I started my performance career in primary school when, at the age of 7, I played a fly in the play about Cock Robin. The memorable line was “I the fly with my little eye, I saw Cock Robin die“. It gave me a taste for the performing arts. Rehearsals, costumes, performance, applause, discipline and worth.
When the Twist dance craze started in the late 1950s I was commandeered as an early teen to perform a demonstration. The male lead dancer had injured his foot and didn’t arrive at the youth club. That left the lady without a partner. She quickly taught me the dance and the demonstration was a success. Another taste.
At about the same time the doyen of Fashion in Durban was Zena Gevisser. She held regular fashion shows around the pool of the Lido Hotel in Umkumaas. One sunny Sunday afternoon Zena had laryngitis. I jumped in. Unrehearsed and inexperienced, I acted as compere for the show. This wasn’t another taste. This was a banquet. The adrenalin rush and excitement led me to Acting and Broadcasting. I met and worked with Miss World, Penny Coelen. She was, and still is, gorgeous and gracious. I was delighted when she agreed to be my Guest of Honour at the Mayoral Debutantes Ball in 1980 and we rekindled the friendship. Holding office as the Mayor was, in many ways, also a performance.
The Airwaves – try and try again
I was once touring the SABC building in Johannesburg with a charity volunteer group – Yups – Broadcast House in Commissioner Street. Before talk radio was the norm the SABC had a little call-in show on a Sunday evening. Timothy Bungey took a call from a man who could speak only Afrikaans. Timothy could speak none. I could. I ran around into the studio and from the other side of the glass I took the call. That was me DONE. Bitten. I wanted to get onto the radio. More particularly I wanted to commentate sport.
I would ask you to guess how many times I applied. How many auditions I did. How many years before I was finally given a ‘break’. Your guess would be wrong. It was 17 years. Seventeen Years! Even after the break it was tough. I couldn’t get the scheduling lady to use me more often. One day the studio host called her about an hour before the Station opened. The host had laryngitis and could not go on air. The scheduler called me, I rushed to the studio and presented a four hour show. From then on I was scheduled regularly as a studio host and at events as a commentator. I love laryngitis. And injured feet.
This is the statement which I wrote as my guideline to keep me on track as a professional:
“Correct language usage and words are part of my armoury as a presenter or commentator, with which I capture the listeners’ attention, keep them captivated and through which the quality and professionalism of my broadcast can be enhanced. I use language to paint a picture so clear that I create “the illusion and feeling of ‘being there’ “. [in the listener’s mind]. I then colour that picture with words and phrases so bright and effervescent that I create the paradox in the listener’s mind that he wishes that he were there but doesn’t regret for one moment that he isn’t. (Because he has the FULL picture and excitement). I will diligently do my Voice & Speech organ exercises.”
The stage, the cameras and the rest . . . and the best is yet to come
I signed up with an agent soon after my arrival in Johannesburg. The joy has been not only in the performing (and all that this entails) but in meeting and working with hugely talented professionals. I am constantly astounded at how good they are. Not only as performers (I include all the crew here as well) , but as people. Doing this ‘ work’ has been wonderful. Knowing them and working with many, has enriched my life. I love them and I thank them. I am in awe of you all. Performing and all that it enables one to do (such as giving people joy, helping charities, raising families, educating the youth) is a plus – but the people are the treasure.
When the BEST need help
It is wonderful but it can get tough. Some of the very best and hard working performers can fall on hard times. Mostly it is simply that hard times come crashing down on them. That is when they need help.
I served on the Board of the Theatre Benevolent Fund for a few years. I have seen the hardships of people who gave their lives and art to the theatre and joy to audiences. I know that the TBF does excellent work. Visit their website for information.
They always need your help. Please consider making a donation.
Theatre Benevolent Fund
First National Bank – Current Account
Account Number – 6202 439 8671
Branch Code – 250 117
SWIFT Code – FIRNZAJJ
PBO NUMBER – 930 000 322