BILLY SUTER chats to Durban singer and voice coach SHYLO PEREIRA, the director of Project Performer, which is creating a buzz and nearing the end of its first year of existence. It is listed online as “South Africa’s number one audition platform in artist development and education, bringing a combination of heavyweights in the national and international entertainment industry to aspiring artists in KwaZulu-Natal, and making the imaginable a reality”.
In a nutshell, how would you describe Project Performer and in what ways is it unique and/or valuable?
Project Performer offers a platform based in South Africa, namely Durban, whereby aspiring artists can develop their art forms, and then present their chosen pieces to a panel of industry professionals. This opens up opportunities for them in the South African and larger entertainment industry.
It is unique because there are other platforms that take one through provincial and then national rounds, then take one overseas with the focus on being signed in the US. There are many elements that make this more difficult to pursue.
Project Performer offers coaching from some of South Africa’s best and I, as director, am also an artist, so this sets the platform aside from other platforms which are effectively businesses.
Does Project Performer develop all performance forms?
Project Performer deals with all styles and facets of dance, singing and acting, and this year we have added an “instrumental” section. Categories are vast to ensure all elements are covered in each art form.
In the singing category, for example, soloists and groups may enter in the category of musical theatre/Broadway or pop/contemporary, singer/songwriter or Open. Acting categories cover comedy for film, comedy for theatre, dramatic acting for film, dramatic acting for theatre, presenting, commercial and Open.
Dance categories cover ballet/contemporary, hip-hop, choreography and Open, while the new “instrumental” categories cover classical, contemporary, self composition and Open.
After auditioning and being accepted (what are the criteria here?) what, briefly, transpires?
The criteria are general at the Open Auditions. We look for attitude firstly, and thereafter talent potential for the industry. Attitude and mindset is everything. We can teach the additional skills, but it is more difficult to change attitude.
The auditions in categories one enters are about a minute each – we will know in the first 10 seconds whether someone will work for the programme. We also look for heart and connection, technique, pitch, tone and the like. We also welcome the out-of-the-box approach. Being original is key.
One is then possibly offered a callback to discuss moving forward with the programme and what the commitment entails.
If we are looking at a national organisation we consider where the various branches are, how they interact and how big a team is involved overall.
We scout for talent all over the country, and The Project Performer Studio is based in the heart of Hillcrest. I have various scouts in Cape Town and Gauteng, and because we are only in the second year, we are growing all the time, which means there is a potential to go international.
Partnerships with big organisations (educational and political) are being formed – watch this space! – and we are in the midst of looking for suitable sponsors too.
The Project Performer team consists of photographers, videographers, judges, additional scouts and crew. We have 28 members in the team, from all around the country, and everyone goes through my communication and lead.
Do you take a certain number of students per year and always end with a showcase and awards? Also, is there an age restriction for students?
There is no limit to the amount of artists we could take, but for the 2020 programme I would like to take no more than 60 artists from across the country.
For the 2019 programme we had 30 artists, and it worked so nicely for the first year we were running. We accept artists from age five and up. There is no age limit thereafter, as the industry is always looking for variety.
Once we have ascertained who is on the programme, I then set up a programme/timetable for the two Artist Development Weekends away, according to age range and diversity in artists, coupled with portfolio photo shoots… and that’s just skimming the top.
Tell me a little about your most recent artist showcase.
The showcase weekend consists of all the performances for each category mentioned, and our first one was held recently over a full day at the Rockwood Theatre at Sibaya Casino near Umhlanga. Next year it will expand and run over two days.
From auditions, the judges choose their runners-up and winners in each category to perform in a Project Performer Showcase, which is the result of the Project Performer programme’s work.
The weekend also consists of callbacks from scouts from across the county and the judges, who are also there to offer prizes to potential talent.
We also had some amazing workshops this year that were open to the public. This year we had Sir Roel Twinstra, LAMTA, Luminous and Blessing Xaba give some incredible workshops in film, musical theatre, singing and branding.
What can students expect to achieve and hope to gain further following their journey with Project Performer?
The artists receive some of the best South African coaching at The Artist Development Weekends away. The aim is to enable them to start seeing the “bigger picture” and to treat themselves as brand and business, in order to succeed in the tough entertainment industry.
We focus also on collaboration, as these artists are the future SA talent in this industry. We teach them that there is enough space in this world for all of them to succeed, and that collaboration (not competition) is the key to success.
They leave as an extended family, as clichéd as that sounds, and come away enriched in skills that they wouldn’t receive in a normal coaching environment.
Examples of artists who have been with Project Performer this year and excelled?
Amy Russell, a UKZN student in Speech Therapy, is a force to be reckoned with. She has appeared in two Young Performers Project’s musicals at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Footloose and Can You Feel It, as well as the KZN annual Sports Awards Gala at ICC and many corporate events.
Amy won a bursary as the Project Performer Overall Actor and Senior Awards for 2019.
Keely Crocker is another of note. She was a lead in this year’s Young Performers Project musical, Curtain Up, and was also in the 2016 production, The Buddy Holly Story. In 2018 she appeared in Born to Perform Worldwide’s Shine. She is in Grade 11 at the moment so watch this space.
Siphokasi Ntombela is an incredible find, a stunning actress and singer, the next Pearl Thusi, beautifully presented on camera. She won the Project Performer Junior Award 2019.
Shaye Caldicott is a talented 14-year-old dancer and actress, magnificent to watch, and very strong in both art forms, with a very bright future ahead of her. She won The Project Performer Dancer Award 2019.
Annie Carmomand is a strong triple threat, who took The Project Performer Singer Award 2019. She is a singer-songwriter too, and a strong actress, musician and dancer. She was also awarded the Musical Theatre Workshop Award by Duane Alexander and Anton Luitingh of LAMTA.
SYX (aged 22) and Callie Els (aged 15) have just released original singles online.
Also watch out for 16-year-old singer-songwriter Nicky Marais; Allegra du Randt, who is only 11 and writing her own scripts; and Justin Keep, an outstanding actor who also writes his own material at a level I’ve never seen from a 16-year-old.
What sort of costs are involved if one was keen to audition and be accepted by Project Performer?
I don’t divulge this info online. I only speak about the costs once an artist has been given a callback after the open auditions, when I can sit with them and get personal.
Other platforms cost between R120 000 and R150 000, and there is no substance in terms of preparation. This is robbery, in my opinion.
Our platform costs an absolute fraction of that price, but it is an amazing investment. Also, almost everything is included in our package, whereas other platforms charge extra for things like photos and videos of performances.
I’m just so sad that many artists and their parents get taken for a ride.
How is the tuition/mentoring process structured, generally?
We teach skills, incorporating social media and presence and extra technical aspects, as well as polish performances that will be performed at the Showcase Weekend.
We talk extensively about portfolios, resumes and how to keep a track record of achievements, and allow for the opportunity to shoot and update photos for a portfolio.
We talk about mindset that raises the level of consciousness of what is expected from an artist, and about raising the level of toughness, as this industry is made up of 99% rejection.
In additional to our resident coaches, we have guest coaches too. They are industry professionals that not only give feedback on performances, but tips on how to succeed in the industry.
Where, when, how and why did you become involved with Project Performer and is it entirely your ‘baby’?
When you want something done, do it yourself! Project Performer was registered on July 10, 2018, but it was a long time coming!
The idea came from my long wanting to go into artist development. I had been on the lookout for opportunities for my own voice students, and ultimately became directly involved in two other platforms, scouting for talent for KZN, which gave me huge insight in what not to do.
Enter Project Performer: created with integrity and transparency, and a genuine heart, to assist aspiring artists in South Africa.
Where and with what variety of coaches do students receive tuition (perhaps name some and their skills)? Is it a fulltime thing for students?
The programme consists of two Artists Development Weekends away and the Showcase Weekend, but there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done between the artists and me over a few months. They are also recommended to have one-on-one coaching during this time as well.
My resident coaches are: Samantha Landers (Singing); Logan (Acting): IEB Dramatic Arts Practical Examiner; Kim Felix and Bonnie de Beer of Hayman Dance (Dancing). A guest coach for 2019 was award-winning actress Daisy Spencer (Dance and Acting)
There were disappointed rumblings from some people a while ago about similar concepts that entailed wannabe-performers going overseas, where they were promised exposure and further tuition that fell short of expectations? Are you aware of this – and any comment?
Not all of them, but most are money-making schemes, criminal and with ridiculous hype. I will go on the record.
Watch out for phrases like: “You could be the next big star!” “You’re going to signed to an international agent”.
What were you doing before Project Performer?
I have been coaching in acting and singing since 2000, but I am also a performer myself. I have a wonderful husband and two gorgeous little girls, already showing signs of the stage (Sigh…).
What are some of your personal achievements as a vocalist and tutor – and at what age did you start to sing and/or take formal lessons yourself.
I grew up in Kloof and started playing the violin and piano at the age of four, singing at nine and songwriting from the age of 14. Growing up, I participated in many eisteddfods and competitions, in all three instruments.
I trained with the late Vicenzo Locastro for violin, the late Janet Rubin for piano and both Ronel Perks and Colleen Phillp for vocals. I achieved distinctions in the ABRSM Grade 8 examinations for all three instruments, attaining some of the highest marks in the country.
I was a member of the KZN Youth Choir (Gerard du Toit) and the South African Youth Orchestra throughout my school career, performing solos and touring internationally.
I was also a member of the Durban Chamber Strings, headed up by Marco Bernadis, which also consisted of Meg Logan (resident Acting Coach Project Performer) and Bernard Kruger (Drakensburg Boys’ Choir).
I studied at the prestigious Academy of Contemporary Music in UK, attaining a First Class BA Honours Degree in Performing Arts, before joining the gigging circuit all over the UK, including performing at the acclaimed Cobden Club and Sound Café, as well as music festivals performing alongside Simple Minds and Blondie. I lived in the UK for nine years.
Coming back to South Africa, I participated in the 2010 SA Idols, and made it to the Top 24. In 2014 I was the Overall Grand Champion winner at the South African Championships of Performing Arts, where I won a fully paid trip to Hollywood to compete in the World Championships.
I co-wrote a show called That’s Life with fellow vocalist Samantha Landers and pianist Evan Roberts, which appeared on Rhumbelow Theatre stages in Durban ion 2018 and 2019, as well as a Carpenters tribute show, which received positive reviews as well. I am now working on more shows.
Where and when were you born and schooled, and are any of your family good vocalists or in showbiz?
I was born in Durban and went to St. Mary’s DSG, followed by Durban Girls’ College. My mother was a dancer, although none of that was inherited! I have rhythm but who knows where the singing and acting came from. I was brought up with all forms of art around me, though.
Anything else you wish to tell me about yourself or Project Performer?
We have created a platform in South Africa FOR South Africa with opportunities and education by local and international heavyweights. We bring them together locally, where artists can learn, network, grow, get direction, perform and audition for a panel made up of artists, scouts, producers and directors, under one roof.