"Your body is your instrument", says South African theatre maker Fred Abrahamse

Urban Craft magazine's Godfrey Johnson (GJ) caught up with South African theatre maker Fred Abrahamse (FA) recently and had quite an ins...



Urban Craft magazine's Godfrey Johnson (GJ) caught up with South African theatre maker Fred Abrahamse (FA) recently and had quite an insightful chat about his journey thus far, life under covid-19 restrictions and the future of the industry in the aftermath of the lockdown. Below are excerpts from their conversation:






GJ: Hi Fred, I have admired your work, versatility and passion for many years, thanks for agreeing to chat.

You have been in the industry for a considerable time, what keeps you motivated?

 

FA: The fact there is always something new to do and work on, keeps me motivated and excited. Most people my age have had one or two or even three jobs. I’ve had nearly two hundred different jobs in my career. There is always change and new people and a different piece of theatre.

 

GJ: What kept you motivated last year?

 

FA: First off, Abrahamse and Meyer Productions has been going nonstop for the last twelve years. As an Independent Theatre Company, you have to keep working and creating work or there is no income.

So, for the first month or so I did nothing but eat, sleep, and watch online movies, plays and operas. It was a much-needed break.

There was also a lot going on in the world – the pandemic, state capture in South Africa, American elections and all the stuff going on there and most of all a huge focus on BLM and gender-based violence.

Marcel Meyer [the other half of Abrahamse and Meyer Productions] and I had a lot of time to reflect on the state of the planet, the people and the consciousness permeating the world. It seemed to us that the world would never be the same after this period in time.

It caused us to examine whether, as creative people, we were doing enough. Having the ‘time off’ so to speak, gave us in a strange way the luxury of time and space to really think, discuss and come up with ideas for a way forward and how we could, in a small way, do something constructive while also being creative. So, we decided to write, adapt, and work on both established pieces [Mr Sondheim granted us permission on one of his works], novels, legends and create brand new original pieces for the ‘post covid era’ [whenever that may be].

We considered streaming but, ‘Live Theatre’ is what we want to do.

The other huge change in our strategy was to open ourselves to the concept of sharing and collaboration. Online meetings and workshops with fellow artists on specific projects, created a whole new work environment and world in which we could collaborate. To be creative we do not necessarily need to all be in the same physical space. We could meet in a virtual world with fellow artists and even with those on other continents – which seemed inconceivable in a pre-covid era - we tended to all be insular and work on our own. It was and still is a phenomenal experience.

Theatres and Theatre companies [state, semi-independent an independent] also had huge online meetings, addressing a variety of issues facing the arts industry - this had never happened in the past. We were not even aware of creative forces operating in the remotest corners of our country. The meetings were frank, open, and incredibly enlightening. What will be the outcome? – we do not know, but for the first time in my career in theatre, people were talking and sharing! There was this overall sense of ‘coming together.’

So, it might sound strange, but the pandemic and its resultant restrictions has had a really positive effect on my mindset, attitude to my work and a way forward.

Yes, fellow artists have died and lost loved ones, we have lost income, we have had what little funds that were available from government - plundered, we have had to really battle to make ends meet and – but none of that can really sully the incredible experience of communicating, sharing and collaboration – that I have been privileged to experience!

 

GJ: You are known for being a master of many things. I have always admired your attention to detail. How/ why were you drawn to the world of theatre and all the other disciplines that come with it?

 

FA: I was fortunate to grow up in a family that appreciated the arts. If it acted, danced, sang, skated, tamed an animal, or swung from a trapeze – my parents took us to see it! I was very fortunate to have that. The Arts Councils of the day toured to schools with various programmes – so we were also exposed to Drama, Opera and Ballet. I wish that Idea could be re-instated exposing all young people to the Arts.

 

GJ: What would you consider to be some of your career highlights?


FA: Wow! There have truly been so many wonderful moments! Beside all the great productions I have worked on and fabulous people I have been privileged to work with…here’s just two highlights that leap to mind…

• Touring our work to Europe and America with a South African cast – made us realise we are not a talentless backwater - the audience reception to South African artists is astounding. We once took eleven thunderous curtain calls unheard of here back home. The exchange after the show with audiences and especially students was a real highlight.

• The work we do with our young people’s theatre at Canal Walk – [now in its twentieth year] and the Schools Shakespeare Set works. Collectively we have brought live theatre to over three hundred thousand young people. A young fourteen-year-old approached me one day after a show and told me that ten years previously, when he was four, he had had his first theatrical experienced at one of my productions at Canal Walk – and ever since he had been hooked on going to the theatre…I almost cried.

 

GJ: What advice do you have for youngsters in search of instant stardom?

 

FA: Stop searching! It aint there! You would never build a house without a solid foundation – it would never last for long. Build some good solid skills - either through a formal training at a one of the several Theatre, Music or Dance Institutes. You can also start at the bottom and work your way up, on-site training in actual productions is also invaluable.

Your body is your instrument. An athlete would never dream of entering a race without training and building up their muscles, strength, and stamina. Improper use of you voice and bad dance techniques can severely damage your voice and body for life. Work, train, commit and lead a healthy lifestyle!

 

GJ: You are constantly creating new work and your new production looks intriguing and beautiful.

Please describe the new show?

 

FA: HISTORY GIRLS, by Bianca Flanders [Book] and Marcel Meyer [Music & Lyrics], intertwines the narratives of eleven remarkable young women, aged twelve to twenty-one, who, in their own individual ways, went on to shape world history. Although the girls featured in the musical stem from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and historical eras they each displayed a resilience of spirit that united them in their determination to make a marked difference in their respective communities.

 

GJ: What other projects do you have up your sleeve?

 

FA: At the moment, we are developing another five new projects, they are all works in progress. They are also mostly collaborative projects. 2020 was slow but now the work is piling on and all our 2020 international tours have also all been moved to 2022 - we have a busy time ahead.

 

GJ:  What makes you smile?

 

FA: True wit. I find clever humour in people, advertising, texts, and performances very, very funny. I also break out in a huge smile when I see or read about people doing things out of sheer kindness and not because they must or feel obliged to.


Social Media Handles 


Facebook: @Abrahamse and Meyer Productions

Instagram: @Abrahamse and Meyer Productions

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Urban Craft Magazine: "Your body is your instrument", says South African theatre maker Fred Abrahamse
"Your body is your instrument", says South African theatre maker Fred Abrahamse
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