I sat there that evening with a wide open heart.
The Lyric Theatre is such a beautiful space. A red and gold room that carries an elegance all it’s own. I watched the various winners receiving their Naledi awards. Beautifully dressed theatre persona being given their own unique Naledi trophies of glass. I looked down at mine nestled in my lap: Lesedi Spirit of Courage Award. I hugged it closer.
So many familiar faces from a world I had said goodbye to twenty-six years ago. What was extraordinary about that evening was that I was made to feel that I still belonged. Theatre people are special in that regard. Once you are part of their world, they will never let you go. You are still “joined” to that very special force. Over the years I have maintained a close relationship with my theatre friends. It was astounding having an auditorium filled with comrades and familiar faces.
I laughed softly to myself as my old friend, Fiona Ramsay gave her thank you speech. She had been nominated twice for her performances in Miss Dietrich Regrets and Doubt. In true Fiona style she had won for both of them. She had drawn with herself! This was the first time in the Naledi history that anyone had accomplished such a feat.
She thanked Naledi and congratulated all the other nominees. “But no one deserves this award more than me!” There was an explosion of mirth from the audience. Knowing the way that Fiona works on a role, I could see her point.
Before my accident, we worked on different productions but at the same theatre and our dressing rooms were next door to each other. Often I would share dinner with her cast in their dressing room. When we were working on A Midsummer Nights Dream together, we spent evenings at home going over words, delving into the richness of the Shakespearean language. We would often hoot with laughter at the outcome of some of our ‘explorations’. Fiona recalled with relish, what a great soup maker I was. Nowadays I am still a great soup maker but Woolworths stars with a flourish!
A fellow theatre performer, Tammy Bonell Garner, remembers a Friday evening at the Baxter Theatre: “We were coming in to start the marathon 4 weekend shows. I was dragging myself up the stairs to the dressing rooms, with all my bags and make-up box. I met Fiona just to about to leave after a week of heavy rehearsals, on her way to another show. We both looked exhausted and as we passed each other, she said, ‘The best part about being in the theatre is the phone call to say you got the role! Often the rest is just hard slog!’ I have never forgotten that conversation. And yet, we performers love the theatre life!”
Fi doesn’t like being second best. I am sure that whatever she had put her mind to, she would have been successful. Initially she toyed with taking up medicine. However winning an award at school for drama propelled her towards theatre. We now have one of the finest actors gracing our boards.
How I wished that I had seen her stern and stoic Catholic nun, Sister Aloysius Beavier, in Doubt and the contrasting fading glamor of the old Marlene Dietrich. With Fiona’s fire and passion, they were no doubt extraordinary roles. After a Doubt performance, an audience member burst out: “I don’t know any of you, but I just had to stay to meet you. In the performance I have just watched, I felt like I breathed in at the beginning of the play and never breathed out! I was spellbound and captivated from the outset!”
“Marlene Dietrich was such a faceted star and personality,” says Fiona, “and I was aware I would have to access some extraordinary parts of myself to make her live. Sylvaine Strike directed and she opened up vistas of character possibility. We explored parts of myself during this process that I hadn’t visited before. The rehearsal room fairly bristled with creativity.”
Fiona finished her Naledi speech by saying: “I love being on stage in the theatre. I feel fully engaged. Physically, mentally, vocally, every part of me is charged and stimulated. I also love going to the theatre to see my colleagues at work. I challenge you all: Keep theatre alive! Don’t only enjoy making it but go and support it and keep the theatres open!”
Keep theatre alive! Keep the theatres open!
That was possibly one of the most important things said that evening. How many of us go to the theatre? I was chatting to a friend and she said: “Theatre has never been a priority in my life.”
“But when you went to London…?”
“A different case completely. I saw Les Miserables and loved it.”
I wondered why this was the case. In Johannesburg, they have just had Sister Act on. This was an incredible show! I am sure she would loved it.
And so I reiterate Fiona’s challenge: Take yourself to the theatre! Those of you who live in big cities are so lucky to have theatres just around the corner. Every time I go to Cape Town, I promise to make a point of going to the theatre if there is something good on. I have an instinctive fear of going and not hearing. This is utter garbage! With my Cochlear Implants, I have proved that I can cope in a theatre. I saw the wonderful production Solomon and Marion, with the brilliant ‘Sir’ Janet Suzman at the Baxter. I loved it! I know that if I had been in the vicinity of Doubt or Miss Dietrich Regrets I would have sold my body for a lift to those productions!
“I find the industry all embracing and every part of it is exciting and feeds into the general process of being an artist.”
I find these words of Fiona’s so up lifting. They speak of a person that is happy and fulfilled in what she does.
Isn’t that one of the secrets of living?