Two prominent Durban stage directors have been nominated for prestigious Naledi Theatre Awards, which takes place in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 19 April. They are Steven Stead and Caroline Smart, both of whom, over the years, have made invaluable contributions to the KwaZulu-Natal arts scene.
Stead is nominated for his direction and production of the Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd and revival of Little Shop of Horrors, while Smart is nominated for her direction of the original South African play about Cecil John Rhodes, Hinterland.
Smart says she is “over the moon” about being nominated for Hinterland, a play about Cecil John Rhodes; a truly controversial and current subject. “I feel incredibly honoured to be nominated for a Naledi Award – particularly to be on the same list as such prestigious directors,” Smart continues.
Hinterland started its main journey with rehearsals in Durban after it won three awards at the 2012 PANSA/NLDTF Playwriting Festival. Since then it has appeared at the National Arts Festival twice and at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square. It is going to Artscape later on this year. “I admire Duncan Buwalda’s command of dramatic text and his use of humour,” Smart says. “Also, his bold idea of taking a ‘what if’ situation and almost making one believe that the working relationship between Cecil John Rhodes and Sol Plaatjie actually happened.”
Asked her thoughts on the state of South African theatre, Smart replies: “These are interesting times indeed and I am always impressed by the tenacity and dedication of performing artists and their determination to make it work, even in this difficult economic climate.”
Stead says it was always very gratifying to have one’s work acknowledged, and he is glad that the Naledi’s have introduced the new category for Best Director of musical theatre. “This is usually treated as a bit of a Cinderella in the industry, when it is actually the backbone, and forms most of our bread and butter,” he explains. Stead says he is working on some exciting productions for the rest of the year, including Shrek, the Musical for Gold Reef City.
“They were both productions we had done previously in Durban, albeit with different casts (we produced Little Shop in 2009, and Sweeney in 2014), so most of the teething problems were already ironed out. It is always a challenge doing a musical with backing tracks, but it is sadly an economic necessity these days. So I was very fortunate to have Justin Southey and Rowan Bakker on board respectively with live bands and talented musicians.” – Steven Stead on describe the challenges he and Kickstart faced.
When away from the theatre, Stead loves the beach at the bottom of his garden in Durban though he admits he rarely gets there. “I love reading good books on my beach; an idyll that I do very seldom, but the idea of it gets me through stressful times. I also listen to music to relax. Usually classical and opera. Hardly ever musicals!”
Talking about the state of South African theatre, Stead says the phrase ‘the theatre industry’ makes him giggle. “We do not have an industry. Not in comparison with the UK, USA, Europe or even Australia. We have a cottage industry. It is home-made, and well-meaning, and passionate. But is isn’t sustained by audience interest, or by state funding. It exists solely because of the passion and will of a few individuals.”
Stead continues; “It is possible to make a living from the theatre in this country if you are tenacious and resourceful, and passionate. But it is not the norm. Contrary to popular belief, no one ‘makes a fortune from the theatre’. And no one should be encouraged to go into ‘the industry’ as a career, because it doesn’t exist. In this country, people go into the theatre because it is all they can imagine doing and all they want to do. This makes the state of the arts very vital, very passionate, but also a bit mad. But heck, the gap between genius and madness is just a skip to the left!”
Now in its 12th year, the Naledi Theatre Awards reflect the vibrant and diverse nature of the South African theatrical landscape that exists today. These are the premier awards for theatre excellence in South Africa.
The Naledi Theatre Awards will take place on Tuesday, 19 April at The Lyric Theatre in Johannesburg. Tickets for the glittering event are available on Computicket at R350. Pensioner and student tickets are on sale for R200. Tickets include cocktails, entertainment and the chance to rub shoulders with the country’s top celebrities and performers.