"We Learn through Experience", Hanlé Barnard

Godfrey Johnson (GJ) had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with one of South Africa's iconic names and that, of course, w...

Godfrey Johnson (GJ) had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with one of South Africa's iconic names and that, of course, was none other than the gorgeous and multi-talented Hanlé Barnard (HB).
Below is how the conversation went...

GJ: I have known you for a good couple of years and have been following your career ever since you and I worked together in Sleeping Beauty back in 1995. Since then your career has exploded. You are an actress, singer, violinist, writer and producer. What is your secret to balancing it all?

HB: First of all, I really enjoyed that show! I played the Evil Fairy and it was the first time we performed together. I desperately wanted to swop with the Good Fairy, Aletia Upstairs, but the director mentioned that it simply wouldnt work.
I think of my novels as my children and my ideas are what I ultimately give birth to, if I can put it that way. It is difficult to balance everything, and I must admit, I get a bit overwhelmed sometimes. Fortunately I have learnt to focus and manage my time effectively. It takes an element of calmness to complete projects, and I have learnt to surround myself with people that are supportive.
Experience has carried me into various directions. I could not earn a living out of acting alone. I think thats where writing came in handy. Its a blank canvas where characters and dialogue can be shaped and formed. I have struggled to choose a single art form. Firstly because I simply need to survive, and secondly, because I have been privileged through my experiences, to be introduced to various skills.

GJ: Please name a few career highlights and why?

HB. I think that a turning point was Land van Skedelswhere I got a call out of the blue by talented actress, writer and director Nicola Hanekom. She managed to give me a break in the Afrikaans acting industry. As a student from UCT it was not easy for me to break into the Afrikaans market since many people assumed I was English. Meerkat Maantuigby Hanneke Schutte was an incredible experience, and working alongside actors including Ian McKellen was certainly wonderful. I also think that being a judge on Mr SA was very special to me and working with companies like ZANEWS, which you recommended me for.

It was an honour being nominated for a SAFTA best comic actress when I am often seen as a tragedian in the industry. I love comedy. Comedians have the ability to see things in a different way, a bit like the jesters in Shakespeare. I would love to get more work in comedy.

GJ: When does inspiration strike?

HB: In the most unlikely places and times. Balancing the chores of every-day-life, when words and music wants to take priority, is certainly intricate. I sometimes get an idea for a character by observing and concentrating to be mindful of my surroundings.

I have always felt like a bit of an outsider. This has allowed me to view life as a writer and accept who I am. I love opening my laptop and seeing a blank canvas. I love sitting in coffee shops while writing.

I carry a notebook around and put one beside my bed. Sometimes I hear lyrics before I go to sleep or get an idea for a story or character. I love art and enjoy art galleries. I like the smell of books and the words of respectful people. Solitude helps me at times and people who are willing to give me space to create are worth more than gold to me.

GJ: From my own experience transitioning from stage to screen was quite awkward. How did you find moving from stage to screen and vice versa?

HB: I am very interested in film. In fact, in many ways I prefer it. It allows me to engage with fresh ideas, and breaks monotony. I was in a rather long production of a one woman show. Theatre does requires discipline and commitment. One needs to reinvent your performance daily to keep yourself fresh every night.

It certainly helped working with excellent directors. Film requires immense focus from me, especially with the characters I have portrayed. There is a kind of tragedy with the roles I am given and I have certainly learnt a lot from mentors like David Rotenberg to stay in the moment and engage an audience on screen.

GJ: What is your star sign?
HB: A Virgo. I think thats the paranoid one..?

GJ: You are a thoroughly engaging performer and your sense of humour is contagious. Do you know that you have the ability to make the audience laugh and cry within 20 seconds?

HB: No! But, the skills one learns as a performer is often because of great mentors along the way. My Father was a great inspiration to me. He was extremely knowledgeable. He taught me public speaking and said, You are only as good as your last performance. He encouraged me to engage an audience.
He introduced me to theatre as a child. We looked at great works like Nag van Legio and I have studied acting through his eyes.

Directors like Geoffrey Hyland gave me the opportunity to play the character Hamlet in Hamlet. That taught me how important an opening line or your first entrance on stage can be. You can lose your audience in a second. The ‘To be or not to be’ line, taught me that you have a second to grasp an audience.
I try to see a performance through their eyes and also appreciate and respect them. They could be somewhere else, and have taken the trouble to share an experience with me.

GJ: What is your current passion project?

HB: I am working on a novel My Life as Edie, which is welcomed by a New York publishing house, and Step Queen which is set for publishing. My plays House of O and Iago the Whore are in the process. I have two very conflicting styles of writing. Besides that, I continue to make music with composer and producer De Wet van der Spuy and also looking at doing a solo album. My company, The Voice Expert, trains in public speaking. I love assisting people actualizing on stage and engage an audience.

GJ: Accents come very easily to you, do you think your music helps?

HB: As a violin player and vocalist you learn to listen to pitch and pace. This may have helped.
I think working with ZANEWS also pushed my limits, to see where a voice or accent is placed. Having to do the voices for different characters including Hillary Clinton and Debora Patta, Yolandi Visser and Lady Gaga. An accent lies somewhere in the body, you just have to find it. I close my eyes and listen to where it lies, very much like I do when listening to music.

GJ: What advice do you have for any young artists reading this?

HB: I dont take things for granted and I think intelligence and growth is always knowing that you dont know everything, and that you can always learn. I think that we are not entitled to privileges. We learn through experience and must stay humble. I have learnt skills from so many talented people. And I dont know everything. On the contrary. I also think that taking advice and criticism from trusted people are integral to shaping yourself.

Dont get offended when people with skill or talent give advice. Advice from the right people are worth more than gold.

GJ: Can you name a few of your favourite writers?

HB: I have to name Shakespeare  specifically Hamlet because the quotes in that play are so relevant to me. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a favourite of mine, specifically One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the time of Cholera.
South-African writers like Reza de Wet are incredible to me and I truly like the philosophy of Victor Frankl and Jordon Peterson.

GJ: What role or roles pushed you further than you thought possible?

HB: Well, in life the role as a daughter. My father had Parkinsons for many years. It was a challenge for both myself and my family. It opened my heart to people and gave me insight and in many ways gave me a deeper understanding. It also forced me to find meaning in suffering. My past disappointments have really led me to see the beauty in things and I truly appreciate kind people. My mother and I are very close because of this experience.

As an actress, I think a one woman show is one of the hardest things to do. I played Jungs lover Sabina Spielrein in Canada when I was 21. It was a brilliantly written piece and directed by Nina Arsenault and written by Carol Sinclair. It was challenging traveling to Australia, Canada and South-Africa. It taught me that any space can work, to adjust your performance and being content with being alone sometimes. I prayed before every show, because I was so scared sometimes. It taught me to rely on God.

GJ: What is your secret to staying young?

HB: Music and passionate people - staying positive and looking up at the stars. I also dont see age. And I never say I am old. My mother taught me that.

GJ: Where can we see you next?

HB: I am currently on Vagrant Queen for the US and will be working on a South-African film later this year. I am also booked with my violin with The Sonik Sails.
Of course, you can also find me in a coffee shop in Cape Town, writing.

GJ: Mark Twain said, How can you see straight if your imagination is out of focus? How do you keep your imagination in focus?

HB: Well, I command it to.
I think as a creative person, my mind sometimes gets flustered. I manage a business and need to balance logic with realistic dreams so to speak. I think that calmness and trust goes hand in hand. Focus is important. Especially when balancing so many things.
If I feel overwhelmed I tell myself to stay calm. Furniture expert and artist, Kenn Baxter, always tells me to breathe. I have learnt a lot from him. He has taught me that is okay to be myself and appreciate what I have. My mother tells me that not stressing is a choice.

I also remind myself that there are more important things in life than my problems.

When I got the part of Hamlet I was really worried. I thought the director, Geoffrey Hyland, who is known for taking tremendous risks, made a mistake. An actor saw me sitting outside the theatre, and asked why I Iooked so anxious. I told him it was because I was cast as Hamlet which was a tremendous challenge. He said, Are you crazy. Everybody wants to play Hamlet. Get over yourself! That is one of the best tips I have ever received and certainly put my imagination in focus.
Prayer and hugging my dog helps me tremendously. Looking at the blue sky opens my mind, and telling my mind to stop fidgeting are amazing ways of directing me.
Images Courtesy of: She Wolf Photography
Hair and make-up: Veruschka Doran
The Miranda Chair Supplied by Kenn Baxter
Art on Avenues Somerset West
Painting: Rosie Mudge
Dress sponsored by Joseph Ribkoff

Keep Up to Date with Hanlé Barnard:

Twitter_@hanlebarnard –
Instagram_ @hanlebarnard




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Urban Craft Magazine: "We Learn through Experience", Hanlé Barnard
"We Learn through Experience", Hanlé Barnard
Urban Craft Magazine
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