Collette Dawson is an unsung hero in the performing arts world as she is the person who makes things happen – behind the scenes.
Last Wednesday, February 22, she was joined by the theatre fraternity, celebrities and media to celebrate her 25 years in the business.
Aside from her irrepressible passion for what she does, she’s also one of the sweetest, most soft-spoken people you will come across.
To commemorate Dawson’s special occasion, Tonight took a trip down memory lane with her.
She recalls, “I didn’t enter the entertainment industry the conventional way. I actually began my career in hotels straight after school.
Then, three years later, back in 1991, I headed to Europe to do the “backpacking thing” – our version, I guess, of a gap year. After six months travelling around Europe – I even worked on a Kibbutz in Israel for a while – I landed in London and decided I needed a job for a while so that I could save up enough money to continue travelling.
“I took a job as an au pair, little realising it was a decision that would change my life. The father of the family was none other than Jerry Katzmann, Entertainment Lawyer to Nederlander International – one of the biggest entertainment groups globally. One day, I mentioned to him that I had so much spare time on my hands and so I asked him couldn’t I help him with his work.
“At the time, they were refurbishing the building that was to become the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End. He took me under his wing and opened me to a world of theatre magic. I revelled in that experience during the two years I lived in London, learning so much about the industry and I realised that I had found my great passion.
“When I came back home, I tried hotels for a while but I realised that I had to make a plan to work in the local entertainment industry.
“I contacted Richard Loring at the Sound Stage Dinner Theatre in Midrand, told him of the experience I had gleaned in London and he invited me for a meeting. He offered me a job on the spot and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Dawson’s passion has manifested in many wonderful ways and it fills her heart with joy to see audiences that become completely transfixed by all that unfolds on stage.
Dawson agrees, “Live entertainment has the power to move people, make them laugh, cry, question humanity and so much more.
Even now, 25 years later, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel that incredible rush of sheer joy when you see a production, concert, gig – you name it – well executed.”
Although it was no easy feat, she picked out a few career highlights.
She offers, “It would be the Girl Talk series at the Sound Stage; African Footprint, which toured the world; Feelin’ Groovy was such fun; Oh, Boy! with the then boy-band Hi 5; and then, more recently, the six pantomimes I’ve worked on at Joburg Theatre – hearing the sounds of 1,000 children laughing is the greatest sound in the world.
“Other productions I’ve loved include: Queen At the Ballet, Scribble, The Twelve Tenors, The Whitney Houston Show – and many others!”
That’s not forgetting her work on two Royal Variety performances in London’s The Dominion Theatre, a place where she also got to rub shoulders with the likes of Elaine Page, Boyzone, Jason Donovan, Michael Ball and others.
Dawson adds, “Also being part of The Dominion Theatre’s first ever opening night of Grand Hotel when the venue opened in 1992 is still one of those highlights that will never leave me. It taught me the value of a high profile and a red carpet opening night – information that still stands me in good stead.”
Along the way, she’s also forged remarkable, long-standing friendships with a few people, too.
“Jerry Katzman and the Nederlanders are still close friends and still spoil me rotten when I visit London (I was just with them, in fact, at the beginning of February). Richard and Jeanette Loring, as well as Debbie Batzofin from the Sound Stage are still close friends and colleagues, who I still get to work with from time to time.”
This brings us to her friendship with New York-based MiG Ayesa, who she met nine years ago when she was visiting the South African cast of We Will Rock You in Hong Kong. He was the lead, Galileo.”
That friendship has been even more fruitful as they will be working together on Gone Too Soon, which pays homage to all the legendary artists we have lost and will be produced under Dawson’s company, The CoLab Network, which was born four years ago.
She admits, “Gone Too Soon is my first foray into bringing in an international headliner to perform alongside some phenomenal local vocalists and musicians. The idea is to ‘step it up a notch’ – and to start some international collaborations where our local performers benefit from international knowledge and experience, while the international artist sees the incredible South African talent that we have an
d puts a spotlight on that when he returns.”
While challenges are par for the course, Dawson is confident that, given her persevering nature, the status quo will change in time.
She adds, “When working with the creative team of Bluberry Entertainment (Kurt Herman, Tima Reece and Llewellyn George), we realised that there were so many artists; we couldn’t have just one show, so it’s going to be the first of a series. This one will be Gone Too Soon – The Gents.
The show is by no means an impersonation or similar kind of show – but the four extremely talented vocalists will perform their own interpretations of some of the greatest hits of our time, from artists such as George Michael, Prince, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Buddy Holly, Marvin Gaye, Richie Valens, Freddie Mercury and so many more.
“There will also be a South African medley of some of our own legends, who were taken before their time.”
And while Dawson pays tribute to all these legendary artists, we pay homage to her as she continues leaving profound footprints in the performing arts space.