For months Cape Town has been buzzing about the upcoming historic all-women production of The Taming of the Shrew, which is set to take the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre by storm. Fierce and formidable theatre veterans, Daneel van der Walt and Alicia McCormick have been tapped to lead the company by playing sparring partners Petruchio and Kate, respectively. We sat down with them to chat about the history-making production, debuting at Maynardville and the importance of working with women.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Alicia McCormick: I didn’t go to a lot of theatre when I was a child. I have no kind of connection to theatre like that but I remember people would ask me, “What do you want to do?” This week I wanted to be an ice skater, the next week I wanted to be this and then I saw Primal Fear with Richard Gere and then I was like, “I want to be a lawyer!” Then I realised, if I become an actress, I can be all those things. That was literally it. Mostly Richard Gere, I think.
Daneel van der Walt: I think I was a precocious kid. Looking back now, I know I was a pain but I remember the first time seeing David Kramer in that Volkswagen ad where he has his guitar on his back. He was my hero. I would get onto the coffee table and force people to watch me sing that. There was a stage where I told people that I’d like to be an optometrist but that was only because people were impressed by the fact that I knew the word!
Alicia McCormick: My parents used to own restaurants and I used to just mill around from the age of about three handing out menus or whatever and I would hear it was someone’s birthday and hop on a chair and sing them Happy Birthday and eventually, as I got older and I had learned poems and I started to sing a little bit, my dad would make me do it at age 16 for poor fools just trying to finish their dinner. “Listen to her, she’s got a great voice and an amazing Australian accent. It’s really subtle. Do the Australian!” It’s now a running joke that I always have to do the Australian poem even at age 34. I did it at Christmas!
What was it that made you want to be involved in this production?
Alicia McCormick: That it was all women.
Alicia McCormick: …where so much theatre stuff goes down.
Daneel van der Walt: She told me she was doing an all-female Taming of the Shrew. I was just like, “I’ll carry the props on!” It just excited me so much.
Alicia McCormick: I haven’t auditioned for Maynardville in years.
Daneel van der Walt: I had sort of given up on Maynardville. I was just like, “Maybe not.”
Alicia McCormick: “Perhaps not my place.”
Daneel van der Walt: “I’ll just go do a little thing at the Alexander Bar.”
Alicia McCormick: When she said it was an all-female version, it just sounded so exciting and there is something in the air that feels like the time is ripe for this.
I remember hearing that the two of you were paired together in the callback and were just magical together.
Daneel van der Walt: It was. There were several “Kates” in the callback and there was something about Alicia. It’s the one and only Alicia Ann McCormick!
Alicia McCormick: It’s not just cause I spat on you?
Daneel van der Walt: Nah.
Alicia McCormick: I didn’t mean to but I spat on her by mistake. Well, Alicia spat on her by mistake. Kate definitely spat on her.
What was your favourite part of that nontraditional audition process?
Alicia McCormick: Normally you go into Maynardville auditions, well the million times I did it ten years ago or whatever it was, and there are hundreds of you and you know that you’ve got two chances. There are always two characters or one character or you know you are going to be a handmaiden and it’s handmaiden entering from the left. That requires no less skill and all of that but it feels a whole lot more pressured and cut-throat because there are only two parts. This really felt like there was space for everyone and there was none of that competition. It didn’t feel competitive in the same way. It felt really supportive. We started off doing a ridiculous lip-sync, so the ice got broken really quickly. It was quite pleasant.
Daneel van der Walt: It was also in Tara’s way that she communicated with us was very open and very encouraging. She was like, “Just come and have fun.” It’s one of the most generous audition processes I’ve ever done. Sometimes you audition and they sit there [stone-faced] and they, on purpose, react to absolutely nothing that you are doing. I don’t know why. But she was just like, “Ja!” and encouraging you. It’s a nice safe space that she created.
In terms of working on this production, what has it been like having a female director as well as a whole team of women at the helm?
Alicia McCormick: There are always snacks which I enjoy.
Daneel van der Walt: You have to put it in the article that Alicia Ann McCormick is a feeder. She brings the food.
Alicia McCormick: It makes me very happy and I feel like when people are fed and nourished, they are happy and I like seeing people happy.
Daneel van der Walt: For me, personally, I’m experiencing a new appreciation for the company of women. Where it’s not that thing that we have always been told, that we, as women, are competition. It’s just this unbelievably supportive…I’m just going to end up using a lot of unnecessary words. It’s one of my favourite experiences so far.
Alicia McCormick: Doing what we are doing, doing it how we are doing it, challenging it in the way that we are challenging it, there is something about the shared experience of women and our relationships with men and how we’ve experienced the world thus far that I’m not sure that it would have been quite the same. Every now and then we do have a man come in the room while we are making fake penises. I don’t know if you can describe this gesture that I am doing right now.
We’ll just leave it to the reader’s imagination.
Alicia McCormick: You can tell a story and you don’t have to justify it.
Daneel van der Walt: It’s like the stories you start sharing about your own experiences. Sometimes actually saying things out loud for the first time, you realize, “Wait a minute.” I’d recommend it for every single actress in Cape Town to just go, “Yaas Kweens, let’s make something!”
Going off of that, and not to sound dramatic, but this production is historic in terms of Tara being the 5th woman in 62 years to direct at Maynardville as well as this being the first all-women production. How are you feeling about being part of history?
Alicia McCormick: I’m very excited.
Daneel van der Walt: I am very grateful.
Alicia McCormick: Now you make me sound..! I’m humbled and I’m honoured! Namaste!
Daneel van der Walt: Maybe because I’m still shitting myself for various reasons but to be honest, I don’t want to think about the history-making thing because then I’m not going to think about…
Alicia McCormick:…the line learning thing?
Daneel van der Walt: Ja. And also, to a certain extent, I don’t want to get on a soapbox but it’s like, “How? How in 2018 is this the first in the country?”
Alicia McCormick: The boys have been doing it for years.
Daneel van der Walt: It’s overdue.
Alicia McCormick: It feels like the time.
Daneel, without knowing your process, did it have to change at all because you are playing a male character?
Daneel van der Walt: Well, like Alicia said, we’ve made some penises and balls or as I like to call them, the trifecta. Honestly, the first time I put them on, I can’t sit like this, I have to sit like this. Now I get why men sit like this because it’s comfortable. Also, when you have that thing between your legs, I want to just go hug a guy and go, “Soz buddy. I am so sorry that you have to be a guy because I am grateful for my body.” With every character you look at physicality and with this you have to consider physicality and how men interact with women. There are self-doubts that I am not going to talk about because I don’t want to give them voice. I don’t think there is a big difference. I think it’s important to be respectful and not see it as a comedic vehicle. This is a very non-specific answer but I actually haven’t given it much thought to be honest. I’ve just been going, “Petruchio talks a lot!”
That he does.
Daneel van der Walt: He does not shut up. He cannot just say one thing.
Alicia McCormick: He says it 50 times over in slightly different ways.
Daneel van der Walt: Imagine him in a meeting!
One of the things that I’ve found that the two of you have in common is that you are both these “cabaret queens.”
Daneel van der Walt: We’ve got to go put that on our CVs.
What is it about that medium that you enjoy?
Alicia McCormick: I’ve only recently been prepared to acknowledge that I can sing. I think for years I was terrified I was that poor person who goes to Idols and stands there and says, “You know my mommy says I’ve got a beautiful voice and I sang at my cousin’s wedding.” Then they open their mouth and they are tone-deaf. It took me a long time to go, “Actually, I can sing.” I have always enjoyed that genre. I’ve always wanted to be Bonnie Tyler basically in my soul.
Daneel van der Walt: And that works!
Alicia McCormick: It allows me to pretend to be Bonnie for a moment, sing and tell a story which is the other thing that I like to do.
Daneel van der Walt: It’s such an interesting thing because I also just want to say that we did Angels on Horseback together and Alicia was so unbelievably unaware of her talent. Someone once said to me, “The voice is the most personal instrument because you can’t see it. You can’t see your vocal cords. You have to go to an ENT to see the thing.” It’s unbelievably personal and I think that’s why you have to really convince yourself to just go and sing. In terms of cabaret, I’ve always liked that medium with Amanda Strydom back in the day, a guy called Rory Rootenberg who just blew my mind, Nataniël, those people are just like, this is the best thing. I also really enjoy [that] you are telling stories but you can afford to do whatever you want. You can be as random as a fart and it’s fine. It’s great.
What is still on your career bucket list?
Alicia McCormick: Dead silence.
Daneel van der Walt: Clearly we haven’t had this thought. I just think it would be really cool if I could somehow still be acting when I’m 70. Whatever happens from here until there is ok with me. I understand that we throw the word career around, I think sometimes incorrectly. When I hear career, I think of someone who joins a company and then you work your way up and then you go from, do we even have mailrooms anymore? But from the mailroom to CEO. I don’t think with this there is such a thing as career. One thing doesn’t guarantee the next thing. I just hope that I can just stay patience enough to one day still be acting when I’m 70 because then, hopefully, I’ll know what I’m doing!
Alicia McCormick: I agree. I don’t think I have anything specific. I’d love to do more cabaret.
Daneel van der Walt: I think you should do a cabaret that you wrote.
Alicia McCormick: Maybe one day I’ll write a something. I’m not sure what I have to say. I say a lot of things…
Daneel van der Walt: She says a lot and she knows a lot.
Alicia McCormick: Maybe I’m going to do a cabaret about birth. Don’t even get me started on birth or that will be the rest of your day gone. Maybe that’s what it will be but to be able to continue working, doing this, that would be very cool.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Daneel van der Walt: I have the people that I looked up to when I was younger but now, as I’m getting older, a lot of the people that I look up to are younger than me. It’s like you. You started Sarafina Magazine all on your ace. I look at the women in the room, I look at Tara, Dara [Beth] and Ameera [Conrad] and I listen to their conversations and it blows my mind. I can honestly say that those are the people, the Amy Jephta’s, the Genna Gardini’s, Penny Youngleson, those people who you don’t always when speaking to them realize what a world sits in them. That’s glorious for me. I honestly wish that I knew what I wanted quite as succinctly as a lot of you guys do. It’s fucking beautiful to see.
Alicia McCormick: I miss Yvonne Banning. Yvonne was right about so many things. She said to me, “You’re not going to work until you are 30 and I can tell you that for truth.” She was right. She was the first one who helped me understand my voice. Often, particularly with stuff like Maynardville where the task is so big in terms of space, technique goes a long way to getting you going. I am very thankful to her and Liz Mills for that. Viola Davis makes my heart happy. Jemma Kahn makes my heart happy. Sandra Prinsloo makes my heart happy. There’s a tendency, particularly when you start working, that you only work with your friends or with people who graduated the same year that you did so you have that same level of experience or that same kind of experience going into the industry and you work within the same styles. Whereas in something like this, like you say, Ameera Conrad is someone I never actually met, strangely enough. I obviously know her work and it’s great to work with her on this. Dara, as well. It feels like a whole other generation just because they finished at a different time. I get really excited when it’s a whole lot of new people in the room like Masali [Baduza], I had never worked with. Lynita [Crofford] did Maynardville once, years ago but besides from that, none of us have done Maynardville.
Daneel van der Walt: And it was Taming of the Shrew.
Alicia McCormick: She played ‘The Widow” in Taming of the Shrew but aside from that, we are all doing this for the first time, completely different ages and theatre generations as it were and that is really cool. That excites me a lot.