This past week saw the launch and full theatrical run of the brand new musical I’ve been involved in called Eve’s Mark, which ran at the Masque Theatre for 4 nights. Produced and directed by Garth Kayster with script and songs by Dani Petersen, it was a roaring success – and even that is a bit of an understatement, especially for such a new production. The musical tackles the issue of gender-based violence and follows Eve‘s life story and the challenges she faces dealing with domestic abuse
The principle cast was made up of Monique Hellenberg (Eve), Lana Crowster (Frieda – Eve’s mother), Celeste Florence (Faith – Eve’s best friend), Monique September (Dehlia – Faith’s mother) and Juju Domingo (Frieda understudy) – I played the narcissistic misogynist Roger who managed to physically, verbally and emotionally abuse nearly all the other main characters.
For the entire run we had full audiences and standing ovations on each night with many audience members expressing their emotions vocally (definitely as an indication of their vested interest in the story – a semi-autobiographical story that’s been in the pipeline for the past 8 years as described by Dani Petersen in the following video):
No-one seemed to have worked harder than Garth Kayster in bringing such a massive task to fruition, having directed the acting and the music, arranged most of the songs, rehearsed the principle and support cast for hours and hours, produced the live sound, designed all the branding paraphernalia and the load of countless other sundry jobs that usually get allocated to dedicated personnel on a high-budget production. He was like a one-man theatre-machine.
From the acting perspective, I particularly enjoyed working with Monique Hellenberg, whose dedication, discipline and work ethic is unlike that of many professional actors I’ve worked with in the past AND for her to bring it like she did in her first acting role, is awe inspiring. Taking nothing away from the rest of the team, we all pulled together on the eve of the first show to knock it out of the park despite Eskom hitting the theatre with a hefty dose of loadshedding!
A bit on my creative process:
When I was first briefed on the production, I was immediately intrigued by the prospect of playing Roger – a truly layered character (a first for me) in that I knew it would take ample preparation to pull off convincingly.
In preparation for the role of Roger (a character who’s pretty much the exact opposite of me), I kept a character diary in a small A6 notebook where I wrote down daily entries through the eye of the character. I was inspired by my favourite actor Denzel Washington who does the same thing. I later would post some of these entries on Facebook, a double-barreled manner of both expressing the artistic process as well as promoting the show (and it worked!). I also had to learn how to smoke cigarettes, something I’ve never had the will or desire to do and even my dad (someone who knows smoking) and a few of my friends who watched the show were convinced. For the record, I still don’t get the appeal of smoking and will not be puffing anytime soon again. In addition, I also read numerous research articles on narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and blog entries by the countless survivors of NPD abuse – interestingly enough 3 of the cast members also happen to be surviviors of NPD abuse and their personal testimonies helped me a lot in terms of referencing true-life personality traits of a typical NPD abuser. Other characters I studied included Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, Ed Norton’s Aaron Stampler/Roy in Primal Fear, John Malkovich’s Lee in True West and Denzel Washington’s meltdown scene in Training Day.
Many of my close friends couldn’t believe the realness of the portrayal, knowing me and then seeing this other character – so I’m happy that the prep paid off. I just got this message from my friend Alexé who came to watch on closing night:
“…You know sometimes in plays people like being evil, ’cause they have license – but it’s like you acted in a way that justified the character without compromising yourself…I know now that it is possible…I struggled with certain moral principles, but seeing and hearing your angle of approach made me think I need to honour the reality of people’s experiences. So you gave me a new angle of thinking.”
That means the world to me, since it’s easy to shock an audience for the sake of sensationalism – it’s harder to articulate anything authentically human by not forcing it into the audience’s face. For the target market and for the message that the piece endeavours to execute, I felt all elements worked together for the good of the production as a whole.
Now, let’s hope we get to do it at as many festivals and other venues as possible. I’m holding thumbs!