Stage and screen actress Tinarie van Wyk Loots is currently performing in Hemelruim at The Fugard Theatre, a role that has already awarded her Best Actress at The Aardklop National Arts Festival, the KKNK and at the kykNET Fiëstas 2016. In this year alone, Tinarie has already appeared on stage in five major productions. Awards and production credits aside, Tinarie radiates passion for the work that she does.
To read the conversation in Afrikaans please click here.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
It’s something that kind of happened…I’d like to say organically, but that sounds so cliché. We moved halfway through my Grade 1 year and my mom says that I struggled a little bit to adjust to the new school, so she had me do little drama classes on the side as an extra-curricular activity to help me open up and adjust. I fell in love with it instantly and then later when I got the opportunity to perform in school plays, I did everything that I could at school. I remember the one year, for the Grahamstown Eisteddfod, I entered 22 items because I wanted to do everything. I joined an extra-curricular drama group with a drama teacher in Port Elizabeth and it was just so invigorating and inspiring and exciting. One of the great things about growing up in Port Elizabeth was that there is no professional theatre circuit to compete with. Whatever the amateur dramatic society puts on, that is the professional theatre. We had the opportunity to perform in the Opera House and the Feather Market Hall. You have all these experiences in theatres and there is nothing that can touch that. I think that is where you learn the most. [Acting] was just something I had to do. I find myself at times —like the beginning of this year when things were extremely busy and I was exhausted and felt like maybe I was burning out or doing too much— but then I go onto a stage or I go into a rehearsal space and I feel so invigorated and so alive when I am there that it feels like something that actually sustains me.
I’m not at all surprised by your telling me that you entered 22 things at an Eisteddfod, because when I told a friend of mine that I was sitting down with you, she asked me to ask you what it’s like to perform in seven shows at the same time. I feel like you constantly have a million things going.
I really try very hard to maintain a balance, even though clearly at the moment I am not really doing it. It’s a combination of several things. I think that practical thing of an actor being concerned that they are never going to work again and you don’t know when your next paycheck is going to come from. It is also the idea of working so hard for so long for opportunities to come along and then finally when they do, being unable to say no. As far as working on seven plays at the same time is concerned, I definitely don’t recommend it because you really do still want to do your best to serve the story, which is the most important thing. And also to serve your audience, because they come for the story. If you are tired and unfocused then you can’t necessarily do that. I do find, however —I call it ‘hummingbird mode’ because I saw an episode of Futurama once where Fry drinks 100 cups of coffee and goes into this ‘hummingbird’ mode where everything moves in slow motion but he is kind of operating normal speed. It feels like you enter ‘hummingbird’ mode where it’s like your senses are heightened and almost the only way of sustaining yourself is [by working] at such a pace because you don’t have a choice so you just commit to it whole-heartedly. It is almost like it sustains you. It teaches you to be present and I think to be present is very important to any performer. I am really excited about the [theatre] and how it touches people. Stories are an incredible opportunity for you to place yourself in someone else’s environment or situation. I think stories remind you that there is humanity in everything. It gives you a certain amount of perspective that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Theatre gives you the opportunity to do that in such an intimate way where it communicates directly because there is an active exchange between you and the audience and it cannot be interrupted by a pause button.
I love that you are so passionate and that it truly excites you, because you have such a huge body of work, I was almost worried that this work would be quite clinical to you.
I think I’m very much obsessive about the work I do. I have no discipline for the rest of my life, but when it comes to work, I really try to apply discipline, because I think it’s important when you do what we do. I love what I do so much and I’m so aware of how grateful I should be, because I have the opportunity to do something that I love and that I feel passionate about and that I’ve been able to eke a career out of.
What was it about this production that made you want to be involved?
It’s always wonderful when somebody approaches you to do a project and you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of an audition, because you feel that they are prepared to make an investment in you, because they recognise something in you that will add a positive quality to what it is they have in mind. It’s a really charming, disarming, magical, challenging, beautiful script not only in a story sense, because it’s actually quite a simple story, but the way that it’s told and revealed to you is so unique and so engaging and challenging. The character I play is so off-the-wall and quirky and eccentric and slightly strange, and it’s so refreshing to play a character like that who seems to be kind of honest and affected. The script itself has been translated so beautifully. It’s so natural in the way it plays. It’s easy to find the truth in it. It’s also very exciting to do something that’s challenging, because essentially you see these characters’ journey of their relationship, but you see them experience it in many different universes, so to speak. Every time they make a decision or a choice, [be it] impulsive or considered, suddenly the fallout of what’s happening around them is different. You as an audience [member] get to experience the different versions of how the scene could have played out. As an actor, you get the opportunity to play the scene in five different ways, which is so lovely. It’s wonderful to do it with somebody who is as accomplished and experienced as Paul [du Toit], because you feel safe with each other on stage. I think the play lends itself to a certain openness. There are no props, there is no set. It’s literally just the two of us on stage with 96 lightbulbs. It’s quite magical. And then we’re working with such a lovely, open, generous, magical director who allows us to play so much. All those things contribute to it being a lovely experience and an opportunity that I couldn’t possibly say no to.
Given the fact that the play isn’t structured in a traditional way, did your process have to change at all?
I think your process changes with every play you do, because every play is different. Every process is different. I find myself learning the words in a different way. I find myself approaching the play in a different way. All my scripts look different. With this, it was very hard to rehearse with a script in your hand. We tried to get off-book as quickly as we could. The structure is different, because you’ll find that there are these little units of a story, and in between, you have one scene that you only get little snippets of. You get a clue and then the next time a scene or mise-en-scène is complete, there’s another little snippet of it that gives you a little bit more information. You have to start putting this puzzle together, so you have a slow realisation of what’s happening. We approach [the scenes] within their little realms because each scene happens in a little realm.
I was deeply disturbed to hear about production photos of a sensitive nature that were published at the KKNK without your consent. I was wondering if there was anything you wanted to say about that.
I obviously don’t want to make it harder for the KKNK and the people who are involved. I don’t want it to turn into a sensational debate, because that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid. I think that it’s hard for performing artists to copyright themselves and copyright the way they are seen. In a film, all the scenes belong to the film, and therefore it’s easier to enforce some form of control. We’re not talking about censorship; we did have a discussion about nudity on stage, because there was a great deal of it at the festival, and I believe we need to debunk nudity on stage. I think the moment you can debate it, then perhaps it shouldn’t be there, but if it becomes an intrinsic part of the story that reveals something about the character and needs to be there, then by all means. I’m all for freeing the nipple. I think it’s unfair that we have double standards, as far as nudity is concerned, for men and women, but we also need to take into consideration that we live in a society that still operates [according to the] stigma that a naked image in the media is [a] sexualised [one], especially if it’s [seen] out of context. That’s why I feel it’s important to qualify where these images are being portrayed. I think we need to try to protect our artists, because when actors appear nude on stage, we are in the safe space of the theatre. People buy a ticket or they are invited into that space to experience it within the context of the story where it makes sense, but the moment you remove the image from there and place it in the newspaper, it’s not a character on stage anymore; it’s an individual. It’s not necessarily that I have a problem with appearing naked in the media —I have been naked in the media before, but it was with my consent and I was in control of it and I understood what the purpose of it was. I feel as if we’re using nudity for sensationalist purposes. I am not for [that], because then you’re selling it with a different interest. It’s not about censorship; it’s about ethics and it’s about protecting our artists so that we don’t exploit them in the media. I don’t think nudity in a newspaper is necessary to sell a play —or to sell a newspaper. I think it undermines what we’re trying to say and what we’re trying to say is that it needs to [exist within] a context. My image belongs to the story and it’s very specific. I think that if we had been asked for consent, it would have been a different story. It’s complicated and complex and I understand that more things could be at play than I’m aware of, but I think it’s important that we have a discussion about this, because I’m not the first artist to have been presented in the media this way and who feels exposed. It’s hard to do within the realm of theatre, because we seem to have no rights whatsoever. If you speak out against it, you’re criticised. If you don’t speak out, you’re abused or exploited. I think these things need to be addressed —if not to be resolved, at least to have a conversation about it or a public debate about it [where] people can have opinions about it and we can standardise it and say, ‘This is what we feel is acceptable and this is what makes us feel exploited; this is what we see as freedom of speech and freedom of the press and this is what we feel is not acceptable’. It wasn’t just me. It was me and a man who were shown in the shower, but I feel it’s unfair to both of us. It’s disrespectful to the artist, I think. I had no problem with the article. I thought the article published with the photo was spot-on. I think it’s an important discussion that we need to have, but the fact that it was advertised on the lamp-post as ‘Come and see who’s naked in the shower’ doesn’t support the argument, and I think it’s counter-productive.
Thank you so much for sharing that. Who are some South African women in the arts who inspire you?
I am pretty much inspired by all the women I meet in the arts. I’m so lucky to meet so many invigorating, amazing people; young and old. I’ve had the privilege of working with Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Sandra Prinsloo. I’ve had the privilege of working with Christelle Dreyer, who inspires me because of what it is that she does. Chuma Sopotela, who is an incredibly active and amazing performer. Directors who are changing the face of theatre, especially women like Lara Foot. The list is endless. And then the incredible actors you work with. Actors and actresses who are just beautiful people, like Cintaine Schutte, Antoinette Kellerman, Anoecha Krüger. All the young women who are not afraid to speak their mind, who are strong and who are kind. I think kindness and empathy and love in a creative space make it so much better and so much easier for everybody to exist within it. The list is endless. Jennifer Steyn, Amy Jephta. People who are really actively changing the face of theatre and entertainment. I think it’s a courageous space where we have the opportunity to be seen as equals and where we can fight as equals and actively try and make a change. There is this wonderful line at the end of Marat/Sade: ‘We speak without favour or fear and what we can’t say, we will breathe in your ear’. It’s a beautiful way of encapsulating what an actor does and how important our job is in society, and how lucky I am to be part of an army of women who work in this field trying to change the world through theatre.
Afrikaans translation by Maria Vos.