Following its run in Cape Town, The Stephan Fourie Theatre Company’s production of Rent is making its way to Johannesburg. We sat down with the three principal actresses in the show, Nadine Suliaman, Emily Adair and Namisa Mdlalose who play the roles of Mimi, Maureen and Joanne, respectively. You can read part one of our chat with the female ensemble of Rent by clicking here.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Emily Adair: I think a big influence for me was definitely Audrey Hepburn. I was always told as a young child that I looked liked her, and I kind of latched on to that. I read about her and got very inspired by not only what she did as an actress but by her as a person, and what she achieved as a humanitarian is just amazing. From there the passion grew.
Nadine Suliaman: I started my love for singing with Beyoncé. She is basically the reason I started performing. I got into musicals during the Glee phase. It inspired me to want to go into it because I didn’t really know about musicals until Glee came around. I started watching shows and from there the flame ignited.
Namisa Mdlalose: I was obsessed with movies when I was a kid. I used to watch the same films over and over again. My parents used to get so mad [that] they would hide tapes away from me. I remember when I was 7, that’s when I figured out what the people in the box did for a living, that they got to pretend to be other people and I figured out what that word was, which was “acting,” I went to my mother and I said, “I am going to go to America and I am going to go act.” And she said, “Ok” not knowing that I was not going to change my mind. I went to a school that was sort of in line with Paula Pursch, she is a well-known child agent. My parents took me to her and said “This child is loud and doesn’t fear anything. Take her.” I remember doing adverts as a kid and missing school, which was fun. I just never changed my mind. I saw things and I just wanted to do them. I wanted to tell stories. I love storytelling. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to extra lessons or things like that so I made sure that the High School that I went to had a very good drama department. I went there and did the best that I could and here I am. I didn’t expect to be here, if I’m honest. I’m very happy to be here.
What was it about this production or this musical that made you want to be involved with it?
Nadine Suliaman: I think every musical theatre person wants to be in Rent. It’s everyone’s dream to be in Rent. The story touches everyone. No matter who you are, you can find a character that you relate to and someone’s path that you might have been on once upon a time. It’s such an inspiring story about love and life. The way it is written makes you just want to appreciate your life and be thankful for the things that you have been given.
Namisa Mdlalose: I am so happy to be here. I remember when I was in Grade 6 or 7, my sister is six years older than me and she bought a tape home and it was Rent. I remember watching it and thinking, “This is so silly.” I didn’t understand it. Until I got into High School and I watched it again and it changed my life. I think I’ve always been secretly obsessed with it ever since. When I saw [the casting call] on Facebook, I was like “I have to be in this show! I don’t care if I am sweeping backstage, I have to be in this show!” It is so timeless in the sense that it will never cease to be relevant. Just to echo what Nadine said, the people in the story are people that I can see in my life who do exist and who are around me and sometimes I feel like I am in the story.
Emily Adair: It is a great story about community and how people stand together to fight for what they believe in. Everyone goes through a challenge and they try to overcome something and achieve something. I think it is a beautiful thing to tell, especially in Cape Town which is quite vibey and quite a family. It’s a lovely town and time to tell it in. It is a way to bond as a community and support each other. What attracted me to it, acting wise, is that it is such a challenge. It is such a difficult musical, especially coming from Maureen. She is completely different to who I am. For me, it was a really big challenge as an actress, to see if I could do it and in the audition just kind of went for it and managed to end up here somehow.
Because this is the 20th anniversary of Rent, do you feel like there is any kind of pressure attached to attacking these roles?
Namisa Mdlalose: I feel pressure in the sense of age. People who have played my character, Joanne, are so much older than I am and so much more rehearsed, in a sense. They have been in the industry for a while. I think for me, the pressure was to give her age justice. There hasn’t been any pressure in the rehearsal room by the director or the producers so it doesn’t feel like we need to live up to this idea of what it should be. It is taking a story that we all love and we want to tell, from our side and our perspective as South Africans. There hasn’t been some lived up expectation of what it should be. It is what we are making it.
Nadine Suliaman: It’s kind of like we want to do the work justice as well because we don’t have much of a theatre culture in South Africa. A lot of people don’t know what Rent is. I told a lot of people, “I got into Rent” and they are like “What’s that?” Only theatre people know what Rent is. For the people who are going to be seeing it for the first time, there is a lot of pressure to make it something that they are going to enjoy. I know that all the musical directors in Cape Town who are coming are going to be there wanting to hear us hit everything and make sure [it] is on point. That type of pressure is definitely there but it is something that South Africa would definitely enjoy because it is something that hasn’t been done here before. South Africa keeps doing the same musicals and it is nice that we are doing something different. Rent hasn’t been here for a while so I am quite excited for us.
As a musical theatre nerd, I have to just ask you about performing ”Take Me” because I feel like it is such a challenging song. You have a month left in the rehearsal process,* so how are you feeling and what are you most looking forward to?
Emily Adair: I must say that Take Me is probably my favourite song in this musical because we just get to belt and be ridiculous in front of each other but I don’t feel pressured at all. Rehearsals are quite relaxed at the moment. I think closer to the time will be a bit frantic but at the moment it is quite casual but a lot of fun. A lot of hard work has been put in.
Namisa Mdlalose: I have a lot of very scary solos. I think that song is one of the fun ones. They are all scary and overwhelming because they have been done by some very amazing people and so you want to live up to it and you don’t want to let anyone down but also it is really fun. I don’t think I could have asked for a better fake girlfriend.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Nadine Suliaman: I would probably go with Bianca le Grange just because she is such a fantastic coloured actress. We don’t have a lot of those yet in South Africa. I remember seeing her in Blood Brothers and just wanting to die because she was so amazing. Another one would be Natasha Hess, she is quite new in the industry. She was in Orpheus (in Africa) and District Six- Kanala. I studied with her and I’ve always believed in her and now she is just out there doing things and now, “I just want to be you when I grow up.” She has always been amazing.
Emily Adair: Charon Williams-Ros is just amazing. I had a workshop with her once and she is just inspiring all round. Lovely, strong woman and I look up to her a lot. Also, Donna Cormack-Thompson. She is amazing. Donna is just a stunning actress and a lovely person as well.
Namisa Mdlalose: Faniswa Yisa. If I stick with theatre, I would want to model my career after her. I look up to her. She is the goal. Lesoko Seabe! Her voice is ridiculous. I was fortunate enough to have her as a voice teacher for a short period of time but my word in those six months I was like, “Please be my mother.” Jennie Reznek as well. I love her, she is amazing. Again, another career goal. I am a bit obsessed. Tarryn Wyngaardt, I was in first year when she was in fourth year and her final performance has just never left me. I walked out of that room and was like, “I want to do this thing. I am so glad I chose this.” She studied theatremaking but she is primarily performing and what a great decision because now we get to watch her and become obsessed. All I want to do is watch her for the rest of my life.
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*This conversation took place in January prior to the Cape Town run of Rent.