A Conversation with Lynita Crofford

Lynita Crofford is an actress, theatre-maker and lecturer who has starred in more than 50 Film and TV projects. With an equally impressive theatre resume to boot, she received a 2013 Fleur du Cap nomination for her role as Emily Hobhouse in An Audience with Miss Hobhouse. Earlier this year Lynita charmed Cape Town audiences by starring in Tara Notcutt’s all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew. She is about to begin performances as Alice B. Toklas in Gertrude Stein and a Companion which will have a limited run at the Alexander Bar later this month.

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

I suppose it goes back a long time. I grew up listening to the radio a lot because TV wasn’t around back then and I think that’s where it started. Listening to radio dramas, the dramatised plays and stories on the radio, that’s what sort of sparked my imagination.

Photo credit: Lucy Brittany Woolley

You studied at the University of Pretoria. What was your time like there?

I enjoyed it. I grew up in Pretoria and it was close to home and it was the closest university to go to. It was very beneficial because it was all in Afrikaans so I had to learn to speak Afrikaans which now means that I can perform in both languages which is really great. I think the lecturers there were very good in terms of setting a good basis in terms of voice and technique and all of that. They gave you a very good basis from which to start off with. I think they might have been a little bit more conservative in their approach to their work as opposed to UCT but they certainly provided you with a very solid base from an acting point of view.

Following your training, you went straight into CAPAB. Obviously that kind of resource doesn’t exist anymore…

No. It was such a blessing to be given that opportunity because you earned a meagre salary. You wouldn’t be able to buy coffee for a month on that salary but you were doing what you loved and you were able to work on your craft and you were performing every day of the month. You were either rehearsing something and then performing at night or vice versa. It was such a fantastic way to start your career. I got to work with such a variety of wonderful people; Marthinus Basson, Janice Honeyman. That’s where I started working with Chris Weare who directed me in something there and Shirley [Johnston] who is in the play with me, that’s where we met. She was doing a play that we were in together. That’s how we met.

Photo credit: Lucy Brittany Woolley

That’s a nice segue into what you are currently about to embark on which is Gertrude Stein and a Companion. What was it that attracted you to this production?

The last production that I had done at The Alexander Bar was Love Me Tinder which was the online dating comedy and then I got very involved in a movie the following year and I didn’t really do much theatre and then I thought, “What now? I must find something else to do.” I think the way theatre is at the moment, we often have to generate our own work. Especially when you reach a certain age, you have to generate your own work. I was looking for something interesting to do. I approached a friend of mine and I said, “What would be a nice two-hander?” I had been doing one-woman shows for so long. I did An audience with Miss Hobhouse then Violet Online and then Love Me Tinder. For three years I had been working on my own onstage and I went, “I want to work with other people!” They say be careful what you ask for. Then I got into Taming of the Shrew with a whole lot of women. But this was the year before that. It was the middle of 2017 and I was thinking, “What could I do?” and a friend said, “Why don’t you do Gertrude Stein and a Companion?” I had seen the production when I was living in Johannesburg in the late 80s with Janice Honeyman and Vanessa Cooke and I remembered it being a fantastic two-hander for women, two lovely roles for women. I started reading up on it and I remembered some of the play and I just found the whole setting of the piece, that whole era and them really fascinating and interesting. That is how it came about.

Does your approach have to change at all because you are portraying a real person?

We are not trying to recreate those people, otherwise it would be a documentary. It’s our version of them but obviously you have visual material that you can have a look at and base your character on. You can see what they looked like physically. They were physically quite interesting and completely diverse. You had the very large Gertrude [Stein] and then the very tiny Alice [B. Toklas]. I’m not a tiny person but I’m playing Alice. We’ll be able to  draw from the visual images but I think it’s more from the play itself, just getting a feeling of their relationship because it’s basically a play about relationships and companionships.

Photo credit: Lucy Brittany Woolley

What are you most looking forward to in regards to this production?

Remembering my words! It’s such an interesting play and I think it’s going to be great having somebody to play opposite. I’m really looking forward to that. That is going to be great.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who has performed in a one-person show always laments about how lonely it is. You did so many. What was your experience like?

It’s very lonely. It’s lonely when you arrive [and] there is nobody to chat to or make small talk with. You find the tech person and you have a bit of small talk, then you do your warm up and then you get dressed and then you just sit there in the dressing room and stare at yourself in the mirror. That’s lonely because usually you have somebody that you can just get rid of that nervous energy with. I think the loneliest thing is actually being on stage on your own because there is just no one to bounce off of. You can’t make eye contact with anybody onstage. It’s either the audience or you. It is very lonely. On the other hand, the positive side of it is [that] you don’t rely on anybody else and it’s just you. You carry the responsibility of the show and that’s that but I did miss sharing and just playing off of somebody else and that energy because it’s quite a long time to sustain energy onstage for an hour when it’s just you. There is no time to take a breather because you are there all the time.

Your resume is so impressive in terms of the balance between film, TV and theatre. Do you consciously try to split your time between all those different mediums?

I don’t consciously do it. As I say, at this stage in my career, you are always like, “Just let there be work.” At one stage I was doing more film and TV work and that’s when I decided I wanted to get back into theatre. That started again with the Emily Hobhouse [piece]. I like doing a combination of both because they are such different disciplines. I like film but I find it very frustrating sitting around doing nothing and waiting to shoot. That drives me nuts. I’m quite an impatient person but I love it when you actually do the filming. Where with theatre, you are always busy doing something all the time. I think, as a South African actor, you really have to be able to do everything to make a living. If you are able to keep your foot in both worlds in theatre or TV or theatre, then it’s great. I’ve been very lucky now. I’ve just finished working on a local South African TV series which we finished filming yesterday. I’ve been filming that and rehearsing this and its been challenging. Because we are self producing the Gertrude Stein, we are rehearsing when we have time to rehearse. In between Shirley’s time that she’s available, my time and Chris’ time, we are sort of running around rehearsing. I wish we had the luxury and [that]  there was funding where you could actually spend a proper week or three weeks rehearsing this play but that is the nature of theatre in South Africa where unless you are working for one of the established theatres, the rest of the people who perform here, at the Alexander Bar, this is how we work. You run around and rehearse when you have time and source props and costumes.

Photo credit: Lucy Brittany Woolley

In addition to all of that, you also spend some of your time lecturing at City Varsity. What is it that you like about teaching?

I never thought it would be something that I would get into but I it just happened that they just needed somebody and I went to do it. What I’ve found is that you actually learn so much when you are lecturing. What I found interesting is that you, yourself, are constantly learning things. Although you are imparting knowledge or directing students in things, you are suddenly going, “Oh!” That’s what I enjoy and I enjoy working with young people. That’s been interesting, frustrating at times but I think it’s interesting to tap into their energy.

Because you work as a lecturer, I wanted to ask you what you feel the best piece of advice is that you’ve ever been given?

I think it’s, “Trust yourself.” I think self-doubt is something that creeps in so quickly. Just trusting yourself is important. Then, I think advice that I was given in terms of the business, I was told in my late 30’s when I was sort of frustrated that things weren’t happening for me, someone said, “Your time will come later. Your time is going to come later in life. It’s not going to come now.” Be patient. It’s going to happen. But that is quite hard to sit back and say, “I’ll do these other things and the voiceovers and whatevers but when is my time coming?” It has actually happened that way. I would say, for me, the last 10 years have been the most successful part of my career.

Photo credit: Lucy Brittany Woolley

I wanted to chat about your role in Tara Notcutt’s all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew which took place at Maynardville earlier this year. What was it like to be part of that historic production?

It was an interesting experience. It was a challenging experience just in terms of it being a huge undertaking. We had quite a short rehearsal period but it was so interesting working with a cast of women. I loved every minute of it. I’ve worked with Tara once before and I love working with Tara. It was interesting because majority of the cast were younger and I loved the energy that they brought. It’s always interesting to see people coming with fresh ideas and fresh energies and although you bring a certain experience with you, it’s nice to have that other energy that comes in. I think it was an interesting experience for everybody.

The Taming of the Shrew audition process was quite unorthodox…

It was horrible! When I say horrible, I don’t sing. I’m not a singer but we were required to prepare a song and then you obviously had the script and the part that you were coming in to do. That was the easy part. That was fine because you are going to prepare your script and go and do your part but this lip syncing was a bit hectic!

What song were you given?

Our group had to do I’m Too Sexy which was actually a good song to do and then, in the callback, we also had to do Creep which is a hard song to sing if you are not a singer. The second round was really difficult because we had to lip sync and then we had to do an online dating profile thing and then we had to play around. Tara would give us things to do. It’s just that thing of being prepared to come and just be silly and have fun and play around with things.

At this stage in your career, is there anything still on your professional bucket list?

Lots! There are many roles I’d like to do and perform in all the theatres in Cape Town. I think there are many plays that I still would like to do and I’d love to have a leading part in a film and I’d love to perform overseas. I’ve never performed overseas apart from a big movie that I shot last year that was a Nigerian film which I filmed there and in Dubai. I’d like to do a stage play somewhere else. Actually that’s what it is, I’d like to go to the Edinburgh Festival. That is on my bucket list. Of everything I said, I’d like to perform at the Edinburgh festival.

Photo credit: Lucy Brittany Woolley

Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?

I have to go back and think about the women I watched onstage. I would have to say people like Dorothy Ann Gould, Aletta Bezuidenhout, Diane Wilson, Mary Dreyer and Antoinette Kellerman. When I was a younger actress, those are just some of the people who I grew up watching. They were people that I admired onstage. And Shirley Johnston. We are best friends in real life and are working together again for the first time in almost 30 years.

Gertrude Stein and a Companion will run at the Alexander Bar from June 18th until June 30th. For tickets, click here.

All photos were taken by Lucy Brittany Woolley at The Big Box Cafe on June 6th 2018.

Sarafina Magazine and Lucy Brittany Woolley maintain copyrights over all images. For usage or inquiries, please contact us.


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