DIANE DE BEER
Artists are the people I love writing about most.
They’re creative, think out of the box, live to entertain and make people smile, think, dream, cry and much more – all at the same time. They teach, learn, tell stories, show us how to view the world differently, how to admire and accept or simply entertain to take us away from a harsh world – if only for a moment.
Talking to two remarkable women artists recently, I was reminded of the privilege to be given access to their work but also to the magic they achieve through blood, sweat and tears. And in the artistic world, especially at this moment in time, stage is probably bottom of the rung. Not for those of us who love theatre but for the multitudes who haven’t discovered it yet.
Jenine Collocott, artist extraordinaire and director, most recently formed a new theatre company Contagious with actors James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett as well as long-time Fringe producers Simon and Helen Cooper with the aim of “producing independent fringe theatre that brings the creative freedom, simplicity and energy of the festival circuit to mainstream audiences” – so wherever you are in South Africa, watch out for them on their current rounds with their much loved The Snow Goose.
She’s currently rehearsing for a clowning show for the annual Oudtshoorn-based Klein Karoo National Arts Festival at the end of March (29 until April 4). Even though she trained for this specifically in Italy, it is her biggest venture in clowning with a cast of seven, most of whom she hasn’t worked with before and most of whom haven’t done any clowning before, even though you can see why they were picked.
Included are actors Jemma Kahn, Roberto Pombo and actor/producer De Klerk Oelofse who got the whole thing off the ground as the producer.
Speaking to a terrified Collocott is what got me excited. Even though what she was doing was mammoth, she was as excited as fearful in what can be said was a healthy balance.
Not only did she have to take her cast through what could be a painstaking process of becoming a clown, once there and only then, could they start to workshop the performance. Fortunately, she is working with a bunch of actors who know how to create their own work and with her as the gentle yet guiding teacher, the results will be something awesome to witness whether they pull it off or not.
“I’ve never seen anyone be as caring with a cast as Jenine was throughout this challenging process and she didn’t know us. I will never forget it,” says Oelofse who is on a mission to develop a skill set that is as broad as it is empowering.
They are at play in full swing as I write and few shows at this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival excite me more than this novel attempt at a family show with something completely different. Titled Babbelagtig (which means something like chatterbox-ing) the idea was also fuelled by Oelofse’s response to the recent Slava Snow Show.
As with most things Collocott tackles, it’s innovative, imaginative and invigorating. Can it go wrong? Of course, but that’s how artists grow their craft – by pushing those boundaries and taking leaps not of faith but of grandeur and bravery because they’ve worked their way towards this.
No one works harder and with more precision than Sylvaine Strike, director extraordinaire, who has built a reputation for her unique work which is remarkable in its individuality. And she’s constantly changing like a chameleon the work she chooses – and then she makes it her own. It’s her particular Strike style that can be adapted to work with any play she selects in a way that’s quite astonishing.
From her standout The Travellers and Coupe in which she also played, the recently revived Black and Blue in which she recast Atandwa Kani opposite herself to the two Molière plays The Miser followed by Tartuffe and now making a U-turn with Sam Shepard’s The Curse of the Starving Class, the road she travels allows her fans to jog along with excitement.
What will she do next and how is she going to approach this? Casting on its own is an art as she turns to Andrew Buckland for the extraordinary Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereoff and then adds extra bang with the exceptional Toni Morkel.
Gerard Bester, Brian Webber, Daniel Buckland and now Neil McCarthy have all taken on a special Strike hew when working with her. It’s as if her visual acuity allows her to use these actors, formidable as they usually are, in a completely new light.
With Buckland in Tobacco for example, she didn’t simply apply his amazing mime and clowning skills, she allowed the actor in him to flourish with accents of his many skills popping up to accentuate certain points she wanted to make.
If you watch her work, she plunges to a depth with detail that is quite exhausting but triumphs in the final production. Nothing escapes her eye which is both a visual and a visceral one and with her current Shepard production, she used music to tap out the rhythms for the actors to give their characters grounding.
“Shepard can be quite messy and chaotic,” she says, but in that is where you find the meaning and the magic of his message.
It is both what she brings and the way she does it that has netted her such a strong following. They know whatever she does, it will have intent and innovation. From the visual spectacle to the quirky casting, nothing is done without juggling many different balls to find the exact formation for this specific production.
That’s why a Strike show will sweep you off your feet – and then it lingers and plays with your mind.