Alan Committie and Nicole Fortuin in Oleanna. Picture: Claude Barnardo
Nicole Fortuin will play Carol, a student who accuses her professor of making sexually inappropriate comments and suggestions - which scupper his chance at tenure - in David Mamet’s play Oleanna.

Mamet wrote the play in 1992 and here we are in 2018 with the #MeToo movement on the boil, which makes this play hyper-topical.

Fortuin, who grew up in Belhar, Cape Town, has a BA in theatre and performance from UCT. In her final year at drama school she worked as an usher at the Fugard Theatre, and quips that performing there is “definitely a full-circle moment” for her. She tells us about the production.

Can you talk about moving from TV Nicole to the David Mamet Nicole?

What really excites me about making this shift is what it means for me as an actress.

To come home to theatre like this again, but in a way I have never done before, is terrifying, thrilling, revealing and exciting.

Part of my mission in life is always to be honing my craft, playing as many varying and layered characters as possible. The best way to do that is to plunge myself into uncomfortable spaces and literally see what happens. It might be magical. It might be mediocre. But I will be better for it because I would have learnt something more about who I am and the world.

Your reflections on navigating the shift from the small screen and big screen to live performance?

I gave a lecture at UCT recently and a student asked about trying to pinpoint what is the essential difference between telling a story through two very different mediums. My answer is: your audience changes.

Actors always want to be truthful to the character and the story. On screen the camera is your contained, singular audience. In theatre, your audience is there, alive and breathing. If you stay truthful and you aim to make sure your story reaches whatever audience you have, using techniques that can help you, the shift happens easier.

Can you comment on tackling this role, especially in 2018 when issues of sexual harassment are very much out there?

I had never read the play before I auditioned, and after that there was a moment of serious hesitation at the idea of playing Carol and what that might mean in 2018.

As someone who has experienced and witnessed harassment, I questioned whether playing Carol might seem hypocritical or stunting to the cause because many critics claim - and Greg (Karvellas, the director) and I have agreed - that Mamet paints the professor with a lot more sympathy than he does Carol.

Ultimately what committed me to this story is the realisation that Carol does not represent all women and John does not represent all men. Sexual harassment of people in the workplace and beyond cannot be contested or minimised because it simply exists.

I choose to approach this text through the lens of unpacking power dynamics at play in spaces of academia - a very real and very dangerous thing that is not spoken about enough.

I choose to see the playing of a complexed (American) character, as a young actress, opposite a veteran (Alan) and under the direction of one of the front-runner theatre directors (Greg) in South Africa, as a form of sincere and fierce empowerment.

It gives everyone the opportunity to see a woman who makes mistakes, who fights, who is desperate, who is ruthless and compassionate, on stage. It says yes, we are this layered, and I think that’s an important visual for audiences to encounter: especially younger girls.

How did you go about researching your role?

It has been a multitude of things: acquainting myself with Mamet’s work, and talking to peers - male and female - who have experienced abuse.

* Oleanna at the Fugard Studio Theatre, September 14 to October 20. Tickets from R150 are available directly through the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or online at www.thefugard.com