Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with Scott Sparrow, who now frocks up as Dame Grosslady in Dario Fo's outrageous farce Elizabeth: Almost by Chance A Woman at The Little Theatre
2009 seems to be a fruitful year for you. Following Decadence, you are now launching into Elizabeth: Almost a Woman and then the Four Dirty Britty Things with Mechanicals.
Yea it's all a lot of fun. I think I was just lucky enough to be at the right places at the right time. Its great to have a lot on your plate. At the moment I am rehearsing Elizabeth in the day and The Importance of Being Earnest at night and after those are in the bag we start rehearsals for The Birthday Party. Nick and I have also got to pick up The Zoo Story again, and then of course there is Isabella with Leila Anderson which is going to the Grahamstown Festival along with The Zoo Story.
Tell me about how it feels to be playing a woman in Elizabeth?
The Dame is such a specific character that it's is more about playing her than playing a women. She is rather strange and is an extension of Elizabeth in many ways. The language is the first challenge as it's half Italian, half English and half slang. Dario Fo calls it grammelot. But if you can get to grips with the language it seems to inform the performance and Dario Fo writes so beautifully. I am very lucky to be given the chance to play this role.
How did it come about for you to be cast in this role in Elizabeth?
I have no idea really. Chris and Robyn approached me and I jumped at the chance to work with Chris again, and with Robyn for the first time. She has done the play before with an award winning performance when she was just 22. I have always been a fan of Robyn so this is all just a treat for me.
Tell me about your roles in the Britty season?
I play Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest, Petey in The Birthday Party, Steve and Les in Decadence and Jerry in The Zoo Story (Zoo Story being part of the extended season) I just love working with my best friends because they are so good at what they do, the fact that we all have this common drive to put on all these wonderful plays is very exciting. I mean its not often that you rehearse for a Pinter, a Wilde a Berkoff and an Albee all at the same time. Its like having the keys to a candy shop. And we all feel the same way, its not about the money or who plays what role....there is a time and place for that... but this is just about the need to put on these lovely plays and have a lot of fun doing them.
Tell me about DECADENCE. Why did you choose to do this play?
Last year the Mechanicals did the American playwrights, Edward Albee, Sam Shepherd and David Mamet. This year we wanted to go British and who better to start off with than Steven Berkoff, and for a two hander Decadence was the obvious choice. It's just a dazzling and risky play to do and very different to our work last year, so it's inviting us to re-invent the Mechanicals' brand. It's stylish and flamboyant and naughty, rude and exciting, controversial and elegant. So we find ourselves as, a group, having to discover new territories, we are proud of last years work but we don't want to sit comfortably just yet….so hence Decadence.
Tell me about your role in DECADENCE?
I play two characters, Steve and Les. They are pretty much polar opposites. Steve is a very pompous high class con man; he goes through a lot of women, constantly cheating on his wife Sybil, played by Emily Child. Les is the private detective from the working class hired by Sybil to spy on Steve and possibly kill him.
The Mechanicals are a great new group of passionate performers who have the opportunity to celebrate drama in its purest sense, would you agree?
I just love performing with the group, they all my best friends. We all have roles that we wanted to play from established contemporary texts so we just decided to get together and make it happen. We all took the risks together which really united us; we all want to be a part of it so much which makes a huge difference. No-one is more important than the other, we all there for the good of the show and we want to make it the best it can possibly be. Its so lovely tackling these established texts, I mean, we are not trying to re-invent the wheel and come up with new theatre, we just want to get the show right and move the audience and we have such a blast doing it. It's all about the passion of theatre and it's great.
You enjoy the darker side of theatre and drama?
Yea I Love it. I guess the darker side and the lighter side both spring from the same root and so they go hand in hand, so it's difficult to separate them. I don't really see a play and think….this is a dark play and that's a light play….If you really dig into a play you will find that each one is so specific.
You also have a wicked sense of humour…where does this come from?
Jeepers I have no idea. I think my dad has always made me laugh alot; he is a very intellectual person but has a great sense of humour.
You also have an incredible spontaneous nature as an actor, quite similar to the Brando style?
Ha ha ha. Well I think Marlon Brando is a force of his own that goes way beyond spontaneity and into genius. But I do think spontaneity is the thing that keeps the show fresh, it's a different show every night no matter how much you have rehearsed. I like it when things change, are thrown around a bit. Nick Pauling loves doing that too, that's why it's great to act with him, you never feel you are repeating something, there was something new every night. Nick will never let you rest in a pattern and that was great for me. It meant I had to honestly listen.
You were honoured with two Fleur de Cap nominations, pitting you against veteran peers… this must have been great for you?
Yes, it was very flattering. I worked with Jeremy Crutchley on The Merchant of Venice and really looked up to him, so to be put next to him in the nominations was very exciting. At the same time there are a lot of my younger peers who I really look up to, I think we have a strong group of young theatre makers and actors in Cape Town who are constantly looking to make good work. There are the Mechanicals and then there is Juliet Jenkin's The Dot Conspiracy, and Leila Anderson's The Chameleon Collective and Milton Schorr's work…the list goes on of the youngsters pushing to make good work and claim their space. And thank goodness for Chris Weare and Dan Galloway at the Intimate for giving us all a space to do this in.
Where did it all start for you…the acting/ performing thing?
I don't know the specific time. Officially it started at junior school playing the colour purple in a rainbow in Mary Poppins. I also did a lot of dance training, Ballroom Dancing, as a kid for a good eight years in competitive arenas around South Africa, so I entered the acting world from a very physical perspective.
Have you always wanted to be a performer?
Yip. Don't know the alternative.
What excites you about theatre?
I love working with other actors. I think that's how you develop your skills as a professional actor, by working and communicating with the cast to make the story work as a whole. So you constantly have to re-discover the way you work when working with new people. You can never get comfortable in your process, there is always something new to be offered by some-one else. So my curiosity of what those new things are excites me.
What motivates you as a performer?
I guess it's a simple as needing to tell the story of the show. For example with The Zoo Story I was very determined to tell the story of this man who had lost his place in the world, I knew it could be very moving, tragic and funny and true, and people would see bits of themselves in the story. To communicate those truths to an audience is the toughest thing to do but its very rewarding when it works.
Who is the man behind the performer? The real Scott when he is not performing?
Thinking about the next show. Acting is not a job you can leave at the office I guess. You keep asking yourself how you can get better, even if you taking little baby steps, but it's always on your mind. Besides that my friends are really important to me, spending a lot of time with them is great, but most of them are actors anyway, so that never rests.
Your future plans?
Well hopefully there are some cool films in the future; I really love film and the whole rush of it. I recently shot a comedy soon called "The Wedding" .
Any comments you would like to share on Decadence?
Emily and I having been wanting to do it for some time now so it's such a treat to do it at last. It is very physical too so I get to revisit that style of which I trained in at Rhodes. I think the best way to describe the show is when you, as a kid would stay up past your bed time, sneak into the living room and catch a naughty movie that was way too mature for you; its that thrill of danger and absolute awe, you might get caught but its awfully thrilling…to quote from the play "Hunting is so fucking thrilling, if you haven't done it its like explaining a fuck to the pope" (Decadence)
Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with Scott Sparrow, who is back on stage with The Performers Travel Guide.
Since our last conversation you have appeared in two local films, you sat in the director's chair for the last Mechanicals Season, toured to Grahamstown and KwaZulu Natal, and are currently getting ready for the exciting new Mechanicals season in January…. It never ends, does it?
Well lucky for me I am surrounded by good people. The Mechanicals are always looking to do work and when you a part of a group like that things will always be happening.
The Performer's Guide is very close to your heart, isn't it … and has been with you for many years?
It is the first thing I did when I came out of university and it kept me in bread for a while so for that simple reason I love doing it. Obviously I enjoy doing the show itself, it is not weighted with any political or social issue, its just an adventure story. That is all I think you need from the theatre is a good story and nothing else. I love telling it.
How did Performer's Guide happen?
It just did I guess. Out of necessity, I needed to pay the rent so we made a show. I mean the story itself developed from a lot of different little things that eventually gathered into the final product. I want the show to charm the frantic imagination you used to have when you were a child, where anything could happen: the pure excitement of story and quest and adventure. So that is how I made it in rehearsals, as if I was playing around in the garden.
It is your chance to be .. well … the many diverse faces of Scott Sparrow?
Well the work with The Mechanicals has been very text based. It is nice to go back to this style of physical story telling. It keeps you on your toes. Performers Travel Guide keeps me fit, and if I am not fit I cant do the show.
It also allows you to have fun and really let go?
Ya, I still gotta remember the lines though :). But yes you can let go, the audience want to hear the story, if you make a mistake they are still on your side because they want to know what happens next. With this type of show you have to have fun, then they have fun.
What is the essence of Journey?
At the end of the journey you have grown more and have more than what you had at the start. And you have to fight to get there. That's what makes drama exciting for an audience: watching the hero fight to achieve his/her goals.
Do you think you are more relaxed now that you are settling into your acting game?
I don't think so. Every new play or film is a new challenge. You do gain experience but you cannot sit back on what you have done, that's death and then you become arrogant. I think I have learnt a lot recently but you have to try and get better, if you don't then someone else will.
When Scott is quiet, or we don't hear anything, it must mean that you are busy with some or other surprising project?
Ha :) Not all the time but if I am not doing anything I do get very jealous of those who are. I try my best to keep the ball rolling. In Cape Town it is very easy to just make a living on commercials and corporate theatre, but with the Mechanicals and my own work you kinda keep acting all the time and learning and learning more.
Besides Journey and the upcoming season, anything else in the pipeline?
Well there is the main season of which The Mechanicals are hunting for some very interesting plays.
What do you want audiences to get out of Performers Travel Guide?
Well they must enjoy it that's all, there is no social or political message (don't wanna bore them) Hopefully they enjoy the show so much they want to see my next one. It must be an escape not a lesson
Anything you would like to share?
Yea check out my blog www.chirps.posterous.com
Copyright © 2009 Daniel Dercksen/ The Writing Studio