Theatre is a bitch. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still love it to death, but it doesn’t love me nearly as much in return. The last few months I’ve been thinking really hard about my career as an actor. I’ve been looking into studying other courses and other work possibilities. The work that I’ve been doing lately isn’t exactly awe inspiring. Virginia Woolf famously said that writing is like sex; “First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.” I would say that statement applies to any creative profession. You start doing it because it’s fun and you get pure joy from it. Then people start to notice that you have a talent and it becomes something that you are associated with. And finally you become an adult and you realize that you have to take what you’ve been given and try to make money out of it. Suddenly you realize that the branch of your profession that makes money isn’t exactly what you dreamed of. In my case, the juicy, dramatic stage roles aren’t the ones that make money. It’s the clowny, borderline degrading work that brings in a bit of cash. And I don’t know if it’s worth it.
A little over a year ago I enrolled in a film acting course that my agent persuaded me to take. I was hesitant at first, because I see myself as more of a theatrical actor, but I ended up enjoying it I learned a lot more about film acting than I ever did in college.
On the first day I was my nervous self. I got there an hour early and I can’t remember how many pills and pep talks I had to give myself before I was able to enter the building. When I got inside I found the nearest corner for me to go and hide in. Actors can be very noisy people and a room full of them can be very terrifying. After a while we had to sit down and introduce ourselves. At first I didn’t notice anyone around me because I was staring at my feet. But then the lady next to me started talking to me. A strikingly beautiful woman with long black hair. Kind of like if Sandra Bullock and Courtney Cox had a love child. She introduced herself to me as Natasha. She started asking me about myself. When she said that she studied musical theatre I thought Oh Lord, she’s probably really mean. You need to understand that most of the musical theatre people I come across are really mean people. I guess I can’t blame them. I would probably also be mean if I were a triple threat with a hot body.
But Natasha is anything but mean.
For our first scene we had to pair up. I gave her a glance and she understood what I meant in my weird muteness and agreed to do the scene with me.
As we went over our lines we started talking. I usually struggle to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but every so often I find someone that I really click with. I was so surprised. Here was this beautiful, talented person who could talk to anyone she wanted, talking to me. And she had killer comedic timing. We had a hard time keeping straight faces during the scene. After the first day I knew that we were kindred souls.
After the course ended I still kept in touch with most of the people. But I would say that two of them really stuck on me, one being Natasha. We continued to see each other whenever we could. She gave me a comp to go and watch her in Aspoestertjie at Emperors Palace. I knew that we would continue to be friends beyond work and courses.
One of the things we spoke about a lot whenever we saw each other was the frustration of trying to find your way into this industry. We started saying that we needed to find a way to make our own work. On our last coffee date, which was the day my grandmother passed away, she told me that she was working on a show called Dragging 30 with her friend Genna Galloway and that she would be starring in Die van Aardes van Grootoor by Pieter Dirk Uys. She also played me ‘Masterpiece’ by Jessie J, saying that she really liked the song and wanted to record it. I was really happy to see her so excited.
Dragging 30 was a big success in Cape Town. I couldn’t see the original run because I was in Pretoria and busy with my own shows. But my prayers were soon answered when I heard that the show would be coming to Johannesburg. At first I was concerned that I would miss it because it clashed with the run of the latest production that I performed in, but I decided that come hell or high water, I would watch this show. So, on the 26th of March I wormed my way out of my undersized bear costume (I played the role of Baby Bear despite being a head taller than my cast mates) and into some more decent clothes to go and watch the show.
Now, I’m going to stop you right there: I know that I’m going to seem biased writing about a show that my friend co-created and starred in. I probably am a bit biased, but this is the first time that I am writing about a show that stars a friend of mine. I didn’t know anyone in the casts of The Rocky Horror Show or Bent prior to watching the shows. And most of my friends are theatre people. I have sat through many crappy shows, only to slink out of the theatre before anyone could ask my opinion. I don’t want to be the one to tell a friend that their show sucks, but I also don’t want to lie. Remember, this is not a review.
When I first entered the Auto & General Theatre on the Square my first thought was: I have no pills. Shit! My second thought was: Wow. There are a lot of lesbians here (not that there is anything wrong with that). And my third thought was: Damn. How did I only come to this theatre now? It’s a really nice place and I hope to perform there one day.
The show opens with Genna leaving Cape Town to go and start a new life in Johannesburg. Natasha is her downstairs neighbour. The two women bond over being single ladies in their early 30’s and trying to make ends meet. I remember my mom telling me about my uncle calling her on her 30th birthday to send his condolences rather than congratulate her. At the time I didn’t understand, but now that I’m 24 I do. 30 is scary.
What I loved the most about the show is that it is deeply relatable. Natasha and Genna make a great team as they effortlessly belt out songs while doing microsecond costume changes. And of course they nail the comedy. My favourite part was probably them dressed as strangely phallic noses, because God knows I’ve been there…
Now let me address the Queen in the room. Alain Fleischmann is absolutely divine as Cadenza Jones. I have always had a special place in my heart for drag queens, because it not only takes guts of steel, but also complete dedication and skill to do it right. And while he is also crazy funny, there is an underlying sadness that makes the character endearing, as he nearly had me in tears at one point.
By the end of the show everyone was rooting for the girls It was wonderful to see that the audience connected and saw themselves. Theatre is, after all, a mirror.
And then they sang ‘Masterpiece’, which I thought was so fitting.
After the show I waited for Natasha outside the door. Genna and Alain came out first. I wanted to tell them that they were great, but I was too shy. My social anxiety was tingling.
And out came Natasha. Sweet, darling Natasha. Asking me how I am, what I’m doing. And I wondered again how someone so nice became my friend.
As I drove home I thought about how, despite all of the difficulties of putting on a successful show in this day and age, these three people got together and did it anyway. It gave me hope that I could do it too. Because as much as I would like to tell Theatre that I don’t need it anymore one day, I doubt that I ever will.
And I’ll always have friends who keep inspiring me.