Regina Malan is a performer, producer and director. After previously performing in operas such as Le Nozze di Figaro and Dido and Aeneas, last year she starred in her first three plays, namely Macbeth, Design for Living and Jane Eyre, as well as her first two musicals, The Full Monty and Shadows in Red Light. Her other credits include Public City, Because it’s okay, Not Just Musicals and Othello: A Women’s Story which she also co-directed. In 2017 she co-founded Mish Mash Media Productions, a multi-media production company giving voice to LGBTQ projects in Cape Town. Following a successful run earlier this year, Othello will be performed at the Baxter Theatre for a limited run in September. We sat down to chat about her career and Mish Mash Media’s next show, 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Originally I was actually going to be a criminologist. I’m very analytical and I like figuring things out and seeing how things work. For a long time, I wanted to pursue how people think. Psychology has always been a passion of mine, and then I went to London and I saw this really interesting show and it really inspired me because I saw there was a very strong female character in it. I was in Grade 11 and I went to Matric the following year. I told my singing teacher at the time, because I was just singing for fun, that I needed to get my voice ready because I was going to study music. I always knew I could sing and act but it was always just more of a hobby. I studied opera. I didn’t know anything about opera but I wanted to get a good technique and I just took it further from there and started doing straight plays last year for the first time and realised that I really enjoy acting. I really enjoy doing everything; film, writing, voiceover. I think someone who really inspired me was my mother because she has always been there this entire time telling me, “You are good. You can do this.”
You did your training at Stellenbosch. What was your time like there?
I really enjoyed it because it was one of those times where I was still trying to figure out how my technique worked and how I would actually apply opera to musical theatre because when I went, I only had musical theatre in mind but from there, I started gaining appreciation for opera itself and started singing more opera and classical music. I really enjoyed the time there because they didn’t just specialise in one category of music, they actually helped me see that I could go into other fields. My singing teachers were really supportive and really lovely people and I have a lot to thank them for.
When you left school, were you originally just wanting to pursue opera or did you know at that point that you were going to start exploring the acting world?
No, I really just thought musical theatre, getting a good technique and taking it from there. That was literally all I thought I was going to do but then I realised that if you want to make it in the industry, you have to be able to do everything and because the opera [training] helped me gain this great technique, my range became huge, my versatility just blossomed and I was able to do musical theatre, able to do pop, able to do different styles and it was just one of those interesting things that suddenly happened and I realised, “Maybe I should do some acting? Why not? It sounds like fun.” I’ve always loved acting but never thought of it as a career but thought, “Why not try it?” I did and I really loved it. I never felt nervous. It’s interesting to me, with acting, I don’t feel nervous before I go on stage whereas with singing, even though I trained, I did have those butterfly moments. I still sometimes do but with acting, I just become another person. You just go on and go for it.
You mentioned being able to do everything and you really have proven that within the last few years. What was the catalyst that made you realise that now was the time to start taking on those additional roles within the industry?
Like I said, I wanted to do criminology and because of that, my mind works a very specific way. I like putting things in boxes and I like analysing things. Now, I’m channelling all of that into acting. I get bored quite easily and I realised, “Why don’t I try something new and if I’m good at it, I can continue with it.” I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed all the different facets that I’ve gone into and people seem to be enjoying what I’m doing as well and I’m taking that as a success. I think it just happened very organically that I started doing all of these different types of things. I’ve always wanted to do film, I’ve always wanted to do acting, voiceover has always been a passion of mine. I grew up watching anime and cartoons. I’ve always wanted to give a voice to a character that has been created and to be able to do that now, like I said, it just happened so organically that it just makes sense to me at the end of the day, now that I’m doing it full-time.
In terms of producing, how do you go about sourcing material?
With Othello, I’ve always seen Iago as a queer female character. It was just the way the character was written, I think back then the male energy was a bit different to what it is now. There’s something about the character. It’s such an interesting character. Last year, I was actually going to be in Othello but I was going to play Emilia and it just worked out that we couldn’t do the show and I thought to myself, “I’ve always wanted to play Iago. Why not do it? Why not do it through my production company?” I started my production company last year with one of my friends because we wanted to have control of our work. We wanted to make sure that we could showcase our talents even though we are not that well-known just yet, but we can show people [that] we can do all these different roles. I just decided to do it and to do it in a female setting with an all-female cast. And women loving women, I’ve not seen that before in a South African context or [done] here in South Africa. From there onwards, I’ve just decided on things that I’ve wanted to see in Cape Town because I’m not seeing a lot of LGBTQ plays and not a lot of female-driven plays where the female character is not just a plot device or just there to forward a male storyline, which I do understand that there are a lot of plays like that which are still amazing but for me, personally, I enjoy playing certain characters. They need to be interesting to me. They need to add something to my performance [and] to my choices in life as well. I think that’s how I’m choosing the plays at the moment and choosing something to showcase different talents because we have so many different people who are not getting cast because they are either very quirky or they don’t fit the mould. There are a lot of people who I’ve met through the industry who have the same story and I thought that if we can give them a platform and if I can choose material where people can actually showcase their talents like what I’m doing, why not? We are helping each other and helping the industry grow and bringing different shows to Cape Town. I think that’s fun. It’s amazing to be part of.
You mentioned your company, Mish Mash Media Productions, what has it been like to form the company?
It’s been challenging but in the best type of way. I’ve never run a company before and because of that, it’s been a great learning experience in how to deal with business, how to deal with people [and] how to strategize. Because I’m so analytical and because I like making lists and organising things and making plans, this is a lot of fun for me and I can also play at the same time. Because I have artistic control, I can help steer my own career and I can help other people with their careers. It’s been easy which sounds weird when I put it out there. At Mish Mash Media Productions 80% of the shows we do have to have LGBTQ or minority characters in them. Representation is very important to me and these stories have to be told. We’ve only been active for seven or eight months now and we’ve already started getting a good following. We’ve got a few shows on the stage already and we’ve got a few more coming up. We’ve got a few more people contacting us regarding if we doing more shows. To me, that’s amazing because I am just doing what I love and the fact that people are taking note of it and they want to be a part of it, makes me so happy. My experience has been wonderful. I feel so privileged. I don’t know how that happened but it’s been so lovely.
Within the company, you not only work as a producer but you also star in several of the productions and sometimes direct them as well. How do you go about balancing those different aspects?
My strategy with directing is that if I am directing, I’m not completely directing. I’m not the sole director because I don’t always like it when someone is directing and in a show at the same time because you can’t really see the full vision at the end of the day. With the next show that we are doing, 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche, I’m not directing. I’m in the show and producing and doing all the other things that are necessary for the show but I asked one of my great friends, Robert Shenton, to direct and he’s just been lovely. It just gives me a bit of a balance to step back and focus on my character and do all the other necessary things. In terms of balancing things, just to be realistic [and] just to think what would serve the product and what would actually help me as an artist and as someone who is running the company at the same time. Being realistic is very important to me in that regard. If I am directing something, I wont be in it if it’s just me directing. This is something that I feel very strongly about but I was very fortunate with Othello that I had someone helping me with a lot of the behind the scenes things. It was really such a joy at the end of the day to have so many talented people working together to create this new product. It was our first big official play and I’ll always treasure those memories and the experience I gain through that.
You mentioned your next show, 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche. How are rehearsals going? What are you most looking forward to?
It’s going so well. It’s such a fun play and so funny. We started rehearsing two weeks ago and we can’t stop laughing because it’s such a fun, quick, fast-paced play but there are also a lot of enduring factors to it. It’s been such a fun experience. We decided to do a comedy after Othello and it’s fun jumping between Iago who is so scheming and dark and sinister to this other character called Lulie who is not very dark but she does sort of have this queen quality to her and she is in charge, which is always fun to play. It’s going to be a fun play. People are going to literally die laughing because it’s so funny. There is audience participation and it’s different. I think it’s the first time that it’s being performed in South Africa as well. I’m glad we can be that vessel to show Cape Town this really great play.
Do you still have any dream roles you’d like to do?
I have so many. I have subcategories for when I’m certain ages but at the moment, I’d love to play Lady Macbeth. It’s always been one of my dream Shakespeare roles. In terms of musical theatre, there’s three. The one is Elphaba in Wicked. That was actually the show that inspired me to go into theatre. I saw it with Kerry Ellis and she just blew me away and I couldn’t believe that you could actually find female characters like that, strong but still real and vulnerable and independent and flawed which is always important to me. There always needs to be a realness to it. The second would be Diana from Next to Normal. It’s also a really great musical and then, when I’m a bit older, Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. It’s such a lovely show. I’ve always loved it. There are so many! Pirate Queen…
You’re like, “I’ll send you a spreadsheet!”
I was literally about to say that I’ll have to do that! Evita obviously is also a great show. So many but there is time. I’m still quite young which is great. I’m in a great age group at the moment. I’ll let you know if there are more but we’d have to be here all day to list them.
What advice would you have for incoming industry professionals who are thinking about producing their own work?
I have two things that I usually tell people when they want to go into creating their own work. I always say, “Do it.” Don’t wait because if you keep being very precious about your work, it’s never going to happen, especially if you are still breaking into the industry. Rather create your play or your music and just do it. If it’s a flop, that’s fine. Learn from it, carry on, create something better, something that you’ve learned from it. Don’t just wait because otherwise you are not going to grow as an artist or as an individual. The other one is to find the right people to work with. Don’t just grab people left and right. Find your squad and people who you can trust and who you know you can call and say, “Will you be able to help me?” It’s the people, it’s time management and being realistic. If you are going to do your first play or production, don’t go, “Let’s get the rights for this huge play that has a cast of 12 and 20 scene changes and all these costumes.” Rather do something that’s maybe a cast of four and has one scene. You can put on amazing plays with just four people with just a box in the middle of the room. Be smart about it otherwise you are going to burn out so quickly and you are not going to want to do theatre anymore. You are going to be disheartened. If you are going to go into self-producing or self-creation just be smart [and] plan. If you want to do this thing with a cast of 12, you can. Just wait a bit and try to do the other more logical pieces first. That’s what I’ve experienced and what has helped me. Just be realistic. Don’t think you have to impress people with a huge play. It’s not going to help anyone and people can see through these almost superficial pretentious gestures. I don’t have time for that. I don’t want to be famous, I want people to say, “I want to work with Regina again. That was really fun.” I’d rather have a reputation where people go, “I want to work with her again,” compared to this showmanship that burns out when it’s done.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Someone who has always inspired me is Anna-Mart van der Merwe. It’s quite difficult because I feel I’m quite new in the industry. I’m still getting to know a lot of people but I’ve met a lot of new artists who are really inspirational and then there are people who are currently working full-time. Lucy Tops is amazing. I met her the other day and she was so nice and such a lovely person as well. Alice Krige, Sandra Prinsloo, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Heléne Lombard, Vinette Ebrahim and Daneel van der Walt.
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche will run from August 15th until August 19th at the Galloway Theatre followed by a run at Theatre Arts Admin Collective from August 21st until September 2nd. For tickets, click here.