A Conversation with Luanna Shonfeld

Luanna Shonfeld is one of the owners of Gate69, a new cabaret theatre that has taken Cape Town by storm. Gate69 recently opened their doors to the public with the South African premiere of Hedwig and The Angry Inch. We sat down with Luanna (on the plush purple velvet couches at Gate69) to chat about the venue and her multifaceted career.

I wanted to start in the beginning because you were telling me that you didn’t come from a theatrical background, you started in advertising. After university, you studied to do what?

I didn’t go to university, I studied Fashion Design at Cape Tech which lasted a year, then travelled to the USA to Au Pair. At the same time I completed a make up course in NYC. When I returned to SA I worked for Enosi Publishing selling advertising space and working on fashion. Later I joined my mother in the fashion business. We had a fabulous designer boutique in Cavendish Square. Six years later I left our shores for the UK and worked on the fashion floor at Harrods, which was very glamorous meeting all the rich and famous. No sooner had I settled into Harrods, I was offered a fantastic job as Logistics Manager for the first Direct Marketing company in Europe called Reaction UK.We distributed 600 000 welcome packs to students starting college all over the country. A year later I joined the selling team. So while I don’t have a theatrical background, I’ve had some very diverse experience; I also modeled for a while, was Cape Town’s female DJ and ran a flower and cooking school for a couple of years. I also spent a couple of years just painting acrylic on canvas and specialising on commission. That’s my story in a nutshell.

Knowing now what I know, from that, this seems like a full culmination of everything that you have worked for and done.

My past experiences have certainly given me the confidence and knowledge to be part of Gate69. Everything I love and know is being stimulated under this roof, from playing hostess, selling, being creative, as well as getting involved in Cathy’s wardrobe. And of course, dressing up every night!

Where do you begin with an idea like Gate69?

Brendan (Van Rhyn) is the mastermind behind Gate69. He always visualised a home for Cathy, where his clothes and makeup would just stay in one place instead of packing up every five minutes for another corporate, getting dressed in tiny toilets or kitchens with no mirrors! So it really started when Brendan shared his secret with me and we started looking for premises. We lost count after number 40, but here we are in the perfect place. On Bree Street. Christopher (Dudgeon), the other partner, found this spot. Then we had to find an investor and that was the hardest part. Fortunately Brendan sang at a charity function and our investor was in the audience. He literally sang for his supper. 

What have you found to be your biggest challenge and what are you most proud of?

The biggest challenge was definitely trying to raise the money. We encountered a lot of rejection and had to keep up the momentum and passion for what we believed in. We were told out right that the two things people don’t invest in are restaurants and theatres and we are doing both. I am most proud of our dream, Gate69, being a reality. It was very scary putting this project together but it is said if your dream doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough. 

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Photo Credit: Chanel Katz

I think what struck me most about this space, aside from the glamour, is how inclusive and safe it feels. How are you going to ensure that you always get that across to people?

I think when people see Brendan, Christopher and myself here every night they know they are in a safe place as it is owner-run. We are all so passionate about our space here and I truly believe that the love rubs off on everyone. Our personal touch and attention to detail is what hopefully sets us apart and is a good enough reason for people to return. 

What would you like people to know about this space who are probably a little bit more reserved?

That it is the best night out in Cape Town, if not South Africa. You will not get better service, hospitality or have more fun. It is a fabulous place to be yourself and have a night to remember. 

How did Hedwig come about? 

VRG, a production company close to our hearts, obtained the hold rights and approached us to produce it. It is a South African first and an extremely exciting production for us to open up with. 

Genna Galloway and Paul du Toit in Hedwig at Gate69. Photo Credit: Pat Bromilow-Downing.

What are your hopes for the future of this venue?

I think my hopes for our venue is that it just lives on forever. I would like Gate69 to be everyone’s first port of call when they come to the Mother City, whether you are here for one night only or a month. I wish for Gate69 to be internationally renowned and it becomes one of the top 10 best things to do when in Cape Town. I believe we have really added something very special to the city. 

Photo credit: Chanel Katz.

What has your experience been like as a woman in the business world? Have you found there to be any different challenges because you are a woman?

I have only ever worked for women or myself, so I have never been faced with challenges that I thought were sexist until now when we were looking for an investor (most of them being men.) They were all quite blatant about the fact that I was obviously part of the deal should they invest. My partners were horrified with this reaction, not to mention my feelings on the subject. I would hate to think that women go to work in fear of their male bosses. 

It is interesting to me that you are at this point in your career and only encountering this now. 

It exists. It really exists. Generally, I have been very lucky doing my own thing and creating my own work environment. I’ve always worked for women and I have loved it. I just enjoy the way women think, they are so on it, they are so quick. They make it happen. 

Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?

All of those women that work hard, follow their dreams and just do what they love. You look at women like Aviva Pelham who is still working hard and hasn’t given up. She is just one of many who keep persisting. If it isn’t the theatrical world, I had a very hard-working mother. She has always been such a great role model. She made it look easy and because of her, I have never been scared to try or do anything. 

You have two opportunities to visit Gate69 before the end of the year, Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs until 27th November 2016 and beginning on December 3rd you can catch Miss Cathy Specific herself in Cathy and The Trolley Dollies. Bookings can be made via the box office on 0715892915 or www.gate69.co.za

Luanna in front of the infamous ‘Cathy’ Warhol-inspired wall. Photo Credit: Chanel Katz.

Special thanks to Chanel Katz and Hannah Baker.

Cover photo by Chanel Katz

Sarafina Magazine and Chanel Katz maintain copyright of all images. For usage please contact us.


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