Tarryn Lamb, Carmen Maarman and Zandile-Izandi Madliwa have joined forces to star in the Baxter Theatre’s smash-hit new musical, Aunty Merle, The Musical. Devised by and starring Marc Lottering, Aunty Merle features a score of 21 brand new songs, 12 of which were written by Tarryn. Zandile-Izandi returns to the Baxter after joining the cast of The Fall earlier this year, while Carmen returns to the stage after her recent turn in District Six: Kanala. We sat down with Tarryn, Carmen and Zandile-Izandi to chat all about this new production.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Carmen Maarman: I think I’ve always loved performing. I do promote finishing school but I didn’t like school and I didn’t understand accounting at all. How I passed, the Lord alone knows. But I think you just know in your gut, you know that you belong somewhere and this is where I belong. I’m happy to be where I am at this moment.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I don’t think it was a “I have to do this” moment. I was like, “This is nice. This is fun.” I think I was eight and a child psychologist came to our school and she was doing role-play. I chose to role-play a lawyer and I just fell in love. Then, after that, I decided to take drama classes and then in high school [realised] this is what I want and then it happened and here I am.
Tarryn Lamb: My answer is exactly the same as Carmen’s. I remember when I was in preschool, my mum had a make-believe area, there was always an area with a bed and a little mini stove and there was a box of clothes and hats. Those days we used to watch Days of our Lives and The Bold and The Beautiful and I would pretend I was Ava or…
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Hope.
Tarryn Lamb: Yes! So it’s quite cool to do it as an adult and call it a job.
Carmen Maarman: It doesn’t feel like a job at all. It’s just like I’m playing with my friends and we all love what we do which is so great.
Tarryn Lamb: The only time it feels like a job are those early morning rehearsals.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Those early calls!
Carmen Maarman: I love rehearsals though.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I also love rehearsals…
Carmen Maarman: But not at 9 o’clock in the morning for this one.
Tarryn Lamb: It’s been such a hectic rehearsal time.
Carmen Maarman: But look at what we’ve done!
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: We only had a month to rehearse. Everything came together so well.
Is that a lot shorter than the process usually is?
Carmen Maarman: No, it’s usually three weeks but here we had five weeks.
Tarryn Lamb: Three weeks?
Carmen Maarman: With David Kramer musicals it’s always been three weeks. Then you go into technical and then the show happens and you have previews.
Tarryn Lamb: Three weeks?!
Carmen Maarman: Ja. This was quite a lot. We were spoiled. It was really nice to have that amount of time.
When you do only have three weeks to learn a new musical, do you have to show up on the first day with everything memorised?
Carmen Maarman: No, not necessarily. There are some overachievers but we just go, “Really? Do you not sleep?”
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: It starts with a reading of the script.
Carmen Maarman: Everyone gets into their character and begins moulding it.
Tarryn Lamb: The first read-through was very hectic. I’ll never forget that day.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Our first read-through was a disaster. I hadn’t slept in a minute and I was so tired and I just zoned out. I kept waking up like, “It’s my first day of work. I need to do better.” Then I got redbull, I got water, nothing was helping. The second day I was energised and ready.
Tarryn Lamb: It was also the first time that we were all our characters and were meeting the team and the other actors who are playing the different roles. There were all these feelings of not wanting to mess up or not wanting to disappoint anybody because the last time everybody saw each other was at auditions. For me, in these five weeks, my life changed because I’ve never laughed every single day and I love that because I think I was quite miserable before.
Carmen Maarman: I think we were all in a bit of a miserable space and that’s what Marc does. He brings people together and he just exudes love. There is no judgement from him. He is such a beautiful human being. We’ve been friends for years and we worked together before but we never worked in this kind of realm, which is just so precious and beautiful.
You’re all involved in this production in various capacities, but what was it that made you originally want to be involved in this production?
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: For me, it came by chance. I was here, I had callbacks for something else and then it was also the first time that I met Lara Foot, who is the director. After my callback, we all went outside and everyone just seemed very prepared for something else. I was like, “What’s going on?” My friends were like, “We are getting ready for an audition for Marc Lottering.” And then they were like, “Just go ask him.” He was sitting on the side and I was like, “No. I’m not going to approach him.” They were like, “Just go ask if you can audition.” Then I went up to him and said, “Hey, can I audition for you?” It came by chance.
Tarryn Lamb: How beautiful is that?
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I’m so happy I approached him and happy that my friends pushed me.
Tarryn Lamb: When she came in that day, it was just like dynamite had arrived.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Really?
Tarryn Lamb: It really was.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Thank you.
Tarryn Lamb: It was my first time being on a panel where I was auditioning people. It was quite a hectic experience for me, in the sense that a lot of the people that we saw were my friends and colleagues. You kind of have to remain very neutral and look at the character description and just look at the talent for what it is. This was the first time [that] we were doing a new musical so it was very important to us that we got the best singers who not only sing beautifully but are able to just convey a message and give of themselves through the message to an audience. We saw some really cool people. Everyone that ended up being cast, without a doubt was obvious. We have a dream cast.
Carmen Maarman: It really is.
Tarryn Lamb: I can’t imagine anyone else. I can’t imagine you guys not being in it.
Tarryn, as a creator and a performer in the show what was that experience like of being on the creative side and then having to step into rehearsals as a character? Did you find it easy to juggle between the two or were there moments during rehearsals where you would catch yourself slipping back into composer mode?
Carmen Maarman: She did get involved and you can see Tarryn’s reaction sometimes when there’s a note that’s changed and she goes, “I didn’t approve that” which is great because she’s brilliant and so talented. She can write a song over breakfast.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: She actually did that once. She wrote a song over breakfast.
Carmen Maarman: She woke up one morning and she actually wrote me a song for the show.
Tarryn Lamb: Like Marc says, sometimes you must just be a vessel. It was hard for me especially because I only got to get into my character last week when we got into this theatre because I’m listening to the songs and listening to how it’s been interpreted and I just wanted it to be perfect as an entire package. It was very hard for me to take that hat off. As much as it was cool to be on the creative side, when people come watch the show they don’t go, “Tarryn co-wrote that song.” They go, “Why is that girl not in the moment?” I had to really check myself and be like, “Ok, cool. Now it’s a new chapter” and just be in it. I really enjoy playing Abigail, especially when I am feeling very emotional because she is a very emotional [person].
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: My character introduces the theme of evil. This audience member came up to me yesterday, she was laughing and she said, “Every time you would come on, people would go, Why?!”
Carmen Maarman: You are doing your job well then! You are selling it.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I am literally the dark tower, but I enjoy playing my character. She is so much fun. Sometimes I am just like, “Girl, you are just too bitchy.” I’ll read a thing and be like, “Why would she say that?”
Carmen Maarman: This is her coming off stage when she does the evil, she goes, “Killed it!”
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: And you always catch me after my thing! It’s like [on stage], “Your child is growing up mama.” [Off-stage] “Killed.”
I noticed that the audience gets very involved.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Very!
Have there been any reactions yet that have made you break character?
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I don’t think break.
Carmen Maarman: Not break but we are aware that it happened.
Tarryn Lamb: Break like corpse?
Carmen Maarman: Yes. Only and especially when Marc does something on stage. That is a corpse moment because he just adds something in.
Tarryn Lamb: And it can be the smallest thing!
Carmen Maarman: Just like a twitch. He just twitches too much sometimes and that kills us but when it comes to an audience member, not really. It doesn’t really break us but it is quite great that they get involved the way they do. That’s what we want. This is life onstage. They have things that they say but that won’t break us. When Marc does something on stage, that definitely gets us going.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I think the way that the show is directed and written and staged… it’s not hectically serious theatre where if you corpse it’s completely out of context. At least if we corpse a little, it always looks like a natural reaction as opposed to a mistake on stage.
Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
Carmen Maarman: There are so many.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: My favourite moment in the show is the scene between Aunty Merle and Claire. The guest scene. It is such a beautiful scene. It’s so simple and funny and it gets to the point. You get the subtext of it and you get the humour.
Carmen Maarman: I love the whole show as it is. It is just beautifully written, it’s well structured. Your [Zandile’s] song with your mom, I love that scene where they come together and sing that beautiful song that Tarryn wrote. Those moments are so special. The comedic moments are beautiful as well but I love the scene with the three of you…
Tarryn Lamb: Here and Now.
Carmen Maarman: That kills me every time. Those scenes are so beautiful because we have all gone through those moments with our mother [or] with a lover.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: My favourite dance is Neighbours. Even though I almost broke an ankle. I love that dance.
Tarryn Lamb: I also love Neighbours.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I love the personality behind the song.
Tarryn Lamb: I’ve been a big fan of Marc since forever so when I’m on stage in a scene with him…
Carmen Maarman: It’s so special.
Tarryn Lamb: It’s quite a big thing.
Zandile, you are returning to the Baxter after performing in The Fall. I wanted to know about your experience joining that company and then having to switch between two of the roles.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Everything just weirdly came together. I got into joining them [because] a friend of mine, Awethu Hleli was performing in Maynardville. I had said that I would go and watch her. It was the last performance and I remember sitting in bed so tired but something was like, “Just go see your friend.” I went to go see her and watch her show and it was amazing. Afterwards, I bumped into Sizwesandile [Mnisi] who was in the audience. He is one of The Fall cast members. We all went out for drinks and he was like, “What are you doing now?” I didn’t know at that time that they were trying to compile a list of people to audition to replace Tank’s role. He suggested me to the group and I told him I’d love to audition. Then I got the monologues. At first I thought they were sabotaging me. “These are too many lines. They are just doing this because I’m their friend and they think that I’m going to be lazy about it.” But I went there fully prepared. I got a call from the Baxter saying that I got a callback. That’s where I met Lara. I did the callback and I was like, “Let me just get work,” because I didn’t have anything and I was panicking. I got the call and I was so excited. We went to Edinburgh and the rehearsal phase was great because I got to watch the show a lot. Everyone was so supportive. I didn’t feel like I was ever dragging behind because if I made a mistake, they’d be like, “No it’s fine. Don’t panic.” It was pretty much the same when I had to transition to the other character. The news came about so randomly. We didn’t expect it. I was panicked. I remember the first two rehearsals. If I was supposed to go for the one character’s role, I’d go for the other and they’d have to hold me back. I literally had a week to change to the other character but it was all good because it’s a great cast. Clare was awesome, Lara was awesome, the cast members were awesome. The thing that I love working with them is that these are people that I studied with so we all have a friendship but when it’s work, it’s work. There is a clear separation and there are no hard feelings. It was a really great experience.
Carmen, you started the year in a massive musical and now you are ending the year in another massive musical. This seems like it’s been a really incredible year for you.
Carmen Maarman: It has. Love, life, kak but professionally yes. I’ve just got to put that in there. Tell them I’m free. Yes, it’s been really great. I feel truly blessed and honoured to have that experience from one musical to the next. I love what I do. I am really grateful that I can do what I love. It’s been really great. I’m just really happy.
Tarryn, you stepped into this as a composer and wrote 12 out of 21 of the songs for this production. How does it feel to look back and see the finished product?
Tarryn Lamb: It is incredibly overwhelming. A lot of the time, I’ll sit backstage and I’ll look onto the stage and it makes me very emotional. It’s definitely inspired me to want to work more in this kind of space because before I just used to work on my own albums with my band. But the feeling that I get now, it’s like a deep sense of fulfilment that I just love. There are so many amazing singers in our country. We need songwriters and people who are willing to inspire and help people sing the songs. I just feel like there is a lot of talent in our country.
Carmen Maarman: That is what Tarryn is really good at. She writes songs that are good for your voice and that suit your voice.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: If you listen to the songs in the show, there are so many different genres and different artists pop up in your mind.
Tarryn Lamb: But that’s what their voices say. Hearing them sing, it is such an obvious thing of what kind of songs they should be singing. When we worked on the script, I remembered, for the scene between Siya and Carl, he didn’t have a solo song in the show at that point. I remembered from the auditions that he had these incredible textures in his voice like this John Legend, Luther Vandross kind of vibe. I was like, “Why don’t we add an ad-lib chorus to complete the scene?” That’s how Be Who You Are came to life. Marc is such a cool person to collab with. The first song we wrote was in April. We had the cast, we’ve got the Baxter [and] he was like, “We still have time to pull out.” We didn’t have any songs yet. Anwar [Mc Kay] and my fiancé, Lester, were very stern with us because Marc and I do have a tendency to celebrate life. I then googled: What are the average songs in a musical? From West Side Story to Hairspray to Rent, all of them, it’s around 22-24 songs. The songwriting world is all about formulas so if we are going to do a musical we must get the formula right. We were at Marc’s flat one day and I Believe in Love happened. We were so excited. Just one song and it was like, “Oh my gosh, let’s put it at the end also so we plant the seed in the beginning and we see it at the end.” It’s new songs so people must know it. Then, if we put it at the beginning and the end, it’s two songs! 22 to go! He is very awesome to work with.
Carmen Maarman: So organic and so funny.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: And so loving.
Carmen Maarman: It’s so good to work with him.
Tarryn Lamb: He really is an amazing person. We are really not just doing PR for him right now.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Spend even an hour with him and you’ll attest to everything we are saying.
Carmen Maarman: He is just an amazing human being.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of the run?
Carmen Maarman: Extension extension extension!
Tarryn Lamb: Getting fit.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Yes, getting fit and growing and getting better.
Carmen Maarman: The show grows every time we do it. Opening night is done but now we just have to grow and excel. I love coming to work.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Me too.
Tarryn Lamb: And on Sundays I miss you guys.
Carmen Maarman: And then our WhatsApp group goes ballistic because we just saw each other yesterday and are like, “What you guys doing?”
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Carmen Maarman: I am sitting with two of them right now.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: That is real slick girl! Damn, I should have said that.
Carmen Maarman: It’s true. Everyone that I am working with inspires me. My mom inspires me greatly. It’s people who I surround myself with. These are the women that inspire me.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: I think I am inspired faster by people who are around me because it’s right there. I think a lot of my inspiration probably comes from females like Thandiswa Mazwai. I absolutely love her. Your Brenda Fassies, your Busi Mhlongos, your Miriams and now, ever since I started being in drama and the arts, also directors [like] Lara Foot.
Carmen Maarman: Yes, Lara definitely.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: She is incredible.
Carmen Maarman: She is brilliant.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: And she is very easy-going.
Carmen Maarman: She pushes you.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Clare Stopford as well. What a turnaround but I love me some Clare. She is like a mama to me. Women like Jacki Job. She is incredible. Mwenya [Kabwe], wow. Too many. Known and unknown but definitely I usually get inspired by the women I meet first before anything else. It’s just such a thing especially if you are surrounded by other supportive women who encourage you and are like, “That was great.” That is what we have in this cast which I love is that we push each other. The women that I am with every day are so incredible and they make it so easy and so enjoyable.
Tarryn Lamb: I am also inspired by the women in the industry who push themselves out of their comfort zones and they really go for what they want to achieve or do in their life. There is a whole range, if I think of from radio there is Suga and there is Tracey Lange. She is doing some cool things with Bravo and Heart. Obviously, my mother.
Zandile-Izandi Madliwa: Oh my mama.
Tarryn Lamb: I get my songwriting from her. She used to write preschool songs and write the lyrics of existing songs they did on radio and change the words. My mom is my hero. She is a fearless woman and I just love her.
Carmen Maarman: We all owe a lot to our mommies.
Tarryn Lamb: Just everybody I meet. I’m from Ocean View so a lot of people from Ocean View really inspire me like Peter Clarke and Oscar Petersen. There are so many people from Ocean View who have really gone and put that message out there through their fearlessness that you are not defined by what you have or your surroundings. It’s your spirit inside and how you learn and what your drive is. That is the true test of your character. I feel very blessed and God is very good. This has been an amazing year for all of us and by the grace of the Almighty, we can sit here at The Baxter and talk about a dream show for all of us and a dream experience.