BILLY SUTER chats to East London-based singer, actress and musician KERRY HILES – sister of award-wining Durban singer-actor Bryan Hiles – who is bringing her popular solo show, A Star is Born: The Rise and Fall of Judy Garland, to Durban and Hilton. Catch it first at the Rhumbelow Theatre at Tina’s Hotel, in Beryldene Road, Kloof, at 8pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 10 and 11, before performances at the Hilton Arts Festival at Hilton College, from September 13 to 15. The production, directed by Amanda Bothma, won a Standard Bank Ovation Award at the recent National Arts Festival. Book for the Rhumbelow Theatre performances at Computicket or phone Roland at 082 499 8636. For details on the Hilton Arts Festival performances phone (033) 383 0126 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
TELL US ABOUT “A STAR IS BORN: THE RISE AND FALL OF JUDY GARLAND’” AND WHAT YOU WOULD SAY TO PEOPLE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEE THE SHOW IN DURBAN AND HILTON?
The overwhelming response that the show has received is testimony to the incredible legacy of Judy Garland. Before researching the show, I knew her only as the child star who played Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, 80 years ago, and I was interested to know what had happened to her.
Little did I know that her career was so much more than just a stroll along a yellow-brick road. Garland’s unbelievable triumphs over adversity are, I think, what make audience members really warm to this show about her life.
I hope to inspire folk to go home and research more about this showbiz icon.
HOW MANY SONGS DO YOU PERFORM IN THE SHOW AND WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE TO SING?
There are 14 songs in the show. It was a very difficult task to choose just 14 from Garland’s vast repertoire, but I think those chosen punctuate the events in her life rather nicely.
These include well-known songs like I’ve Got Rhythm, That’s Entertainment and – obviously – Over the Rainbow. Iconic numbers like Trolley Song and The Man That Got Away are included in the repertoire, and then there are strange lesser-knowns(some of my favourites to sing, because they’re delightful and deserve to see the light of day). These include Hoe Down and If You Feel Like Singing, Sing.
Other songs on the programme are Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart, In Between,You Made Me Love You. How About You, Meet Me In St Louis, A Couple of Swells, I Got Rhythm an A Foggy Day.
HOW DID THE SHOW COME ABOUT, AND HOW MANY PERFORMANCES HAVE YOU HAD?
It was probably about four years ago that I first mentioned the desire to do a Judy Garland show to my director, Amanda Bothma, following a Shirley Temple interview I’d seen. Temple was to have played the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but, through a random twist of fate, it ended up being Garland’s role.
Temple went on to live to the ripe old age of 85, but what exactly had happened to Garland, I wondered? Amanda, last year, booked a spot for the Judy Garland show at the National Arts Festival, so we were now committed to actually researching and writing a show about the singer-actress.
The title, A Star Is Born, was a no-brainer and unashamedly cashed in on the hype surrounding the recent film starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. (Garland had starred alongside James Mason in an earlier version of the movie).
Amanda set about reading several biographies on Garland while I watched documentaries and researched Judy’s prolific music library. A Top 80 song list was whittled down to Top 30 and then the final 14, and the initial nine-page script was edited to the current four-and-a-half pages.
Deciding what to leave out was the toughest part. Judy Garland is a fascinating character with so many stories to tell.
THE SHOW DID WELL AT THE RECENT NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL, WINNING A STANDARD BANK OVATION AWARD. THESE AWARDS ARE GIVEN TO SHOWS ON THE FESTIVAL FRINGE THAT DEMONSTRATE ARTISTIC INNOVATION AND EXCELLENCE. WHAT COMMENTS?
It was completely unexpected. I am still pinching myself.
WHERE TO FOR THE GARLAND TRIBUTE SHOW AFTER THE KZN PERFORMANCES?
So far it has had three performances in East London, five at the National Arts Festival and one in Jeffreys Bay.
After Durban and Hilton I take the show to Port Elizabeth for Art on Target on November 22. I am also negotiating a date in Hogsback and have sights on Cape Town and Johannesburg in the new year, as well as some of the smaller centres along the Garden Route. I am open to suggestions and invitations to other venues.
WHEN LAST DID YOU VISIT DURBAN – AND WHEN LAST DID YOU PERFORM HERE?
Visit? Possibly two years or more ago. Perform? I think it was way back, as Janet in The Rocky Horror Show at the Gateway Barnyard, in 2004 or thereabouts. You know, when I was 12. LOL.
I REMEMBER LAST INTERVIEWING YOU WHEN YOU WERE AT THE OLD GATEWAY BARNYARD THEATRE LOCALLY, WHEN YOU SANG AND PLAYED BASS. HOW LONG AGO WAS THAT?
Ooh. 2001? Again, when I was 12.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU PLAYED BASS – AND WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO MASTER THAT INSTRUMENT?
I’ve been playing bass since the age of 12, sometimes every day, sometimes not for months at a time. Currently, very seldom. Why did I take up bass? The answer is simple and probably one true to many bass players: I was a shocking guitarist and the band I joined already had better guitar players than myself. I drew the “short straw”, if you will. But one I am very happy to have drawn.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME STAGE CAREER HIGHLIGHTS TO DATE?
Singing with a group of girls at Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday (on stage with Very Famous People). Working as a cruise ship musician in the late ’90s (at an extremely tender age, obviously). Playing the title role in Evita in East London in 2012.
YOU MARRIED, THEN IN 2010 MOVED TO EAST LONDON, WHERE YOU NOW TEACH SINGING AND KEEP GOATS, I BELIEVE. PLEASE CONFIRM AND ELABORATE.
I got divorced. Then recently I became engaged – and I will be married in October.
I teach a few students basic singing on a Thursday afternoon, but my main revenue streams are working for a Durban company, a branding service provider called Success On Hold; working as an MC at the casino in East London, and working as a bingo caller (yes, it’s a real job – who knew?). I also gig around town at private and corporate events, perform for a Port Elizabeth-based production company called Centrestage, and run my own fresh produce business which focuses on cheese and yogurt (made from dairy milk, weekly, to order, by hand).
I have a few chickens and a very handsome rooster, five sheep, one billy goat and 30 does. Some are being milked and others will be milked when they’re old enough.
At the moment, I am selling the goat’s milk (my main customer is a lady who makes dog food for highly pedigreed show dogs), but I am not experimenting with making goat’s milk cheese as man hours are simply too few to develop a new product range.
HOW DOES ‘FARM’ LIFE COMPARE, WHAT INSPIRED THAT LIFE CHANGE – AND DO YOU MISS THE BRIGHT LIGHTS AT ALL?
I will never be able to live in the ‘burbs again after experiencing smallholding life.
The change was inspired by the fact that I developed food allergies in my early 20s and, subsequently, I had the desire to be a bit more responsible for my own food chain so that I could try to avoid nasty additives.
Being closer to the source of the food I choose to eat (and the food, therefore, requiring less in terms of preservatives and processing) has definitely made a difference to my heath and energy levels.
I do not miss the bright lights as I get enough stage action in my life. The only things I do miss about Big City Life is the access to Cinema Nouveau and having a variety of live productions always available, and TV/film career options (she’s not big in East London… but that may be changing…). However, I would not trade my gumboots to get that back.
HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU PERFORMED SINCE MOVING TO EAST LONDON, AND WHERE MOSTLY?
Every single week. The nice difference between the Big City and Small Town entertainment career is that Big City tends to stream your talent. For example, if you’re a bass player, you will always get booked as such and will always remain such. How dare you branch into MC work? That’s for MCs!
Small Towns need folk who are going to take on several tasks. Small Towns support your random endeavours. I’ve played bass, sung chorus roles, played lead parts in big and small productions, acted as programme director/MC, been a bellydance competitor, been hired as a musical director (and my piano skills are laughable), taught singing, acted as an auctioneer and was even an announcer at sporting events. These are all tasks I most probably would never have been considered for in the Big City.
INTERESTING THAT BOTH YOU AND AWARD-WINNING BROTHER, DURBAN-BASED BRYAN HILES, MOVED INTO SHOWBIZ? ANY FAMILY IN SHOWBIZ BEFORE?
Um. Yes. But that’s a closely guarded family secret and may or may not involve my dad dressed in drag.
The Hiles family has a lush history of amateur dramatics and folk club appearances, but I think Bryan and I are the only two to have taken it pro. Ah, and Uncle Gordon, who is a professional filmographer.
HAVE YOU AND BRYAN EVER PERFORMED TOGETHER? ALSO, WHAT CHANCES OF THE TWO OF TEAMING IN FUTURE FOR A SHOW?
We have. But these performances are limited to “once upon a time” when we lived in the same town: a nativity show here, a fundraiser there, a school play in primary school…
We’d both be keen to do something together, but scheduling and location are proving to be rather annoying hurdles. It’ll come together when the time is right.
YOU PLAYED TEENAGER JACQUI KRUGER IN TV’S “ISIDINGO” – WHAT MEMORIES OF THAT EXPERIENCE?
I played in Isidingo from 2000 to 2002 and my overwhelming memories from that time involve the fellow actors. And also the occasional “adoring fan” moment – like the time I was in a lift in an hotel in Cape Town and one of the hotel staff members asked me how I liked South Africa). I realised that television is an extremely powerful medium.
YOU WERE ALSO A TOP 50 FINALIST ON THE 2001 SEASON OF “SOUTH AFRICAN IDOLS”. WHAT MEMORIES OF THAT?
Oh gosh. It was a bit of a blur to be honest. I kept having to sneak out of the compound to attend to Isidingo filming or perform at the Barnyard Theatre in Alberton. I felt like a bunking scholar!
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN, AND WHERE EDUCATED? I UNDERSTAND YOU STUDIED DRAMA AT TECHNIKON NATAL IN DURBAN?
I was born inPietermaritzburg! I lived in Howick for the first few years of my life, then Botswana, then Virginia (Free State), and, finally, East London. I studied two years of a three-year drama diploma at Natal Tech, then worked on a cruise ship and moved to Johannesburg, where I lived for many years before moving back to East London.
WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL STAGE PERFORMANCE, AND WHAT DO YOU MOST REMEMBER OF IT?
My first professional performance was with the band Turbo Beat when I was about 13 or 14, as bass player and vocalist. I think it was at the old Lock Street Gaol in East London. I earned a whopping R20, with which I bought my first shares – which allowed me later to buy my very own bass amp.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST REGRET?
I wish I had grasped more of the piano lessons I had as a child. I wish I had more time to learn to speak isiXhosa. Tap dancing lessons would have also been a bonus. Beyond some personal bad behaviour I wish I could erase, there’s no regret in my life.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON IS NOT LIKELY TO KNOW, HOWEVER TRIVIAL THEY MAY BE?
- I’m not a great cook, but I’m really creative with leftovers.
- I can’t judge volume/depth/space very well, but when it comes to packing vehicles full of gear, I’m an ACE at Tetris.
- When I swing my arms forwards or backwards, it’s as if my face runs out of skin and causes my lips to pull in strange directions.
- I can sing whistle register.
- My sheep mistrust me when I wear a dress.
WHAT IS THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
I think the closest I ever came to thinking I was a goner was being hijacked by three armed guys in my driveway in Joburg. But I was more angry than frightened, I guess. Other than that, it was my neighbour chasing me with a live locust and actually making the damn thing walk on my leg. I blacked out for a few seconds.
WHO ARE AMONG YOUR IDOLS, WHO DO YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO TIME FOR, AND WHAT THREE FAMOUS PEOPLE WOULD YOU LIKE TO INVITE FOR SUPPER?
Idols? That’s hard. I admire folk who have overcome adversity in better ways than I ever could, like rising above physical handicaps to superhuman heights, or bouncing back from incredible heartache or awful personal circumstances.
I have no time for people who blindly share nonsense on Facebook because the link said “please share”. Do your research, you fool!
I’d like to have supper with Paul McCartney, Sting and Bonnie Raitt. I haven’t a clue what I’d say to any of them, but hopefully they’re great conversationalists and I can just sit and listen.
WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO IN LIFE?
Depending on the situation that calls for a motto, it could range from “more is nog n dag” to “ry, jou p**phol!!!!”
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ENSCRIBED ON YOUR TOMBSTONE?
Tombstone? What even? Recycle what you can, burn the rest, and throw my ashes to the wind.
Let my tombstone be whatever is etched on the minds of the people whose paths I crossed. I pray it is good and inspiring.