Pictures: Jeremeo Le Cordeur
In a world where the arts are no longer a priority, two young art activists caught DIANE DE BEER’S eye in the way they were forging ahead and establishing their careers in a space which would nourish their own creativity but where they also wanted to promote that of others:
Two young Capetonians Herschelle Benjamin and Jeremeo Le Cordeur are proof that artists often don’t have a choice. Once those creative genes kick in, they have to listen.
Benjamin, an only child, when choosing a career knew that law would be a wiser bet, but he enrolled for that as well as a drama degree – just to make sure.
“After one week of depressing law lectures, knowing that I will fail because I had no real interest or passion for it and seeing all of my drama friends at the library or at the drama department living their dreams, I changed courses without consulting my parents.”
With bursaries for Stellenbosch University studies, when switching lanes he knew he had to succeed and show his parents that he would still be a star pupil.
Independently, Jeremeo Le Cordeur who describes himself as a creative soul, is a performer, theatre-maker and arts photographer who graduated from City Varsity, a school of media and creative arts in 2008.
Since then he has been working the arts in any way he knew how. In 2009, he joined Fresh Theatre Company, a community theatre group specialising in musical theatre, where he performed in musicals such as, Life is Rock N Roll, Love in Cyberspace, and Pinocchio.
In the following year, he created Vulture Productions, a platform to support and create new work. Since then, he has been at the helm of many successful productions such as Pizza’s Here (2011), I Know How You Screamed Last Scary Movie (2011), and Risk for the 2012 and 2013 National Arts Fringe Festival in Grahamstown and in 2013, he directed a play at Artscape titled, February 14th, which received excellent reviews.
In 2014, he directed Tannie Dora Goes Bos, which was included as part of Artscape’s 8th Women’s Humanity Arts Festival. The following year he directed John, which explored the controversial world of sex workers, working alongside SWEAT (Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce).
In the meantime, in 2016, a photography project was introduced to Vulture Productions. It was aimed at showcasing the work of South African theatre practitioners through arts journalism. In 2018, he was selected to represent Artscape Theatre in an arts-residency program called EVS (European Volunteer Service), based in Liverpool in the UK – which led to the creation of Mama, with performances at The Unity Theatre, Woordfees and Artscape.
And this year, he wrote and performed in two mono-dramas and collaborated with directors Ian van der Westhuizen and Dan van der Ventel to present Jerry An Unconventional Hero and Dude, Wa’s My Bakkie? (A Double Feature). These productions performed at Alexander Bar, Woordfees Fringe and Suidoosterfees, where he was the recipient of the NATi (Nationale Afrikanse Teater-inisiatief) Rising Star award for his vibrant storytelling.
As a youngster, Benjamin’s mom would tell him that a “pencil should never be left untouched”. “I didn’t think I was the best artist or writer but was forced to become friends with pencils, pens, paper and books. They were always there. Through all the phases and changes, my relationship to words and language is one constant one that has helped me in some of the darkest times of my life,” he explains.
The writing became more frequent and across different mediums. “Poetry still remains my secret love, dramas entice and challenge me, journalism makes me feel I don’t know enough and that I want to know more… It’s not the medium or genre that resonates but the power or ability of words, the imagination and the truth always being at the forefront of it all.”
Completing his initial studies, he received an internship at Media24 as an arts journalist. He also won the international Elizabeth McLennan Scholarship for Theatre & Performance from the Scottish Universities’ International Summerschool in Edinburgh. “This year, I’m going back after being picked as the first student host/tutor from Africa to the summer school.”
Last year he won the Teksmark Writers Bursary, was also picked as one of Artscape’s New Voices and had a play produced and performed in the Arena Theatre under direction of Sandra Temmingh. Another play, In Slavenhuis 39, was also produced this year for the US Woordfees where it was well received and won the award for Best Upcoming Artist(s).
“I’ve written pieces for the Die Student on Netwerk24 and the new Vrye Weekblad. I am also working on my M degree. And I’m partnering on a few other projects for the future.”
Just a glance at their work and one can see these two artists were destined to meet. “We first met at Teksmark in 2017 and started working together,” explains Le Cordeur.
“He told me about his media production company, Vulture Productions, and that he needed a writer for the US Woordfees, because the company was invited as media. I was busy with my Honours degree and had time to help him during the festival. The rest is history…”
“With Herschelle’s creative writing and my arts photography, we reported on many productions in Cape Town and at the Stellenbosch Woordfees. Our work was later recognized by Hugo Theart, artistic director of KKNK, who invited us to join Kritiek, a critical writing project to nurture new arts writers in 2018.”
This year they moved into the marketing departments at arts festivals. At the US Woordfees Benjamin ran the social media for the festival and at the KKNK, Vulture Productions were represented by the two of them as part of the social media marketing team.
“It’s all about building our industry, becoming well-rounded business-like artists and creating a career that span decades,” explains Benjamin.
Le Cordeur believes that Vulture Productions has shown the importance and value of support within the arts. “It’s provided opportunities for myself and so many others and it continues to have a significant impact on my own artistic development. I would love to have an exhibition of my photographs in the future,” he concludes.
As a performer, he’d like to sink his teeth into as many characters as he can, which is exactly why he collaborated with two directors to bring his own creations to life. He was rewarded richly for the effort. He will also be presenting three plays at the Free State arts festival from July 1 to 7.
Watching them operate at festivals is hectic, but these two youngsters understand that they have to grab every opportunity to make their way – especially in these early days. From reporting on and photographing the arts, to writing, performing and directing usually their own material, they have individually and collectively created a brand.
They deliver, are often over-used to a point of exhaustion because of the quality of their work, but this is their way of becoming fully fledged artists. Who says it’s easy? But if you’re Jeremeo Le Cordeur and Herschelle Benjamin, you have found a way. It’s hard work, but that’s how they keep those creative juices pumping – for themselves and their community.
For more information visit www.vulture-productions.com