Theatre group launches amid closed curtains
HOW Now Brown Cow is a new company focused on bringing both local and international productions, with the hope of providing opportunities to theatre-makers impacted by the cancellations and venue closures brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company is the brainchild of Irish actress and publicist Julie-Anne McDowell Hegarty. Hegarty said the desire to establish a new company came out of sympathy for fellow performers and creators.
After moving to Joburg in 2006, Hegarty has starred in numerous plays such as Couplet in 2017, which ran at the National Arts Festival and Theatre on the Square. In 2018, her performance in The Revlon Girl, performed at the National Arts Festival and Hilton Arts Festival earned her a Naledi Best Supporting Actress nomination.
“It’s not easy for anyone in this country to have a reliable source of income when you’re in the acting industry,” she said. “I was in a couple of productions during the last two years and at the start of this year, I thought I wasn’t going to wait around for things to happen to me.”
Hegarty added: “The name comes from a vocal exercise actors use to round out their vowels, especially when you’re doing a risky, annunciated accent. When you go to elocution lessons like I did in Ireland, you learn how to say How Now Brown Cow in an English accent.”
Hegarty said the company would prioritise local talent in addition to producing both old and new theatrical works. “There will be some international productions coming in, but there will also be local productions featuring local writers, local actors, so that the theatre we’re putting on is relevant to the community,” she said. “I would like our work here to travel overseas too and go to international festivals, enabling that with the connections I have.”
Hegarty co-founded How Now Brown Cow with producer and former managing director of Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre, Daniel Galloway.
“The afternoon that I sent out the press release that I was stepping away from the Fugard, Julie-Anne called me out of the blue and it really put me in a daze,” he said. “This is her brainchild, her passionate vision for how she wants to contribute to the South African cultural landscape. I’m utterly thrilled to be working with her on this.”
Galloway left the Fugard in February to spend more time with his family after handing the position over to Lamees Albertus, though he stayed on in a consulting role.
“The industry has been decimated. Without selling tickets, there’s no way of bringing in income. The state-funded theatres have their grants at least, but it’s not the case for many independent theatres and producers.”
In July, Fugard founder and benefactor Eric Abraham announced the venue would not reopen until late 2021. Meanwhile, other venues such as the Baxter Theatre have reopened, though under intense financial pressure, and Peter Toerien’s Theatre on the Bay is scheduled to receive in-person audiences again in December.
How Now Brown Cow is expected to produce and debut new shows starting early next year, having secured licences to put on shows from the UK and commissioning several theatre-makers throughout South Africa. “When the time is right, audiences will be ready to come back out and see live work,” Galloway said. “Hopefully it will happen in six to eight months. We must be ready to present work to audiences who will return.”