Kim Louis made her professional debut at 17 years old in David Kramer and Taliep Petersen’s musical Poison. She then went on to star in Klop–Klop at the Baxter Theatre which celebrated the 10-year partnership between the two writer/composers. Following that, Kim reunited with David Kramer and Taliep Peterson once more when she was cast as Lucy Dixon in their hit musical, Kat and the Kings at the Baxter Theatre. The production received international attention and later went on to be performed on the West End and Broadway. Following her time on Broadway, Kim returned home and focused her attention on starting a family. She continued to feed her theatrical soul by performing at the Milnerton Playhouse Amateur Dramatic Society. Not long after joining, she won best female lead in the musical tribute to Carole King. Today, she is also a council member on the board of the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha and recently launched Centre Stage Vocal & Performance Coaching. After a 20 year hiatus, Kim is back on the professional stage starring as Dinah in David Kramer’s brand new musical, Langarm, which runs at the Fugard Theatre.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Back then or now? Back then, I didn’t actually know that I had the talent. Last week, my primary school teachers, the people who actually discovered me and exposed me to the old singers, came to see me. They were the ones who introduced me to the Marilyn Monroe’s and the Liza Minnelli’s. Liza Minnelli was a very big inspiration for me and I am privileged to say that while I was on Broadway, I got a personalised letter from her. That was like a dream come true. I loved the whole cabaret [genre] and the dressing up and the costumes and the glamour of it all. Today, who inspires me? I know this might sound very arrogant but being a woman in the 21st century inspires me. I think finding myself now and being able to encourage other women to find themselves is inspiring for me. My kids inspire me a lot, believe it or not. I’m very much involved in youth and social development and I find that it’s inspirational because as you go through life, you get so many knocks and you get jaded after a while and you don’t care enough to try things anymore. My oldest son encouraged me to start my own vocal and performance coaching business. My other two children inspire me every day as well. They are so creative. It’s like they are born with degrees. They know so much more. Those are my inspirations today.
You got your professional start at 17 in Poison. Do you remember what that audition experience was like?
I’ll never forget it. It was a Volkswagen Music Active Project that consisted of about 10 schools across the Southern Suburbs in the Cape Peninsula. In my mind, and I speak under correction because it felt like 700 kids that were auditioning that day at the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone. I thought I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to get in there because the calibre of talent at that time already… There was a chick who could sing like Mariah Carey, there was a guy that could sing like Lionel Ritchie. They were all there. David [Kramer] actually confirmed this, but what saved me was the fact that from primary school, the teachers had a relationship with a specific high school, so I was passed on there because of that talent and I had a wonderful music teacher there who educated me. I ended up singing On My Own from Les Mis. David picked up on that in the audition and that to him was an indication that I had some kind of training or exposure to musical theatre besides just the talent that I had. That was a bonus.
Because you started your career relatively young, do you feel like you took to the professional world quite quickly or was there a bit of an adjustment period?
I took to it like a duck to water and I think being involved in that program that David and Taliep planned, helped so much because what they did, somewhat similar to what they did with this show to a certain extent, where they had professionals with school kids who knew absolutely nothing, it was nice to be able to work with learned, experienced performers and we were like sponges. It’s nice to learn the tricks of the trade from people who have been there before and who can understand the dynamics and the pressures of what could be going on in a youngster’s brain at that time. Even though life evolves all the time, it’s the same concept really. I’m still experiencing this now with a younger cast where I can calm some of them down and say, “Just have fun. Don’t forget why you are doing this.” I think, for me, doing this the second time around, I am more aware of that than before. There are always things you want to do differently the second time around and for me, it’s just to enjoy every single minute. I think the first time, you get so caught up in your goals and your ambitions and working hard even though it’s supposed to be a fun environment. You do kind of get caught up in that mindset of, “I need to be there in nine years time. I need to be seen by this one and that one.” You forget about what makes you tick and the joy that you are supposed to be getting from this.
You were part of the original cast of Kat and the Kings which went on to be performed on the West End and Broadway. When you first started working on that production, did you have any idea that it would have the global impact that it did?
No idea. I actually never do. One of the greatest things about working with David is that you never do, you just trust. Now, knowing the calibre of his work and the essence of his stories and what he aims for, the world is always your oyster if you get into one of the Kramer shows. That is just one of the things that you can expect. Working with the guys, for years, we were so tight. That was just an experience of a lifetime. I don’t know how else to tell you about that experience without keeping you here all day. It was everything I could have dreamed of and hoped for and more. It’s something that a girl from the Southern Suburbs can dream of and not necessarily, at that time, hope to realise. I count myself as really fortunate. I really do.
You are no stranger to working with David Kramer. What is it that you like about working on his material?
At the age of 41, I am still learning. Mostly from the guys in the cast because now they are younger than me but when it comes to David, I said to him the other day, “You are like a good wine. You mature with age.” There are some new tricks of the trade that he has brought out this time around with the workshopping of the musical which I thoroughly enjoyed because we had time to give our input. One of the things I also appreciate about him is that he says that he likes the actors to become the writers at the end of the day because we are the ones telling the story, we are the ones developing the character and all of that. He comes with loads of books and he says, “This one is for you. That one’s for you. You need to look at this link…” It’s nice to have somebody holding your hand and pointing you in the right direction as opposed to when you are in varsity and you are just dropped into the water and you have to sink or swim and hope you are on the same page as everyone else. I like that about him. I like that the trust goes both ways. He says to you in rehearsals, ” You need to show me what I’ve got to work with. Play.” I loved doing that because that is what the difference is between musical theatre or theatre and film, the fact that you can really be that drama queen and have somebody you trust to carve away the edges and smoothen everything out. I love that part of the process and I love how he does it.
This show marks your return to the professional stage. What was it that made you want to return with this production?
I think turning 40 was a big thing for me. I don’t know whether it was a hormonal or mid-life crisis but things just started happening. I had applied for a government position two years ago, which I got a week after I resigned from my job of 20 years. I was an Executive PA at Vodacom. I loved the job but from 38 I was like, “I don’t want to die and not feel happy or fulfilled.” Being authentically happy has become a big thing for me and I think that my kids being the ages that they are at was also a big thing for me because my baby is 15 now. The middle one is 17 and the oldest one is 20. I’m like, “They can feed themselves. They can do their washing.” They are good and they don’t really want to be with us anymore anyway. It’s time to find myself a new hobby. One day, I think life just got too much. I’ve lost so many friends. I do a lot of social development work so there is a lot of cancer NPO’s that I work with. It’s become such a big thing for me that I just realised that life is way too short to be unhappy. I resigned and within a week, that thing that I told you about came through and I was appointed onto the board of the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha. I travel quite often. That’s an arts and culture position. Unfortunately, during that time, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She lived with us and the timing was perfect because I was home to look after her and then this audition came up and I was like, “Let’s try it out.” I felt out of my depth but put my best foot forward and just did it anyway. My mother-in-law passed away on the 29th of October and everything has just worked out the way it should. That is coming from putting it out there and saying, “This is what I want.” Getting up every day, being thankful every day for what you’ve got and just appreciating where I’m at. It’s been working for me so far so let’s see. Watch this space.
During the last 20 years, you haven’t completely stayed away from the stage. You’ve been performing at the Milnerton Playhouse. I find it interesting because it often feels like there is a very clear divide between the professional and am-dram world.
It’s such a shame that people don’t know about am-dram or that they don’t make use of it, especially the people who want to start families and have to pay the bills because I won an award through the Milnerton Playhouse. Being able to still do a show that is going to run for a week [with] rehearsals in the evenings or on a Saturday, with full-on wardrobe, makeup, professional sound and lighting and set, it’s like the real thing, you just don’t get paid for it but your soul gets fed and you get to play. I thoroughly enjoyed that. As a mother, as a wife, it fitted right into my little routine that I had going and I met so many other ex-professionals doing this thing. It’s lovely, even for the housewife who has never done it before or the guy that has aspirations of wanting to sing. I always believe in surrounding yourself with people in your circle who want to see you succeed. That is one of the ways to do that and a safe way to do it. You are going to have people who are there to support you and uplift you and push you in a professional and theatrical way.
As you mentioned previously, you work as a vocal coach and have your own studio. I’d love to hear more about that.
I have a vocal and performance coaching business, it’s called Center Stage. It’s very new. It started this year. My aim is to give back. That Volkswagen experience that I had as a teenager, is what one of my objectives is. I feel like a lot of people don’t have the funds to send their kids, or the inclination because there is still the baggage of the apartheid system where the parents believe, “You must go study IT now or something that is going to bring in money. I’m not going to waste my money on theatrical performance or drama.” So they miss out. For me, spirit is more important than academics. I feel like I want to be able to fill that gap. I have people of all different shapes, sizes, backgrounds and aspirations that come to me. I have the person who just wants to shine in the next karaoke competition, the person who wants to extend their range, I have the person who is aspiring to get into Kinky Boots next year and what I love about vocal and performance coaching is that it is not just about your voice. It’s about everything about you developing yourself as a character. It’s strange because what I teach is a combination of what I’ve learned through my one year of studying at UCT and also the experience that I’ve gained over the years and also other research to be able to provide my own content and what I want to teach and what I believe is important to give to whoever is coming to me for classes. I thoroughly enjoy it. Nadine Suliaman, who is in Langarm, I taught her when she was 12 and now we are sharing a stage together. With Center Stage, I do an assessment before you even think of coming onboard because I think a lot of people have this idea that they can sing better overnight. It doesn’t quite work that way. I think that some people believe that they can’t sing at all. I am unfortunately one of those eccentrics who believes that everyone can sing, it just takes some people a bit longer because some people have a natural ear for it and some people’s ears need to be trained and that takes time. I am the eternal optimist. If you are prepared to do the craft, you’ll get to where you want to be.
Now that you’ve reentered the professional arena, is there anything still on your professional bucket list?
I definitely want to try Film. I’ve also written a show which I put on just before I came to do this show. It’s called Memes and Moments and I’m hoping to restage it again next year. I didn’t invite anybody. I didn’t do any social media plugging or anything like that. I just sold to friends and family and I said, “I just want you to tell me whether this thing sucks or not because if I can’t trust you, then who can I trust?” We did a whole big dinner theatre thing in Milnerton at a little community hall and it was such a success that I really want to put it on a bigger stage next year. That is one of my aspirations. I’d love to tour again. My kids are big now, my hubby and I are in our glory days so bring it on. I’m ready to do it.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Judith Sephuma, definitely. She’s not a performer but I love what Marlene le Roux does in the arts. I’m all about that support at the back. Zolani Mahola from Freshly Ground rocks just by being herself. From a theatrical perspective, there is Robyn Scott. I think she totally rocks and Jill Levenberg.