Diane de Beer speaks to two pros about working and mentoring young artists before they step onto a professional stage...
The importance for choreographer/director Mark Hawkins and director Janna Ramos-Violante is the mentorship involved in putting on a show like Sweet Charity with mainly pupils.
None of them have been on a pro- fessional stage and because these two have such clout the production team they brought on board is quite spec- tacular, including designer Andrew Botha and lighting designer Nicholas Michaletos (head of production), all the way from Durban, as well as Jane Cross and musical director Marten Van Wyk from the National School of the Arts, who will conduct the NSA ensemble.
Christopher Jaftha leads the per- formers as the suave Italian movie star Vittorio and Charity Hope Valentine will be played by Kiruna-Lind Devar.
“We needed to bring them into the professional world,” said Ramos-Violante, a feeling heightened when they started doing auditions. Successful theatre usually hides the hard work that goes into a production, so these young performers had to be guided through the work ethics of putting on a show.
“We wanted to treat it like a pro- fessional production, which it is.”
Hawkins was first invited to be director/choreographer but likes work- ing to his strengths and asked Ramos-Violante to add her directing skills.
“I am not that great at directing yet I can see when something’s not working,” he says.
But it is his considerable clout in the industry that brought together such a strong professional production team for so little money. “That’s the one thing we don’t have.”
They know how to be smart and one of the first innovations was the decision to do a minimalist production. “We’ve also trimmed it down to 90 minutes rather than the usual two-hours-plus with an interval,” says Hawkins.
That’s one of the great things of these training institutions that produce the odd musical. It gives audiences the chance to experience great shows that don’t come round all that often – at a price that’s affordable.
The directing team has been blown away by the talent of the voices as well as the way the kids have stepped up and worked extremely hard. “Once we realised that most of them learn in specific genres but that the crossover thing, like musical theatre, doesn’t happen often, we knew we would have to drill them,” explains Hawkins.
Also, the pupils are at school, they’re doing normal days and then have to start rehearsing after a day of dance lessons for example. “Sometimes they’re just too tired to perform,” says Ramos-Violante.
But they’re both performers and understand the excessive demands that are often made on artists. And these young performers still have to come to grips with being stage fit.
What has been fun is the working relationship between the two talented artists. “Mark gave me my first professional chance,” says Ramos-Violante. “We’re on the same page,” he says of this concert version of Sweet Charity. And they have tried to turn it into something more accessible for the youngsters.
It’s all about learning, turning the rehearsal space into theatre because there’s so little time to get it right and the adrenalin rush when those first night curtains are raised and the young cast realises this is the real thing.
“Joburg Theatre has been amazing in the way they’ve come to the party,” note the two. Not only did it extend a fantastic package but it has also helped whenever it could if something was needed or expertise lacked.
As for choreography, it’s been Bob Fosse all the way for Hawkins. “You can’t really go any other route. Not that any of the performers would know the magic of this legendary American choreo- grapher. But it’s a Hawkins/Fosse blend, something the dancers could handle.”
Before anything else, it’s about telling the story and that is what they have kept in mind. “We’ve cut out any superfluous stuff and focused on the girl who wants to be loved.”
They know they will pull it off on the night and hope they have empowered these young performers on the brink of stepping into the crazy world of showbiz.
• Sweet Charity at Joburg Theatre’s Mandela Theatre opens on Thursday at 7.30pm, followed by Friday at 10am, Saturday at 3pm and 7.30pm; and Sunday at 3pm with the possibility of a 6pm show.