BILLY SUTER chats to award-winning Durban actress, choreographer and mum DAISY SPENCER. She talks about her role in the new KickstArt stage comedy, The Play That Goes Wrong, which runs at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from April 6 to 29. She also talks about motherhood, cooking, justice and, um, bomb disposal.
TELL ME ABOUT “THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG”, WHICH CENTRES ON AN AMATEUR DRAMATICS COMPANY STAGING A 1920S MURDER-MYSTERY IN WHICH ANYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG, DOES.
It is a ridiculous, manic, surprising, crazy comedy that will leave you laughing and gasping – sometimes at the same time. It’s side-splitting comedy for days that sometimes seem quite dark. That is all the reason you need to see it.
CHAT ABOUT YOUR ROLE IN THE PLAY AND WHAT THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS ARE OF BEING IN THIS PRODUCTION?
I play Annie, the stage manager of the show within the show, who desperately tries to help keep things together, above and beyond what is expected of her.
The biggest challenge has definitely been the physical theatre aspect of the show, as it’s extremely intense. Doors smash into me, and I fling myself through a window at one stage. My body is a canvas of cuts and bruises, like you cannot imagine!
The rewards have been exponential; being in a physical theatre production, which is one of my specialities; getting to work with such a dynamic team; the really cool set that we get to play on; and, most importantly, having work in a field that sometimes can be neither here nor there.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER A HIGHLIGHT MOMENT OF THIS SHOW?
To share this with you would ruin a very cool ‘surprise’.There are a few though,s o keep your eyes peeled.
HAVE THERE BEEN ANY INTERESTING ANECDOTES OR OTHERWISE MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM REHEARSALS YOU CAN DISCUSS?
Absolutely. Michael Gritten’s character keeps making a false entrance, which gives him big gaps of time backstage. At one rehearsal, because of waiting backstage for so long, he kept missing his cues for his false entrance.
At the next rehearsal, he was so paranoid, he kept wanting to burst into the scene, even when we were miles from his cue. It happened about three times. By the third time, we were all rolling on the floor.
IS THIS YOUR FIRST KICKSTART PRODUCTION? ALSO, WHAT DO RATE AS THE THEATRE COMPANY’S STRENGTHS?
It’s not the first time I’ve worked with KickstArt, but it is the first time I’ve worked with the team as an actress. Up until now, I’ve only ever choreographed for the company – Seussical the Musical in 2011 and Winnie the Pooh in 2016.
I definitely want to work with KickstArt again, and will get to do so in the production of The BFG, which the company will present at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from June 21 to July 8.
The biggest strength is that KickstArt is an extremely efficient company. Steven Stead and Greg King run their company like a well-oiled machine. It is very impressive.
WHAT WERE YOU MOST RECENTLY INVOLVED WITH ON THE THEATRE SCENE? Most recently, I directed and co-choreographed Footloose, last year’s choice for the Young Performers’ Project, at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. It marked my debut as a director of a big musical – and I still can’t believe, to this day, how well it was received.
WHAT OTHER THEATRE OR SHOWBIZ PROJECTS DO YOU HAVE IN THE PIPELINE?
After KickstArt’s The BFG in June, it’s all still open to the universe, karma and connections. LOL! The first half of the year is sorted. The second half is still open.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PLAN TO DO MORE STAND-UP COMEDY FOLLOWING THE SUCCESS OF YOUR FAIRLY RECENT SOLO SHOW CENTRED ON MOTHERHOOD.
I would love to find the time to do more stand-up, but that is the very problem at the moment –time! Between teaching, which I do part-time, and rehearsals for The Play that Goes Wrong, running my home and seeing to my two-year-old, I barely have time to wash my hair.
So, for now, stand-up is on the back-burner. However, I don’t want to wait too long as I don’t want to miss out on the hype of my first stand-up show,
What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
That show had two very successful runs at Durban’s Seabrooke’s Theatre, and a run at the Rhumbelow Theatre locally. It also toured the Eastern Cape in December 2016, and has been performed at a few baby shop openings and baby showers.
I would love to tour it a bit more, but time is the big issue. Perhaps that can start again in the second half of the year.
YOU HAVE A PASSION FOR CHOREOGRAPHY AND DID EXCELLENT WORK WITH THE YOUTH PRODUCTION “CAN YOU FEEL IT?”, STAGED AT DURBAN’S ELIZABETH SNEDDON THEATRE IN 2013. WHAT OTHER DANCE SUCCESSES SINCE AND PLANNED?
Those who know me well know that choreography is my first love. Can You Feel It? was a huge success for me, as a choreographer, and holds a very special place in my heart as I am a huge Michael Jackson fan.
Since then, I have gone on to choreograph Footloose, Soldiers in the City, The Buddy Holly Story and Winnie the Pooh, as well as teach dance classes.
I consider all of them successes as every time I get to witness the progression of someone learning how to dance, or getting moves right for a production, that is monumental to me.
I hope to be choreographing again soon. There are projects in the pipeline, but I don’t want to jinx them.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU GET INTO CHOREOGRAPHY… AND WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU STUDY IT AND ACTING?
I’ve loved to dance since I could move. I remember recording music videos on our VCR when I was younger, and then rewinding them and teaching myself the dance moves. Once I mastered that, I started wanting to create the moves myself.
It is from there that my love for choreography was born. But, more than that, I’ve always been fascinated by the body and how it can be used to tell a story – hence my love for physical theatre.
That naturally led to me choosing to study at Rhodes University which is renowned for its physical theatre. I was fortunate enough to be taught by some of Souith african theatre’s greats in these field – Gary Gordon (choreography, Andrew Buckland (mime) and Juanita Finestone (physical theatre).
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN, WHERE EDUCATED, AND AT WHAT AGE DID YOU KNOW FOR SURE THAT SHOWBIZ WAS YOUR THING? WAS THERE A DEFINITIVE MOMENT IN THIS DECISION?
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1982.I attended primary school at St Augustine’s and then Collingwood Primary. I went on to attend high school at Holy Family College, and then went on to Rhodes University.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment that I wanted to enter showbiz, because I have always known that I was born to be a performer.
It was something that came to me naturally. I was the resident entertainer in my family and my school classes. I’ve been doing it since I can remember.
WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST TIME EVER ON STAGE (PERHAPS CRECHE LEVEL?) – AND WHAT DO YOU MOST RECALL OF THAT EXPERIENCE?
First time ever was in Grade 1, when I was cast as a Chinese ballerina in a Chinese-inspired dance piece. What I most remember about that performance were the costumes and make-up: black tights, black pointe shoes, a black and pink Chinese top.Also, black plastic bags that were turned into long ponytails. And the eye make-up.
WHAT, WHEN AND WHERE WAS YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTION AND ROLE? AND ANY FOND MEMORY OF THAT?
My first professional production was for UBOM Eastern Cape Drama Company. I was fresh out of varsity, beyond thrilled to be working for the Bucklands, and was cast as one of the witches in a very military-inspired version of Macbeth, directed by the incredible Ingrid Wylde.
My fondest memory of that was the fact that we were all in military gear with real rifles, doing Shakespeare. It certainly opened my eyes to the many possibilties and interpretations theatre provides.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THREE CAREER HIGHLIGHTS? ALSO, WHAT AWARDS HAVE YOU WON?
One highlight was directing and choreographing Footloose in 2017. I proved to myself that I could do anything I put my mind to, even under the most harrowing circumstances.It was an enormous job and by the grace of God,I pulled it off.
Another highlight was playing Barbara in the salon comedy, Shear Madness, some years ago in Durban. I got to put my improvisation skills to good use because, trust me,there was a lot of improvisation in that show. The cast was amazing, and I was directed by my hero, the late Themi Venturas.
The third highlight for me was choreographing Can You Feel It?. Being a huge Michael Jackson fan, this show was a dream come true, from start to finish… all MJ.
I have won two Durban Theatre Awards – best actress in a comedy, for Shear Madness; and best actress in children’s theatre, for Neil Coppen’s Marvellous Mixtures.
TELL ME OF YOUR ASSOCIATION WITH THE YOUNG PERFORMERS’ PROJECT OVER THE YEARS – HOW LONG INVOLVED, WHAT DUTIES FOR WHAT SHOWS DID YOU HAVE, WHAT SHOW STANDS OUT.
I have been involved with the Young Performers’ Project for 10 years. I have been choreographer of the project for nine years and in my 10th year I was both director and co-choreographer (Footloose in 2017).
For one reason or another they have all been special to me, but standouts have to be the very first one I choreographed, School of Rock, SA (2008). I learned so much about choreographing musical theatre from Themi Venturas.
Also of note, of course, were Can You Feel It? (2013) and Footloose (2017).
COMMENT ABOUT THE BENEFIT THE ANNUAL DURBAN MUSICAL PROJECT HAS FOR YOUTH.
It is an exponentially beneficial project for the youth, as it gives them a taste of what the professional theatre world actually entails. They get to work with a professional production team, get to make life-long friends, and some of them actually go on to get professional work as a result of professionals in the industry seeing them in action. It is an excellent ‘foot in the door’, so to speak.
WHAT IS THE ONE SHOW OR ROLE YOU WOULD MOST LOVE TO CREATE?
I don’t have an exact character… perhaps it still needs to be written for me, but it would have to be something very dark.
Comedy is my thing, and I love it, but I have always wanted to explore a deeper, more complex character. Someone you love to hate and hate to love. In fact, Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello would be my ideal role, but alas, it is a male role. A female character that dark would be great.
HOW IS MOTHERHOOD, AND BALANCING CAREER AND MOTHERHOOD? AND WHAT LIKELIHOOD OF YOUR SON FOLLOWING IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?
Motherhood has been wonderful – really, really difficult at times, but definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me. My son, Tryg, who is two-and-a-half now, is an absolute delight. He warms my heart every day and constantly surprises me.
Balancing it all is another story, and I only have one child. How some mothers handle it all with more than one blows my mind. It requires insane planning, careful thought to just about every moment of the day, impeccable timing,l ots of coffee or wine (at night ,when I get home from rehearsals) and God-given strength.
Tryg is definitely going to follow in my footsteps, one way or another. When I choreograph routines at home, he watches and copies the moves. He’s already a dancer. He has even started trying out some breakdancing positions. As for the acting… he is the drama king in our house. Everything is a performance.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT IN THE PUBLIC EYE?
To be completely honest, I haven’t had any really embarrassing moments. I’ll tell you why I say that, even though they may have been perceived by some people as embarrassing, I’ve learned to own the things I do and either laugh or pray about them, or learn from them. I consider them little mishaps rather than very embarrassing moments. LOL!
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Passionate. Energetic. Loyal. Colourful. Impatient.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE’?
My son, sushi, chocolate, sleep and a good book.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
Best compliment relating to my work: “I knew you were good., I just didn’t realise how good”. Worst compliment- “You’re too much.”
WHAT ALTERNATIVE CAREER PATHS MIGHT YOU HAVE CONSIDERED ?
Events organiser, as I love themes. Or chef. My grandfather was a chef and I just love to cook. Also, perhaps, a bomb explosives expert. It just sounds really cool.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT THE GENERAL PUBLIC IS NOT LIKELY TO KNOW, HOWEVER TRIVIAL THEY MAY BE?
I’m a huge jazz fan. I pray a lot. I am extremely sensitive. I have a weakness for Gorimas, Glenwood Spar and Osmans (I always go in to get certain things and always walk out with way more than I needed. I’m a huge fighter for justice.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES, FAVE THINGS AWAY FROM SHOWBIZ?
Cooking. Binge-watching series. Eating sushi and drinking champagne.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
Absolutely fabulous: sushi, desserts (I have a major sweet tooth, travelling, cashmere (I still don’t own any) and cocktails on the beachNo-nos: hypocrisy, injustice, ill-cooked food, animal fur on the furniture and asparagus.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Being present in the moment. That, for me, is the rawest moment of being alive.