Vocalist and actress, Edith Plaatjies is no stranger to the musical theatre stage. In the past five years she has dazzled audiences in productions such as Orpheus in Africa, District Six: Kanala and Blood Brothers, but it is her latest role that has everyone buzzing. As King Kong prepares to make its return to Cape Town, Edith is stepping into the iconic role of ‘Joyce.’ A role which launched its originator, Miriam Makeba, into international stardom.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
That’s so easy, Diana Ross. I used to love The Boss, which was sung by Diana. I worked with her when she came to Cape Town, I was one of her backing singers. I used to want to have the big hair. I would always wear the big extensions and wear red lipstick. She is an entertainer. She had people at her feet, listening to her voice on that stage and I was like, “That is what I want to do.”
Did you get to tell her this when you worked together?
Oh yes! I got to tell her this. Can you believe it? She was such a great person and gave me such great advice about the industry. Some of the things that she taught me in that short bit of time was to know my work. When you walk into a room, know your work and, also to be humble and to stay grounded and to be a perfectionist when it comes to your work. It’s difficult to be perfect but when it comes to your work, try be a perfectionist. I try on the daily to have those qualities.
You’ve been with King Kong since the first run in Cape Town earlier this year. What was it that initially attracted you to this production?
Firstly, Miriam Makeba. I remember when my agent sent me the brief. I did not think that I would get in. I don’t know why but I just auditioned anyway. It wasn’t an easy audition but during that process, we had a read-through, we got to sing songs and I was like, “This is such a good story.” This true story brought so many people together. How amazing would it be to be part of this now, in 2017, bringing different colours of the world together to watch this story? I really feel honoured to be part of this and I am happy that I went to the audition, and got in. I’m very humbled to be part of this.
It surprises me that you thought you might not have gotten in…
Not [for] one second did I think that I would get in.
It’s so surprising because this is your fifth time working with The Fugard. Surely it should have felt like a bit of a sure thing at this point?
No, it can never. In this industry you never know if you got the job. It’s a challenge whether you know the panel or the creative team, you don’t necessarily have the job. You have to prove to them that you can be different from how you were when they saw you in whatever musical you did before. It’s also challenging for you as an actress. For me, to come in and be rough and have some knack and be able to dance, it was challenging. But I did it and I’m here.
Even though this industry is uncertain, I firmly believe that artists still have a choice over the work they do. Why choose to come back and work with The Fugard time after time?
I’ve worked with them five times now on five different shows. In a way, you start to become family, professionally. On a professional level, I think they know my weaknesses and the good parts of my persona in this industry. I trust The Fugard, so whenever there is a call for auditions, because believe me there are a lot of things that I don’t audition for that they do, but when I feel like I can do it, I go. I won’t necessarily get the job because we are in a very good relationship but I guess it is your professionalism and how you go about your craft.
This is now the third leg of the King Kong journey and you are stepping into the role of Joyce…
I got promoted. Someone said I got “glowed up.”
You’re currently still in rehearsals but I know that you got to go on for the role in Joburg. How are you feeling about taking this on?
I am happy that I went on in Joburg because if I didn’t, I would have been a nervous wreck now. I’m still nervous, don’t get me wrong, and excited but that prepared me so much. I didn’t even know that I was going to end up doing the Cape Town run. It prepared me so much. You can never go wrong with the King Kong cast. If you have that support system, you can do anything. I just have to say that I appreciate every single person in this cast because without them, I would have crumbled. Thanks to them, I pulled it off in Johannesburg and god willing, we’ll all be pulling it off in Cape Town giving you guys an amazing performance and telling you a beautiful story about Ezekiel Dlamini and his journey and his lady, Joyce and all the other things that are part of the story. I’m happy that I got to experience being Joyce in Johannesburg. You don’t understand how grateful I am even though it was not under great circumstances because our Joyce, then, fell ill but I believe that the universe has its reasons why certain things need to happen.
What was that first time like when you went on in Joburg?
Let me tell you I don’t even remember my first performance! I don’t remember that night. I was dead. I could just do the work. I was exhausted when I got home but I can tell you about the following day when I did it. There were nerves but because I didn’t get the opportunity to sit in and have the journey about Joyce’s story [in rehearsal,] I had to sort of find my inner Joyce and I had to do it quickly. The second day, I was more relaxed, I think. I got to tap into what I thought Joyce was and that was quite a nice feeling to have and to play that character a second time was a good feeling.
What are you doing to make this version of Joyce your own?
I am trying to become more rough. Joyce is a strong woman. I am not saying that I am not strong but she is physically a strong woman. That is one thing that I am struggling with, the physicality. I am trying to work on that. The rest is so easy because we all have it inside of us, every single female. We have that poise, that sexiness and knowing what we want. That is Joyce. She’s a business woman. She is caring, she is loving, she cares for others, she cares for the people who come to her shebeen. She cares for the people who work for her. As females, we have that. It’s just that Joyce is more hard than the rest. You don’t mess with Joyce. That’s basically what I have to say. That’s the type of person I see Joyce as. You don’t mess with her, even the men. You don’t dare mess with Joyce because she is going to put you in your place but her pride is her business. That is what she strives on. That’s her pride and joy. The rest comes after. She is a strong woman.
You’ve managed to carve out an incredible career where you work so consistently as a singer and a musical theatre performer. Do you have to structure your life in any way so that you can do all of this? Or is it something that has just become second nature?
I’m a mom so yes, I have to plan things out. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, before having my son, it was easy. Now, I have to think because every decision that I make, when it comes to my career, I have to think about how it benefits my boy. Whether it is me having to travel or the hours or things like that, I have to work things out. He is at an age where I can talk to him and have discussions about these things like, “How would you feel if mom would have to go away for a month?” He is six years old. He is such a strong boy and that helps me a lot. Yes, I do plan and I have a great support system. My family is great so when I do get too busy, I know he is sorted. He is such a strong boy that I can say yes to almost any job that comes. I have such a strong boy and a great support system that I don’t really have to think too much about how to plan on getting him settled before taking on a job.
How did your career as a backing vocalist begin?
I studied at Prompt Music School and I worked with Camillo Lombard. I still work with him a lot these days and he got me into doing backing. We started with Jimmy Dludlu and Judith Sephuma, all our national artists. That is how I started and then Mynie Grove got me to work with international artists such as Diana Ross, Josh Groban, Jonathan Butler and all these people. Thanks to them, I got to work with these amazing artists and I got to see how they work. I always say, when I meet people, I sort of steal some of their energy and the things that I feel I want. I want that calmness when I approach people about my work. I used to steal a lot from these artists. I love seeing how they go about things and how they carry themselves. It was a great experience. The stories! I got to see the world with these people. It’s just amazing.
Have you heard the quote, “Amateurs copy. Professionals steal.”
Yes! You said it best!
Whoever said it, said it best but I’ll borrow it. I think it validates your theft.
What are your hopes for the rest of your career? Is there anything still on your career bucket list?
I would like to work on a movie, maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see. For now, that is what I’d like to happen. I just want to be on stage because I get to do the thing that I love doing which is singing, and acting at the same time. That’s a bonus. I would love to be in a few more musicals, god willing. And just [to] make my brand and my dream mean something to the next person. It’s not easy for women in this industry. We have to work extra hard to be seen and to be heard. That is what I am doing, I am working extra hard to get to that spot where I can chill and say, “I’ve done it.” A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Yvonne Chaka Chaka and I said to her, “So, you’ve done it all, hey?” and she was like, “I am not done but I am not working as hard as I used to.” That is the place where you want to get to as a woman. That is another thing that I want for myself. I don’t want to stop but I don’t want to work as hard as I am working now.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Judith Sephuma and then also, Brenda Fassie and of course, Miriam Makeba. Some of my close friends who are in the arts are Bianca Flanders, Bianca Le Grange and Lynelle Kenned. I look up to those females because we are not in each others company all the time but when we do get together, we share about our experiences in this industry and let me tell you, all of us work very hard. To see my fellow females excel the way they are is beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing to see females grow that much and grinding out talent and being so successful. Those are the females that inspire me. Some of them, there’s more.