A Conversation with Emma Kotze and Sarah Potter

Actors Emma Kotze and Sarah Potter are joining forces to star in Wynne Bredenkamp’s return engagement of The Edge of The Light, which will run during The Cape Town Fringe Festival. Both rising stars in their own regard, Emma and Sarah have forged a unique path for themselves as performers. Emma was last seen onstage in Louis Viljoen’s Oh Baby, I’m a Wild One while Sarah captivated audiences in Philip Rademeyer’s The Graveyard and reprises her role as “Girl” in The Edge of The Light.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

Sarah Potter: I would have to say my father. My dad entered me into the Overberg Eisteddfod in Grade 3. He signed me up for the poetry section and he coached me with Sonnet 18. I think he transferred his passion for language to me and the process of transferring that passion to an audience, the transferral of energy, kind of got me into this sphere.

Emma Kotze: Mine would be my mother and her love for theatre and her come hell or high water attitude that we will go to NAF every year. Seeing people there like Andrew Buckland and Lionel Newton and seeing those people perform and really falling in love with storytelling and the way in which they could capture my imagination. That’s where my passion for physical theatre also comes from because that is where my true love for theatre steams from.

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Photo credit: Wynne Bredenkamp
What was it like performing at NAF after spending so much time there as a child?

Emma Kotze: I was very scared the first time we went to NAF because it was like coming home and because so many of my friends and family go there, it was kind of like, “Ok we’ve nurtured you in this environment, we sent you away and now you’ve come back into our environment, what do you have?” That’s obviously not what their attitude was but it felt like that. It was quite daunting but at the same time it was so great to be able to realize that a dream has realize. It wasn’t something that I had necessarily articulated as a dream for myself but when I was there I went, “Flip this is cool.”

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Photo credit: Wynne Bredenkamp
What was it that made you want to be involved in The Edge of The Light?

Sarah Potter: I was at university with Wynne. It’s Wynne who made me want to be part of the production. I saw her final year production, Salt, which completely stood out to me in the plethora of fourth year theatremaking final pieces because she managed to talk about a very serious subject whilst capturing one’s imagination with her choice to use magical realism. The writing of her characters is in-depth and it’s organic and her characters are complex. I admire her creativity. I admire how she uses imagery and I admire her sensuality towards the acting process, towards her writing and towards the characters she creates. She spoke to me about what the piece was about and this is the kind of character that I have always been drawn to, someone who is faced with very traumatic experiences and despite that, pulls themselves and others through it. It’s not a simple story of heroism. It’s a complex story about female identity and family dynamics. I enjoy the complexity of the characters and the complexity of the choices people make. Funnily enough, in the past three plays I’ve been in since leaving drama school, they have all been about domestic unease. I guess that is the story that I am meant to tell at the moment.

Emma Kotze: I wasn’t part of the first round of the play being performed so I’ve seen the play and I think it is a very beautiful and important piece of work. I’ve worked with Wynne twice before and it was a great experience and I think we have a great working relationship so it is always a nice process with interesting results. I enjoy the challenges that come with a process of working with her. It was being able to see the play and go, “Great. That is something I want to do,” as well as liking the people. I really like Sarah too.

Sarah Potter: I really like Emma. I feel very passionate about female voices in the arts, in media, in writing and telling a story in a different way and that is what this play does. It looks at a story that has been told many times but from a female perspective. It’s not so much a female perspective, it’s a feminine voice or lens. I think that is the big thing about the play and that is really exciting because it is new and it’s edgy and it also is something that speaks to me personally.

What are you looking forward to revisiting during this next staging of this play?

Sarah Potter: The whole thing really. Wynne was happy with the first round of performance but I felt as though I had really only scratched the surface. She is a character who is very different. Her landscape and her emotional experience is incredibly foreign to me which was the challenge. I think this time round, I am actually starting to really understand the importance of what she does and what she says. This last time I was stabbing around in the dark. I am looking forward to finding more truth this time round and also bringing it to a space where more people can see it.

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Photo credit: Wynne Bredenkamp
The two of you both have a history of working quite frequently with writer-directors during your careers. Do you enjoy that experience? 

Emma Kotze: Now that you say that, I’m thinking of the writer-directors I’ve worked with and it is the majority of the work I have done and it’s interesting because it can be extremely challenging. Most of the people I’ve worked with are very young as well, so in the same way you as an actor are trying to figure out what your voice is and how you represent on stage, you can see people struggling with that thing of, “When do I step away from the text? When am I the director?” Does it ever separate because it’s an extremely complex relationship. I think as an actor, it has often been challenging being part of that process and then other times it is so great within a process to see your writer-director go, “Now I am willing to let it go.” In all honesty I think often, especially with working with people my age or younger people in the industry, it can be very complicating but it’s nice to also be in a space where everyone’s figuring it out.

Sarah Potter: I totally agree with that and carrying on from that end of figuring it out, that often leads to something that is made as a team and kind of has a 3-D understanding of this personal story that you are trying to tell. I’ve always enjoyed working with a writer-director. They really know what they want very specifically because they produced this thing. They gave birth to it. With Louis [Viljoen] it is a case of, because he understands his craft so well and because he is about his words, his words are action, it is difficult to find your pathway through it as an actor. Louis was incredibly specific about how he wanted it done which as an actor I found a little bit challenging because I wanted to find how I wanted to do it. We had to come together with a compromise and we met in the middle. I really enjoy it because if you have a question, they have the answer. I always have a bunch of questions and I really ask a lot of questions and am constantly like, “But why?” They always have the answer.

Emma, without knowing about your process, does it change at all when you tackle a role like this which is much more physical?

Emma Kotze: This play is completely physical. My approach is a very much an “outside to inside” approach. It’s almost always physical. To me, it’s where the character’s energy determines how she speaks and then, ultimately, that is movement as well. Where does the energy come from? Which part of the body leads? It’s obviously different in that I don’t have to go home and learn lines. I must figure out a language for a character that is not verbal but ultimately I think the throughline is that I work from the outside in so that it is about how the character physically represents themselves. I work very differently which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend for other people. If I think about it now, I think it is quite similar but obviously the end product is a piece of movement versus a more traditional character.

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Photo credit: Wynne Bredenkamp
Do you think it’s beneficial to this production that the two of you (and Wynne) have all known each other for quite a long time?

Emma Kotze: I think it’s always beneficial. For me, a process is always nothing short of traumatic. If I go, “I know what I am dealing with,” people working with me know what they are going to deal with. I know what you do under pressure, I know what you do when you are not under pressure, I know what the givens are. You can suss out the things that are hard to get to know about other people because you do rely so heavily on other people and that is why I think that people so often work with the same people because you go, “Great. We have figured each other out.” We are good friends outside of the space but the moment you get into the space, that’s not even the same thing. I think it is always beneficial because you eliminate some of the unknowns.

Sarah Potter: And also it’s about chemistry, really. The best cast experiences I’ve ever had and thus the best audience experiences I’ve ever had, has been because the cast liked each other and I think that breeds trust. If you have trust among each other then you can go places with the character and you can feel vulnerable in the end. I’ve heard of people who have had bad experiences with the ego thing and I think if you know each other you can call each other out.

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Photo credit: Wynne Bredenkamp
What is it like working within a predominantly female cast?

Emma Kotze: When I worked with Louis last year, I, for lack of better descriptive words, shat myself because I hadn’t worked with a male energy like that in a very long time. I’ve worked with males in my professional career but it’s always been quite a feminine approach or a female energy. To me an energy isn’t necessarily sitting in a female body or not and that was the first time I realized how different that is and that I actually haven’t worked with that in a long time. For me, this is a much more familiar place working in a mostly female production.

Sarah Potter: Working with a female [team] is my comfort zone ultimately because what I like about it is the ethic of working. Working with an all-female team can get nasty, I haven’t experienced that but I have experienced tastes of it with this underlying competitiveness. Too many alphas in the room, also young women trying to prove themselves and trying to develop your own voice. It’s that fanaticism when insecurity comes into play. But at the same time, I always see it as a communion where everyone is feeding in and if someone is struggling, or you can see that someone is behaving off-kilter or out of a place of insecurity, there is someone to always direct the conversation. It’s more in touch. There is a constant awareness of other people and other people’s feelings which I think I really appreciate with women. Not that it’s not there with men but I find that working with men in theatre specifically, just because it is quite different, there is more of a gung-ho, don’t take yourself too seriously, more relaxed [environment] because that is their space and they own it. But as a woman, you are expected to join in. It’s not in a nasty way but if you don’t fit in, it’s seen as you being oversensitive. I ultimately like working with women more. I like working with people who have something to say or who have experienced difficulty and are on the back foot because the work is always more interesting. Not that we experience a lot of difficulty but we experience that we are the marginalised gender. There is more urgency. There is more vicious attention to detail and what is being put out there.

Emma Kotze: …because it’s a greater risk. You don’t have to take yourself too seriously when the risk isn’t that great.

Sarah Potter:…and when your truth is universal. Something I haven’t explored which I am wanting to do is comedy. I’ve done some heavy plays and am quite a heavy person myself but I just want to have a good laugh with a whole bunch of people and put it on stage. What is the position of female comedians or women in comedy in South Africa? There has been a lot of male comedy in the theatre circuit but where do women fit in? How are women funny? Jemma Kahn, of course is my hero because she just has this light touch but what is it? What do you have to do as a woman to make yourself funny?

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Photo credit: Wynne Bredenkamp
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?

Sarah Potter: Jemma KahnTinarie van wyk Loots, Terry Norton. There are so many! Obviously Wynne Bredenkamp and Emma Kotze.

Emma Kotze: Sarah Potter! Antoinette Kellerman, Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Bo Peterson,  Jori Snell.

Sarah Potter: I tend to be inspired by people who aren’t in our field directly. Someone like Lady Skollie who is in fine art. Jana Babez is also a fine artist. The list is really long but also people like Gabi Pinto who is working behind the scenes. She is doing multiple things. I find that extremely inspiring. Also, someone like Isabel Martens. She is one of the producers at Moonlighting. She was an opera singer and then she moved to producing and she is the most together, bubbly, lovely person under huge amounts of pressure and I really admire when people can be nice under pressure and do their jobs really well. It’s incredibly inspiring. 

Emma Kotze: I think something that is also quite inspiring is that in the Afrikaans circuit almost all the festival directors are females. The Karen Meirings and Saartjie Bothas. I think that says something.

Sarah Potter: Tossie van Tonder, she’s proper amazing. Jessie Zinn is a documentary filmmaker as well as Kelly-eve Koopman and Sarah Summers. They are an amazing team and female focused. Oh and Jenna Bass!


The Edge of The Light begins performances on September 22nd at the Alexander Bar and runs as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival. For tickets, click here.

All photos were taken by Wynne Bredenkamp on September 8th 2017.

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