Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The stars do shine brighter in Africa: At the Naledi Awards

I’m not someone who believes in coincidence. So when the head of the college where I teach at ‘happened’ to let her students know that she had managed to get tickets for the students to attend the Naledi Theatre Awards on Monday the 17th I knew the timing was not a coincidence. So, as the drama and theatre lecturer I called and asked if there would be a ticket for me as well. A weekend spent on tenterhooks and Monday morning provided a message: She had managed to get a ticket for myself, and for my boyfriend/partner/long-suffering-plus-one.

So straight after a Monday morning audition I hopped through my second shower of the day to get ready for the awards, and then head off on the trek from Hatfield to the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City.
A red carpet, wine on arrival and circulating snacks set the tone for an evening of glamour. And surprisingly for me, running into some acquaintances.  A few people that had studied at the university while I was there, and some friends I had met along the way. I also saw some faces that I recognized from shows and put faces to names that were familiar. As someone who grew up in a small town, and an actress who is in awe of a lot of these people I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland seeing these people, and attending the same function. I bumped into a friend, and as I didn’t know for certain that I would be attending until a few hours before the awards ceremony I hadn’t read through all the nominations. I asked, rather sheepishly:

“It’s probably in bad taste to ask at the awards, but are you nominated?”

He laughingly replied that he hadn’t been, and had ended up at the awards in a similar fashion to the way I had.

The awards themselves were amazing with performances from some of the musicals performed in South Africa in the past year (including Phantom's Phantom Jonathan Roxmouth and Cabaret's Samantha Peo), as well as some firm favourites and the amazingly talented Allan Committee who was the hilarious Master of Ceremonies and had the audience in fits of laughter throughout the evening (which ended in just over two hours).  As a young actress, attending for the first time it was nice to be to there without having been involved in a production that was nominated, as if I ever am in the future it creates perspective. No matter how many stunning performances there are, there can be only one winner. And at the end of the show, I’m not working for awards, I’m working for every audience member who attends each show.

At the end of the evening I was talking to a fellow actress when I was asked to stand for a photo just before we left to go home. I didn’t think much of it, until a photo I posted of the Nalide awards on Instagram got a comment
Mika Stefano, a South African entertainment and gossip blogger commented on my photo that he had a photo with myself with fellow actress Denel Honeyball and choreographer Nicola Elliott and that he would be posting it on his facebook page. And so it was…

Nicola Elliot, Denel Honeyball and Myself, photo courtesy of Mika Stefano's facebook page.

Monday, 11 March 2013

International Pool-Side-Ho: De-Robing

I’ve always told my students that they need to decided what they are willing to do on screen or stage, and what they aren’t because once you are pressured with an offer you might end up doing something you regret. I am certain that nudity is not something that I am comfortable with, but I had never considered being clothed in a shot with other actresses who are nude. And by the time I found out that this is exactly what I would be doing there was no turning back. And to be completely honest I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I do know that I, as a clothed actress, was treated very differently on set by the male crew members than those who weren’t.  

Two aspects of the shoot were entirely new to me, the first was the nudity. In light of how exceptionally conservative coke and been when it came to what we ladies were and were not showing it was quite a shock for me that no one was trying to cover my cheeks in between shots, or make sure that my cleavage was not showing. The second aspect was the pyrotechnics, as we were shooting an action series. One of the sequences we shot involved a large gun fight and explosion during the evening. Personally I like to think it was because of my acting skill, but it might have more to do with the fact that I’m blonde and was wearing a neon pink dress over my bikini and I would therefore be visible in the weaker light, I was chosen to be involved in this shot. Along with two of the ladies who were doing nudity. While robed we rehearsed ducking under tables and chairs while actors screamed, without much enthusiasm considering they were actors ‘bang bang’. Then on the cue of the explosion we were to run inside the house of the location we were shooting on. One the first rehearsal we three ladies, all still robed, ran into the house, as we were told to do, and not to stop until we were in the kitchen. Once we were in the kitchen we were greeted by the family who owned the property we were shooting on, along with their two young sons of roughly 10 and 12.

As we walked back to our first positions one of my co-stars looked at the other:
“We have to run in their just now without our robes. And the kids are sitting there”
They both panicked. One of the crew members involved with pyrotechnics, who we had been talking to earlier walked by. He was very Afrikaans and rather animated. We had signalled to him to come closer. He shrugged and mouthed “Why?”
One of the ladies called: “The boys are inside” and pointed to her robe.
We could visibly see the gears change in his mind as realization of what was about to happen dawned on him and speedily changed direction to run inside the house and ask the family to temporarily vacate the kitchen.

When we did shoot the scene the directors decided not to have us ladies running around. I have to admit the first time we shot with the noisy blanks I was not prepared for it. I was required to very little acting considering how real ammunition rounds sounded surrounding me (we were trapped in the cross-fire of the shooting) and how loud the rounds we were. As we ducked under tables and deck chairs all three of us convulsed as the shots were ‘fired’ around us. Even by third take our bodies reacted to the sound of each ‘bullet’ being fired. And then there was the explosion!

Our Afrikaans pyrotechnics friend had set of the small explosion two or three times the day before to test what was supposed to happen. I will never forget watching him converse with the third assistant director, who was very British. His ‘English’ was so peppered with Afrikaans words in all the functional places in the sentences that I could read the confusion on the British Third AD’s face as the Pyro Guy was explaining what he was about to do. He didn’t have the heart to tell Pyro Guy that he didn’t know what he was saying and just nodded as if in confirmation and walked away. Pyro Guy was none the wiser, and carried on with his job.

Now as the explosion was to be set off with some sort of radio device the entire cast was to switch off their cell phones, as a cell phone could potentially accidentally activate the explosion. And nobody needed to be told how dangerous it was. I do not have any understanding of pyrotechnics in film, but I assume they are meant to be more flash and less bang. Although we were very far for the explosion I could feel the heat on my skin every time it flashed up into the night sky.

On one of our takes I had to dive underneath a table during the explosion, exactly where one of the crew members had dropped a glass earlier during a previous sequence. I had a piece of glass in my forearm, and didn’t fancy it getting infected considering that I had been crawling around on the floor with a bleeding arm for about 20 minutes. I went to the third AD who worked mostly with us. All I really wanted was a plaster, but the medic was called and I was inspected, disinfected and plastered, all the while under the eyes of about 50 male crew members.

“Hey Alvin, you never spend that much time helping any of us”

This was followed by general laughter. I smiled graciously to my make-shift audience, and went back to my ‘first position’ to redo the take.

As with any job, a number of things happened that were new and funny. An apricot fell out of the tree I was standing under just just missing me as the director called ‘action’.  Jewellery was forgotten and snuck back on, and prayers were said that no one in continuity would pick up on it. Three Champaign glasses were broken. I had to do a scene walking across a blistering hot pavement. And in between each take I was hopping from foot to foot to the amusement of the crew. But one of my top moments was that of the ‘poisoned food’.

Two of us clothed ladies were to stand around a table filled with food and feed it to one of the cartel members. One of the crew members came to us and asked if we were comfortable with our assignment and as he was leaving said nonchalantly: “And by the way, the food is poisoned”. We rehearsed the scene, and the cartel member we were acting with took a bite of some of the food placed all around us. One of the female crew members walked up to us:
“Guys, don’t eat the food it’s been sprayed with insecticide.  We have to do it so flies don’t sit on the food during takes. We usually have sings up”
They guy from earlier chipped in: “I told you it was poisoned”

Monday, 4 March 2013

International Pool-Side-Ho

I have, so far, had an interesting progression in the types of roles I have done for camera. I started out as a baker, with almost no makeup on and piece of linen on my head. I then played a stripper, progressed to a Vegas Showgirl, and most recently in January I portrayed a ‘Classy Hooker’. I would have called it a pool-side-ho, but we’ll get there shortly.

Two days before going on set, I received a phone call from my agent. From my photograph I had been chosen to do some work for a British action series which is being shot in South Africa. Now I know my dad watches the series, but that is about as much as I knew going in. I was of course interested in working with a British director. As a South African actress the word 'International' make your eyes sparkle and your mouth drool. When I received the confirmation email I saw that my character would be a ‘Classy Hooker’. I called my mom. “Well, if you’ve ever thought you’re not sexy enough, you now have your answer” was her response. Earlier last year when I was cast as stripper I made it abundantly clear to my agent that I was not prepared to do nudity, so at least I was sure of what was required of me in that sense.

Our spectacular location
So GPS in hand off I went for my two day shoot, on one of the worst roads I had ever driven on. Upon arriving on set I immediately headed off to the makeup ladies. They always know in which direction to send one. I did realise that there were almost no other women on set either. Slightly early, I was the first of the girls for the day to arrive, and as I signed in by the appropriate people I was handed a cerise pink card saying ‘Classy Hooker’ as a form of identification. As I queued three other girls arrived, with bleached hear tight t-shirts and tiny shorts. In retrospect this should have been my first clue. The three ladies were handed yellow cards that said ‘Hooker’. I assumed that we would be working together, and they were really friendly so I introduced myself and had lunch with them. A little while later I noticed another dark haired lady who had come while we were eating lunch. She had the most spectacular tattoos and a cerise pink card. Another dark haired lady arrived and the six of us, three cerise pink cards and three yellow cards were herded into makeup. We were divided between the makeup artists, and the false lashes were divided between us. One the ladies in charge came over with a ‘Look Book’ for us, as we were to we were to be Columbian hookers. Curlers were put into my already curly hair, and I was based, powdered, painted, lined and glued into place. I was moved into the main trailer for the finishing touches on my hair. The head of makeup grabbed me and looked at the girl seated on the swivelling high chair next to me. You could read the unimpressed look on her face as her hear was teased. The head of makeup laughed: 
“Honey we are not doing what you would choose to do. In fact, if you chose to do this I would be forced to stop you”
This broke the ice, and I could help but laugh as my own hair was teased into a high pony tail, and my fringe was teased over to one side.

Only I can manage to play a hooker and not wear my
heels in any of the shots! 
I was one of the last girls to be finished and as I made my way to our trailer (YES THE SIX OF US HAD OUR OWN TRAILER) the wardrobe lady in charge of us followed me in. Most of the other girls already had their gowns on over their costumes. That is another thing I had learned on set. Always take a robe. Firstly, it tends to get cold on set sometimes, and generally you don’t have anything with you, so it’s good to have when it gets cold. Secondly, if you’re wearing a tiny costume, and you have to walk past mostly male crews it’s nice to have the option to cover yourself.
I was put into a pair of tiny silver denim shorts, which I was just thankful I fit into, and one of the shiniest metallic tops with an open back I had ever seen. I was given a pair of colourful stiletto heels, given large gawdy jewellery and a rather cute pair of aviator sunglasses. We sat around in our trailer until we had to set to start the real work.

Now, at this point, as an actress all you have with you is what is going to be in frame, a cell phone you can usually hide in your costume somewhere and some of the other girls had their cigarettes with them. As we arrived someone from wardrobe, on set, would check if were completely camera ready. The wardrobe lady who had loved my top in the dimly lit and air-conditioned trailer realised the blinding and reflective potential of the shirt I was wearing in the sunlight and it was immediately decided that I had to change…post-haste as the director wanted to start shooting as quickly as possible. Abigail, who was the wardrobe lady in charge of us grabbed me by the arm and we went briskly into an out of the way empty room. 
“What underwear are you wearing?” As she had strapped me into my shirt I knew very well she didn’t mean my bra.
“Black boy cuts.”
“With a little bum cheek? Fantastic”
So as it turned out all she had with her was a black bikini top and a  bright pink crocheted dress. My underwear would be serving as my bikini bottoms. I had once proclaimed that I wouldn't do nude work, but underwear was completely fine. It seems that when you say these things you truly get tested. I was changed in a matter of minutes and in place to start rehearsing for the first shoot of the day.

The six of us were positioned around a pool with a river in the background. The cameras were ready. We had rehearsed our small action and knew what to do.

“OK ladies, robes off”
The three yellow carded girls were wearing only bikini bottoms…