WHEN Gaëtan Schmid (pictured) talks to people he doesn’t know, his French-tinged English throws them, and they start talking slower and louder.
He is by turns amused and perturbed by the phenomenon, especially when he is in Belgium where the fight between the use of French and Dutch has turned into an existential crisis.
The Belgian theatre maker, who lives in Cape Town, is thinking of using that fight for the basis of a new show, but first he’s reprising an old favourite, the physical theatre comedy piece The Dog’s Bollocks, and taking it for a spin to this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival.
The Dog’s Bollocks is his successful one-man play about the idiosyncrasies of the English language. He first performed it in 2006.
“I’m making fun of it as a language, so it will go down well at the KKNK,” he jokes about the third show he’ll perform at the Afrikaans arts festival.
“That’s the underlying theme. That you don’t need to speak a language properly to communicate, with anybody. My character in the play doesn’t speak English very well at all, with an accent that’s even worse than mine.
“So he’s not speaking properly, doesn’t use the grammar properly, doesn’t know the vocabulary. He’s going to be talking as a professor of English about everyday words and analysing them to see where they come from, using a lot of physical gestures to communicate.
“That’s the important theme we worked on together, Rob Murray and myself, his drive to communicate that gives him this intense energy.”
Schmid, who studied theatre at the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris and has spent the past 13 years in South Africa creating physical theatre shows, didn’t remember the script, despite having performed the monologue for three years between 2006 and 2009, so in December he started recommitting the text to memory.
He has worked on the script a bit: “I couldn’t help myself,” he says almost sheepishly.
Plus, he insists it keeps things interesting to tweak it a bit to make it smoother for the audience.
Originally he and director Murray went along with the supposition that the audience would catch only about 60 percent of what was said, between the professor’s accent, the rapid-fire delivery and the dense information about the idiosyncrasies of the English language.
So, Schmid has smoothed out some of the denser passages to make them “a little bit more accessible” for audience members to catch the references and inferences.
“it’s very interesting when the audience fills in the gaps. It’s more rewarding as an audience member, you come out of the show thinking you did a good job,” he explained.
He’ll starts off at the Alexander Bar in Cape Town for a short run to settle the show in his mind, before moving on to the KKNK, then returning to the Kalk Bay Theatre.
At the same time, though, he’s already started working on The Belgian with Brent Palmer as director since he wants to incorporate more of a stand-up comedy feel into the next show.
“It’s not going to be an intellectual show like The Dog’s Bollocks or Body Language. I wanted something more silly.”
• The Dog’s Bollocks is at the Alexander Bar from March 21 to 23, at KKNK in the Griesselsaal in Oudtshoorn from March 30 to April 2, and at the Kalk Bay Theatre from April 21 to 27.