Sue Diepeveen is an actor, theatre practitioner and the owner of The Drama Factory in Somerset West. Her new show, So You Want To Be A Trophy Wife? is available to stream as part of this year’s virtual National Arts Festival. As the owner of The Drama Factory, Sue is heavily involved in mentoring programmes for young actors and is committed to ensuring a safe and affordable space for new work to see the light of day. In the midst of the national lockdown, Sue has spent the last few months creating her show while also dealing with the unfortunate impact of the global pandemic on her theatre.
How are you doing in the midst of the lockdown?
It feels a little like Eskom load shedding – now you see it now you don’t. Level 5 seems like a distant memory. I think for most of us it has really been a lot and I have had the great days when you are super grateful for time out with the family and the down days when you can’t seem to get yourself out of bed. I have been really busy, and I am so glad to have had a lot going on to make the time pass. I am also old enough to remember a time when the world was less busy, shops used to close at 12 on Saturdays and open again on Monday mornings and I think perhaps we have missed the boat with the mega consumerism. I miss rushing to the hardware store with my dad to make sure that we have enough to get through the tasks mom set out for the weekend. I also think SA was lucky to lockdown in autumn when the weather was still good – it must be dreadful to be cooped up in cold wet weather. I have enjoyed time out to just be and also to reassess what it is that I want out of life and what I would like to do with the time left to me. Lockdown has been a long process and while I supported the government wholeheartedly, I do not always see the logic but I am ever so glad that it was not my decision to take – I think our [president] was between a rock and a hard place and as no one we know has governed through a pandemic such as this, I guess we should all just keep very quiet and do our best to wear our masks and wash our hands.
For those who don’t know you, how would you describe yourself?
I am a theatre practitioner in the form of an actor, teacher, writer and director. I happen to own a theatre space which adds theatre owner and producer to that job description. I would like to think that I am also a mentor to some and a mother to my children and a wife to my husband and a daughter and a sister. A friend, too perhaps, in the mix. I wish that could be a short answer but life is too short for that. I am passionate about theatre and live performance as well as great movies and series. I applaud great artists in all fields and thank those who go out on a limb to make work for us to either enjoy or not… putting oneself out there is living at it’s very best.
This was surreal indeed. The concept was created about four years ago when I threw together a sort of prototype version of the piece as a “can I do this theatre thing again?” I had a long break while I was raising my children and one definitely takes a knock in confidence after a very long lay off from live performance. I always wanted to revisit the piece with some more time to hone the script and get a great director in. It took a while to get back to it as I had opened The Drama Factory in the interim and I really picked at the script and what I wanted to say. To my delight, Wynne Bredenkamp said yes to direct and she has been such a joy to work with. She gets what I want to say and really pushed me to make clearer choices. She is such a clever writer and I feel that the script has a lot more to it now. Trying to rehearse via Zoom was not the best but we made it work and fortunately, we knew each other well from a previous project so there wasn’t the “creating a relationship” aspect that one needs when you start out. We managed a rehearsal or two in the space before filming but the timeline was super tight to be ready to film for NAF2020 – ideally, I would have loved another week but with lockdown constraint that was just not possible. The character is well known to me which also made it slightly easier but Wynne helped me bring her into a more contemporary timeframe which I think will help resonant with a wider audience. I think directing behind a mask must rate as the toughest job yet! I am super grateful to Faeron Wheeler from FCreations for taking on the project. It makes such a difference working as part of a team.
Due to the pandemic, how did the rehearsal process differ?
Zoom meetings made life so much easier as we could fit in time together with ease and I think we were both really relaxed in our spaces. This was particularly cool during the honing of script stages. However, this was way more challenging when moving the piece onto the floor… trying to position the laptop so that she could see the whole stage and trying to change the set and props into her vision was a bit difficult, to say the least. When we were finally together we both had masks and it is really a reminder of how much we use our faces to communicate. We would both have liked a bit more time to settle into the show, I think, but one can really only do that properly in front of the audience… and of course, we had no audience. It was a stark reminder of how much we feed off the audience and how much we need the human factor in theatre. I am super grateful to have had a young director who was not scared to give this new way of working a go.
How do you hope the show translates to audiences online?
We made the decision to film as if it was a theatre show that happens to be televised as opposed to going with a more “movie” format. We had three cameras which filmed the show entirely at one time and was then cut accordingly, so it comes with warts and all – little slips and so on are all there so you have an authentic feel as opposed to a reshot perfect offering. I know that audience members feed off each other and that if someone next to you laughs it gives you the go-ahead to laugh too, so I hope that the audience will be able to relax in their own space and have a chuckle when they recognise aspects of their own lives. With all this new tech we just hope that the message finds its mark come what may.
As the owner of The Drama Factory, what are your thoughts around the future of the theatre industry?
I remember going to the shops for the first time midway during week one or two of Level 4 and the utter excitement of seeing the cashier smile behind her mask, it reminded me that we just need each other. We need to be social and I know that we will see that return. Theatre has survived many pandemics and we must just hang in and we will see a lot more bright creatives combining mediums to bring us fantastic products. I think my situation is unique as I started The Drama Factory as a small project and it just grew but I remained very “hands-on” and do most of the work, including the cleaning and painting, myself. My birthday present was a 5m A-Frame ladder, what utter joy! So with this backdrop, I was fortunate not to have permanent staff and I hope that I will be able to weather the storm. I constantly get emails from audience members wanting to know when we will open, so I think theatre will be just fine but it will take more time than we imagine. I have been delighted to see how artists have stepped up to the plate and made a plan to get work made and out there in whatever form. I have every hope that we will see people flock to see live performances.
How has The Drama Factory been affected?
It has not been fun being dark especially now that we have a lovely new light, airy building. We are hanging in by the skin of our teeth and while other theatres are doing all sorts of schemes to stay afloat I am hoping that we will be able to recoup our losses as theatres open up again and pay it off in time. I really don’t want to add to the burdens that people are already experiencing by asking for help now. We rent our space out on Sundays and since the start of Level 3, have gained a small income which is a relief for sure. I have tried to make sure that I share as much online content with our audiences as possible, even though it is not ours, as I just want people to remember that live is still number one. We were able to help Blythe Linger out with filming space just before lockdown which was super and a great way to see if the space lent itself to that easily, it helped for the NAF filming planning for sure.
As an artist, how have you managed to stay creative and inspired during this time?
Paul Du Toit and I were due to do a run of Two To Tango in Cape Town in March just as lockdown happened and that was a blow for us both. It feels very incomplete. Other than the Trophy Wife script, I did stick my hand up to write a script for the Lockdown Movie Project run by Tim Greene which was a lot of fun. We still have to finish off the project and I am hoping to do that in July if possible. I got a chance to act in another project for Estelle Terblanche with my daughter Jessie who is a second-year drama student at UCT. I was also still giving drama lessons online which was great, difficult of course, but fun. I was also fortunate to have some voice work that I could do from home. All in all, lockdown has been super productive in many ways. I did, however, get a chance to do a big puzzle!!
What online platform or social media account should we all be following right now?
I am super excited to see all the cool offerings on the NAF2020 platform – I think there have been many tech difficulties but I think that people have really stepped up to the mark. I am also really excited about Blythe Linger’s new baby South African Theatre On Demand which will not only offer great content but also a useful archive. Ira Blanckenberg has an online Eistedfodd called Drama Web for writing and acting in two languages, as has Lisa Bobbert called Starz At Home which is great for budding little musical theatre stars. There is a lot going on but I would like to thank Alan Committie, Rob Van Vuuren, Louw Venter, Nik Rabinowitz and Schalk Bezuidenhout for making lockdown bearable. And Carol from Rosanthorn for the Friday concerts. All artists should get involved with I’m4TheArts – they have been running very cool informative webinars and it is great to see the arts sector become proactive. Also on Facebook, the Independent Theatremakers Forum is a great initiative.
All photos provided with permission by Sue Diepeveen and Wynne Bredenkamp.
Cover photo by Martin Kluge.