THE Catalina Theatre will commemorate its 10th anniversary this week when it stages the West End and Broadway hit The 39 Steps.
In an interview with Tonight, theatre founder and director, Themi Venturas, said the theatre had been trying to bring the classic to Durban for the past three years.
“Because of a funding crisis over the years, we never managed to pay for the royalties. This year we’ve been privileged to get funding from the provincial Department of Arts and Culture. It was exciting to have this co-incidentally happen during our 10th year, said Venturas.
“I had to go to London, as per agreement, to learn how to do the play, it is quite complex,” he added.
Directed by Venturas, The 39 Steps features Clare Mortimer, Loyiso McDonald, Michael Gritten, and Clinton Small as the title character, Richard Hannay.
According to a press release, The 39 Steps was adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock.
Licensed by ITV Global Entertainment Limited and an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, it is presented by arrangement with Samuel French Limited. It is in its sixth year on the West End and its fifth year on Broadway.
It further explained that the premise of the stylised melodramatic comedy is for the entire cast of the 1935 adventure film to be performed by a cast of four, with actors sometimes playing multiple characters.
Asked about the theatre’s choice of staging The 39 Steps, Venturas said it was a clever, ingenious piece of theatre. “It is a challenge for any actor or director. Being involved in a piece like this is exciting. I love doing a show that is without any huge sceneries, but still has the same effect.”
Commenting on his choice of cast, Venturas said: “This play requires a very special breed of actor and I think we have achieved this in Michael and Loyiso who, between the two of them, will play more than 100 roles.
“Clinton Small has that Clark Gable look, and Clare is an established actress who will be playing four women.”
Having survived in the entertainment industry for a decade, and being an important catalyst for development in theatre, we asked Venturas what the biggest challenge was in keeping The Catalina Theatre afloat.
“First, it’s to bring an audience in. Frankly, the Durban audience is largely not brave and adventurous. They won’t come out and see something they don’t know.
“Some people say we don’t market enough, but marketing takes money, so what do you do when you just don’t have it?”
On the topic of money, Venturas said the second biggest challenge had been funding.
“We have been very lucky in that four years ago, when the theatre almost closed, Rainbow Chickens came on board and saved it.
“And, more recently, the provincial Department of Arts and Culture and eThekwini Municipality have also come on board with funding. So funding is now on track, but it’s been 10 years in the making.
“It’s been a long, difficult 10 years, and while we are excited for making it in this time, we are aware that we may not survive another five or 10 years if funding doesn’t continue to come in to help keep this little theatre going.”
The biggest tip Venturas can offer anyone involved in the industry is to “learn to juggle many balls in the air. To play with just one ball is inviting heartache because very often that ball goes up and doesn’t come back down.
“Be versatile enough to do straight theatre, musical theatre, conferences and corporate work… the idea of just being an actor is very naïve. Be as versatile as is possible”.