On the Craft: Focus and Stillness

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to work on the final couple of performances (to date) of Hanamichi*: the brainchild of Tristan Jacobs of Masidlale Productions which was the product of months of devising and creating with a very talented student cast. The production itself is an interesting creature because of the way it evolved – masks being updated, puppets recreated, different actors slotting into the roles. Inspired by The Thought Fox, a poem by Ted Hughes, Hanamichi was a glorious thing of beauty.

I had 5 days to learn the role of Kitsune, the fox, and I was incredibly excited and nervous to take on the challenge.
I woke up one night in a cold sweat from a nightmare in which I had forgotten all my lines, which was problematic in itself since I had no lines and performed in mask.

Megan van Wyk as the Kitsune in Hanamichi 2015. Directed by Tristan Jacobs

Kitsune embracing her wakizashi

It was important to me to honour the work that had been done before I joined the cast, some of whom had been involved since its inception and had been practicing the Suzuki actor training method for much longer than I had even known about the method.

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The epic ensemble of Hanamichi 2015 | L-R Rita Hlaluka, Lea Vivier & Kamogelo Molobye

Developed by Japanese director, Tadashi Suzuki, the method is a physical technique intended to build discipline, strength and focus. If you’ve ever had to fight the urge to wipe away a bead of sweat trickling down your nose while holding a tableau, you will know that these skills are essential in theatre.

I feel that this production and the rehearsal process that followed has informed my practice as an actor – I find solace in structure and routine, which the Suzuki method offers, and the practice of finding the performative quality of stillness and the focus that goes with it has served me well in subsequent projects.

 

Megan van Wyk (left) as Kitsune and Sandi Dlangalala (right) as the Poet

Kitsune tricks the Poet

 

There are two impulses in theatre: to be frivolous or to make rules – Tadashi Suzuki

 

 

*Fun fact: In Kabuki, the hanamichi (“flower path”) is a walkway which extends into the audience on which performers make dramatic entrances and exits.

For the Art: Making Theatre

It’s so hard to explain what exactly it is I do.

Well not really, it’s pretty straightforward. I guess it’s difficult to explain to people who don’t come from a theatre background. The truth is that I do pretty much everything.

Let me backtrack a little – I’ve been trying to design a business card for myself since I’ve been asked for one on various occasions and have, as of yet, been unable to furnish anyone with said card. The problem is not the actual designing of aforementioned card, but rather the line which details job position and title i.e. The line which describes what you do.

What do I do?

I dream and write and drink coffee and rewrite and rewrite again. I phone and liaise and negotiate and beg and plead. I print and schedule and phone again and remind and admonish and apologize. I measure and cut and paste and stitch and prick my fingers. I budget and fit and source and buy. I analyze and advise and rewrite if necessary. I play and make fun and prod and guide. I design and redesign and check and confirm and prepare and send and phone and reconfirm. I panic and fix and push. I listen and search and download and organize and edit and remix. I pack and check and check again and phone and taxi and unpack. I greet and set up and help and reassure. I pep talk and warm up and focus and breathe.

And then hopefully, something magical happens. I make theatre.

For the Art: And the greater good

I love children.

And I love theatre.

And I strongly believe in the role theatre can play in the life of a young person coming to terms with the world. It can encourage play and imagination, fire up a sense of magic, build pathways for understanding human nature and countless other principles, as well as teaching important inter- and intrapersonal skills.
Most of the theatre projects aimed at young audiences I’ve been involved in have been fun and boisterous and very much in line with what people generally think of when children’s theatre is mentioned.

That said, the project I’ve fallen head-first into is very serious children’s theatre.
The play, a new work by Eliot Moleba in association with ASSITEJ ZA, is called The Orphan of Gaza and will premiere at the National School of the Arts Downstairs Theatre on the 16th of June.

Megan van Wyk & Nidaa Husain featured in Eliot Moleba play Orphan of Gaza

The Orphan of Gaza

I’m deeply touched by this story and so looking forward to telling it!

On the craft: Auditions

I’ll be honest, auditions still make me sweat.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s for a commercial or a big musical, the nerves are the same.
The heart palpitations, sweaty palms, shallow breathing minutes before your number’s up.
And none of the above makes it any easier to perform well, just try singing when you can’t breathe properly!

I find it strange that I don’t experience the same symptoms when performing – I love being on stage.
Especially after the last tour I did – travelling all over the country to different schools, the stress of driving and setting up in time for the show – you’d think that the first casting I was called to after getting back to Jozi would be a breeze. Think again.

I did just about everything wrong – stumbling through my ID like a newbie, getting tongue-tied on the one-liner (yikes!) and basically just being awful. The entire nightmare probably only lasted for 5 minutes, but they were without a doubt the longest bloody 5 minutes of my life. Truth is, all you can really do after that is take a deep breath, reclaim your dignity and move on.

While browsing through my newsfeed, I also stumbled upon a lovely article by Craig Wallace about why auditioning is an art form in itself on Backstage.com:

Auditioning is a dynamic creative process that can shine a light on your soul and test your skills and bravery like few other artistic disciplines can.  – Craig Wallace

 

It reminded me of something I knew at a time – that an audition is a performance in itself. A 5-minute one woman show – if you will. It also made me think of some sage advice given to me by the inimitable Andrew Buckland last year while we were working on a show: “Make a choice, commit to it and BE BRAVE!”

Ubom Hoss cast Sne Dladla Elisha Mudly Luvuyo Yanta Thami Baba Sparky Xulu Andrew Buckland Megan van Wyk

The Wild wild East – Hoss 2014

 

Hopefully I can take that advice with me into my next audition, which is soon!

So please cross all fingers, I’ll let you know how it went 😉

On the Craft: And the Big City.

When I first moved to Joburg, I was scared. To say the least.

It wasn’t an easy decision and could have bombed very easily if I wasn’t the bloody-minded optimist that I am.
That said, Johannesburg has taught me some things which I am grateful for and which, I believe, will eventually make me a better human being. (I hope.)

What Jozi has taught me.

  1. There is traffic. Deal with it.
    CT has apparently now taken the prize as most congested city in SA, but Jozi is still contending hard for the honour. There are always numerous cars on the road, at all times. Not forgetting endless roadworks, accidents and traffic lights which will cause an instant backlog. Sing. Loudly. Preferably to music you love – it calms frayed trafficjammed nerves. 
    And also, plan accordingly – if the route should take you 15 minutes, add in AT LEAST an extra 15 minutes for traffic and unforeseen calamities. 
  2. There is beach weather. But no beach.
    Count on the Northern Highveld to have clear, sunny skies, lovely mild temperatures and nary a breeze most of the time. It’s the perfect beach weather. With not a nearby beach to be seen. This has been a strange thing to get used to. Especially considering that for the last 7 years I’ve been, at the most, within a 40 minute drive of a strip of coast. But you find other things to do! Joburg has amazing recreation centres dotted around the metro and is also home to pretties such as the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Zoo Lake, the Sandspruit hiking trail and Melville Koppies for when the outdoors must be explored. 
  3. There is a greater concentration of professionals in your field. With pros and cons.
    Of course, the first pro is that you can meet so many brilliant people and be inspired by their stories and their influence. 
    However, it also sucks a little bit because, at any given casting, you are certain to be in competition for the role with some of the finest the industry has to offer. 

 

This list is still incomplete. And I will add more points of interest as they come up.

But for now, sleep. Because although tomorrow is Sunday, I’ve enrolled in a three-weekend long course in camera acting and we start bright ‘n early. And this actress needs all the beauty sleep she can get!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For the Art: Choir

Sometimes it is necessary for us to start at the very beginning.
(It’s a very good place to start)

Okay, last of the ohrwurm lyrics, I promise!

I recently auditioned for and got into a choir for a production this Easter.

It’s very interesting to me that so many singers in the industry started singing early in life in choirs.

I think choir teaches you so much about singing, discipline, basic musicality and the dynamics of music – I can certainly vouch for the fact that most of my *sight-reading skills come from singing in choirs.
Of course, you don’t need to understand the technicalities of harmony in order to sing in a choir, and that’s part of what makes it great. There are actually a couple of *studies that focus on the benefits of choral singing, and one of the findings is that a group of singers sync their heartbeats. That’s crazy!

Okay, not so crazy if you think that when a choir sings together, they’re also breathing together.
Studies also find that singing in a choir makes people happier in general.

And if you don’t believe it, just watch this video of a kids choir getting Happy =)

Our MD, Ralf Schmitt – who is the artistic director of the Mzanzi Youth Choir – often has little anecdotes to share.
Something he said last week has really stuck with me. And it’s that any musical endeavour you undertake makes you a better musician.
I may not be playing an instrument while singing in this choir, and sure, it takes up a lot of time, BUT I am definitely honing my skills as a musician whose instrument is their voice, tuning my ear to new melodies and musical complexities.

The Choir - and me, trying hard to look angelic

Daughters of the King Choir Members

Daughters of the King is an Easter extravaganza featuring some of the leading ladies of SA Gospel: Rebecca Malope, Malie Kelly, Gloria Bosman and Ntokozo Mbambo.
Show runs 17 – 21 April 2014.
Tickets available at www.joburgtheatre.com

*Sight-reading is the unprepared reading and performing of a piece of written music.

*Studies (For those who care enough to read further)

On the Craft: Ubom! Aftermath and Headshots (A Crash Course)

 

This is a sound slide made by Alexa Sedgwick, a 3rd year photojourn student who followed us around for the last couple of weeks.
She’s very talented and got some really great shots.

Just thought I’d share them.

I’m currently in Cape Town. Made the move, decided it’s where I would like to establish myself and work from.
The city has a great vibrancy and some very exciting things are happening all around.
Talking about photos, I had some new headshots taken today with Jesse Kate Kramer, a photographer who specializes in theatre photography. It’s not an easy specialization and she’s done some amazing work.
It’s never fun sitting in front of a camera, but Jesse definitely eased me into it.

She also had some good advice for a first-timer like me.

I was told to bring a couple of different tops and we shot three of four.
It’s best to go for a neutral look, so nothing with a busy pattern. Bold colours and clean necklines.

Jesse recommended a fresh faced look, so I applied less make up than I would normally.
A BB cream, loose powder, subtle eyeliner and mascara.
In retrospect, I think I should’ve glossed up before the time, but will definitely have some gloss on hand next time I go for a session.

Jesse also recommends booking your hairdresser’s appointments before doing a shoot. This really doesn’t apply to me because no hairdresser can do my natural curls the way I can (and they’ve tried); but I did have my hair cut last week, so the cut is relevant.
It’s no good having something drastic done to your look right after you’ve had headshots taken. Apparently some casting happens purely by headshot.

No pressure 😉
Really excited to see the shots later this week.

 

For the Art: Hilton Festival!

I’m pretty excited for the week that lies before us (like so many blank pages on which to lay out our outrageous colours!)

It’s Hilton Festival this week. And after about three weeks of being off work, I’m raring to get back into the theatre!
It’s been great having some time to just walk along the beach and visit with friends and family, but there is something about getting up in the morning and having a warm-up session, getting into a day packed with rehearsals and performances, the thrill (and humdrum) of touring, the different places and the people you meet.

I love my job. I’m excited for what lies ahead but also very sad that the opportunity with Ubom! has been so short-lived. Who would’ve thought that one could say that seven months down the line? I’ve been very blessed with what working with Ubom! has been for me – I think it’s possibly the most challenging thing for a performer fresh out of training to go into a rep company like Ubom! because of the immense amount of work you do. I think many people go in to study Drama and Theatre without knowing how demanding a field it is.
However much theatre may seem like fun and games, it really does require a lot to get it there.

So, back to the work 😉
We’ll be diving straight back in with a performance for Best of Fest in Grahamstown right before we leave for the Witness Hilton Arts Festival where we will be performing until Sunday.

Now I just need to go recheck my bag to see if I’ve left anything behind =)

Welcome to the Wild Wild East...ern Cape!

Welcome to the Wild Wild East…ern Cape!

Follow my journey to Hilton on Twitter – @miss_meg7n 

On the Craft: Moneymachine

It’s official. I’m officially unemployed.

It’s not the worst thing in the world. For one, I am in the position of having some free time on my hands for the first time in like three years. So, that’s something.
Also, I just spent the last eight months working with one of the few professional theatre companies in South Africa. I’ve learnt a helluva lot.

Still, though. Unemployed. 

And one of the few professional theatre companies in South Africa has closed.

If you didn’t read about it, it may be because the only articles written about it were this one and this one.

Now, I’m not very enlightened about funding models and moneystuff, but here is what enlightened folk who have been involved in the industry for a lot longer than me have to say about economics and the arts in South Africa

In the meanwhile, I’ll be turning my thoughts to writing some new stuff. And trying to figure out how money works. 

NAF. The Aftermath.

I still feel like I never had a chance to really articulate very clearly what Festival was like.

Honestly, words do fail me, because it feels like everything happened in such a whirlwind of wonder and gloriousness. So I made a list. I like lists. I’m a Virgo.

It’s a list of shows I managed to squeeze in between performances of Betti and Hoss and it managed to annoy me because I got to that same state of inability to chronologically sort it in my mind, but here it is after all.

  • Lenny and the Wasteland
  • Dirt
  • Thom Pain
  • Wat die hart
  • Dis koue kos, skat
  • The Belgian
  • Sunday Morning
  • Frank Sinatra and friends
  • Get Kraken!
  • Passages
  • Dogyard
  • The Minnie and Johnson Show
  • Year of the Bicyle
  • Drive with me
  • Wednesday Night
  • The Unexpected Man
  • Swoop
  • Fully Committed
  • The Snow Goose
  • Lake
  • Tender
  • Cry Havoc

I loved most of these shows, with a few (and really only a couple) disappointed moments which were mostly unrelated to the content of the show anyway. Like the techie with bronchitis who coughed throughout one of the shows. =/

I made a commitment to tweet about each show I saw, and as a whole, I think I managed to do so. It wasn’t always easy though.
But looking back on my feed from that time, I’m glad I did it.
I also found through this time that I’m that kind of audience member that you don’t want to be sitting next to.
I just get so immersed in the action that I forget it’s a shared experience. So I act like I’m the only person in the audience =/
This often involves protracted bouts of laughing. And sometimes irrational crying.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just the way I was made. I like to think that I’m ‘in touch with my feelings’ .

I did have a good internal giggle the one night when one of my actor friends came to see Hoss and responded to the show in the exact same way that I would’ve, were I in the audience. Made me think (and hope) that perhaps I’m not an isolated case.

All in all, Festival overload achieved.

Fest

 

If you’d like to take a look at my Twitter journey, my handle is @miss_meg7n =)