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Not many will have heard of Darron Araujo, this year’s panto dame. It’s not because he hasn’t been on stage before, it’s simply that he has done most of his work in Cape Town. And in this instance, it’s like another country.
He has worked a lot in the Maynardville Shakespeare productions, an annual Cape Town phenomenon on an outdoor stage. That’s also where Janice Honeyman spotted him. “I have always loved his energy and his enthusiasm,” she says.
With a cast that’s as star-studded as this one, every once in a while she has a chance to go with someone she fancies for reasons other than status.
The big celebrity star is Jeremy Mansfield and there are a few other names that will appeal to the masses. And all of this meant that Cape Town’s Araujo has the chance to slip into a dress every night for a month or two.
He smiles when he thinks back to when he was a youngster and shadowed Honeyman during her stint at the then Joburg Civic.
“I followed her around with Cinders and her Fella, he says. And his three sisters auditioned for a production of Aladdin many years ago at the Windybrow.
Today he’s the one treading the boards, but he pays tribute to a family who were keen on the arts and who helped him with his career choice. He doesn’t only act but also writes for theatre and the commercial world.
He started his drama stint at Wits but within a week he knew it wasn’t his beat and left for London, where he completed his initial theatre studies. He worked overseas for a bit but wanted to come home.
Before further studies at UCT Drama Department, he co-founded two companies and took his own work to the Grahamstown Fringe (Min Dae, Rishard d’Lahnjhay). Then he added another string to his bow by specialising in voice training, obtained his MA in Theatre Voice as a Potter Fellow, and was made a research associate by UCT in 2009.
He coaches voice professionally in theatre and has taught part-time at UCT since 2010. He also facilitates voice sessions for Cape Town’s Magnet Theatre training programme.
And that is what it takes these days to have a career in theatre. You have to home in on many different options that are available to you and specialise in as many as you can so there are always places to turn to when times are tough on what is perhaps your first choice, stage. “It’s about flexibility,” says Araujo.
When he had to start fleshing out his role in the panto as Aladdin’s Mama, he thought of Cyrildene’s Yiddish mamas in his past when he was growing up and that’s where he started. “It was a way in,” he says, flouncing around in some petticoats for the rehearsal.
It’s all about ensemble, and for this actor that’s the part he values. “We all have to connect to make it work,” he says. And if he’s intimidated at the thought of all the great dames who have graced the Mandela Theatre before him, he’s not going to show it. “It has to be my own,” he says.
And he has to enjoy what he’s doing or he wouldn’t bother. He knows he has to be brave and bold, but with these well-established productions there’s always a good mix of those who know the ropes and those who slip into this new world with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. .
“I’m given the paint and now it’s time to play,” says Araujo.