”

"I give criticism according to the participants. I tell younger participants more of what they did right, and older participants more of what they need to work on as they are old enough to understand."

I decided to change tactics
“Do you want to go on with acting after this?”

She responded:
“Well, after this week definitely not. I’m just so glad that this whole experience is over and the week is finished.”

I decided that her insinuation that I was crushing her self confidence and dreams was not worth an angered response, especially as I knew the marks she had been receiving, and the feedback that give:
“I’m sorry you feel that way” I said generically  “I do however have to carry on”

“And and by the way” she had to get the last word in
“The piece I did I wrote myself, I was the one who was sick”
She had performed a piece about a girl who had a form of facial paralysis. It now also made sense why the structure of the piece had been slightly off, and perhaps why she had taken my comments so personally. However, as she had not handed her piece in when she registered, like all participants are supposed to, I did not see this. If I had I would have added the sentence: “I know the work is personal, but now look at it as a performer, and not a writer” and she still would have received the same mark and critique.

I bluntly said to the now fully recovered girl: “I’ve been sick too. And it has changed my life too. It’s something that has happened to a lot of people”

She skulked away. Perhaps upset that I didn’t apologize, perhaps upset because I didn’t just tell her how good she was. The staff member sitting next to me who had heard most of the exchange was aghast.

Upon return to the staff room I was fascinated by the fact that the teachers and Eisteddfod representative had been more taken aback and were personally upset by what had happened than I was.