Sitting with Carina Beukes in the beautiful Backstage Lounge, we are reminiscing about past shows and on the 74-year history of shows on the walls of the George Arts Theatre. These walls give a unique look at part of George’s history. Back then there was no TV or Google or streaming episodes for immediate gratification. Theatre was the centre of all entertainment.
Carina Beukes is not well known to the general public but her very successful shows are etched in the minds of hundreds of theatre goers. Kids were spellbound by shows she wrote like the Disney Tribute: Wishing Upon a Star and the follow up Still Wishing Upon a Star. She also produced the stunning debut theatrical production of Khumba in 2017. Her early works with Pat Savage include Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”, The Lady & The Lesson and Terry Prachett’s “Wyrd Sisters”. Carina is a founder member and actor in Klikkerland (now popular on Kyknet and Showmax) and wrote and directed the kids shows, The Book Tree and The Dream Box in 2018. The Dream Box was invited to attend the Woordfees and the KKNK this year.
HS: I am looking for an inside view of how you began as a director and how you start the process of producing a new show.
Carina: “When you are a director and you have an idea that you feel excited about, ask yourself is it’s viable and practical. Think about the stage, will it fit on the stage, think of the logistics like what you need. Know why are you doing it. Do you want to make money or is it something inside that you want to get out there.
Usually, for me, I run with the idea. I run it past a few people, see their reactions, then start it. It may be a well-known script or something I need to write a script for. I love producing, coming up with all the ideas and translating them into a show. First, though I find a director who can help me direct the actors. Then I check when the theatre is available and then jump in feet first!”
HS: You’ve become known for your very elaborate sets, lighting, music and costumes. These theatrical tools are almost becoming other characters in your show. Where do you get all these ideas?
Carina: “I’ve got a lot of ideas, but my biggest motivation is for the audience to see the theatre in a different light. (pun intended) I like thinking about what we can do with the space we’ve got in a different way. Two levels of the stage are different so for Varieté Varieté we are using right up to the ceiling as a stage. I like the audience believing anything is possible.”
(Photo C. Beukes)
HS: In Varieté Varieté you have a huge cast of 55 which is also unusual. How is it going?
Carina: “For the Theatre’s 50 year Anniversary I wanted to get people of George back on stage and into the theatre. A big cast brings its own challenges but we want to showcase the talent in George. I am blown away by the talent of this cast. It has also had challenges. Many of the cast do not know the older Broadway songs and don’t even like them! The other half, like me, love them!
HS: Do you have someone who is teaching the music, are you doing live music or with recordings?
Carina: “For practical reasons, we had to record our singers but in 99 per cent of the case it’s the same actor’s voice recorded in the song. We found people that never thought they were singers – you will not believe the talent! At the theatre, we don’t have enough microphones to go around. This restriction on mics makes it difficult to put on huge musicals with live music and live singing.”
HS: I loved your incredible costume plots for each character. As a director myself, I was in awe. I need lessons from you!
Carina: “They are not mine at all, mine are very scruffy! We have an incredible youngster, Elize Bernado, who is heading into costume and clothing design. She volunteered and gained huge experience helping us with the costume design. This is what a Community Theatre is all about.”
Costume designs by Carina Beukes and Elize Bernado with drawings by Elize (Photo C. Beukes)
HS: I am in awe of all your ideas. What is your inspiration?
Carina: “I spent a lot of time in the wardrobe. The Theatre wardrobe is amazing. I went through every rail and every box. With 55 people in the cast, we can’t make costumes but must use what we have. I found wonderful costumes that were hidden away for years. I had to plan the wardrobe around what we had to keep costs down. That is why we have a black and white scene – because we have a lot of black and white clothes.”
HS: I know George theatre goers will love Varieté Varieté. Those wonderful Broadway musical extravaganzas we haven’t seen on stage for a while.
Carina: “That’s why I have tried to mix it up for those people who love musicals and those people who don’t. For example, Send in the Clowns, is a well-known song, very slow, very depressing. Half of the people love the song but to keep the others interested we have all these twists to the songs.
We’ve got all kinds of different dance types too. We have tango, ballet and The Can-Can. We got modern jazz fusion and a huge masquerade number. There is something for everybody. We are pushing boundaries in this show. We have trained dancers and choreographers. Half the cast are dancers, but the rest are like me, slower to learn the dance. So we challenge and learn from each other.”
HS: I can’t wait to watch it!
Carina: I can’t wait to watch it either! At this stage, it is still a circus. With Varieté Varieté the idea was to showcase the talent in George. The cast members have sacrificed a lot of time to put this show on.
HS: This is one of our four 50th anniversary shows. In April we had ‘The Sleeping Prince’ by Ilza Tulleken which was the first show put on in 1969. In July we had the exceptional Little Shop of Horrors by Wayne Strydom. From 10 – 13 October we have Varieté Varieté directed by Bronwyn Stammer and produced and written by Carina Beukes. And in December we have the popular pantomime, Peter Pan, directed by Heather Stead.
(Photo C. Beukes)
Carina: “The George Society of Arts is putting on this show and what’s exciting is the involvement of the youth. For example, we originally only had 2 children’s roles but so many children auditioned. The focus of the show was “Let’s get people back on the Stage”, so I wrote in two numbers for these children. If we don’t start with the youth, how will we keep them coming back to the theatre and participating in shows? In Varieté Varieté we have whole families in the show, and father and daughter and mom and daughter. It’s like a family on stage. It is a unique educational and moving experience for children to be a part of a theatre show. You can also be part of the show by helping backstage or wardrobe.”
HS: I know you have a huge Wardrobe for your show. Do you have parents helping you? Carina: “We’ve got a lot of hands which is fabulous. At this stage the cast is so big we can barely fit the helpers in. Our theatre is a community theatre and it is unique in South Africa as it is still a non-profit organisation and owned by the George Society of Arts.
HS: These theatres are becoming very scarce as more and more old theatres are snapped up by big business. We are so grateful to Oakhurst Insurance for stepping in when we were struggling to maintain our beautiful building. They have no part in running the theatre and do not own the building, but have been generously donating funds to renovate the theatre to reach its potential.
Carina: The George Arts Theatre actually belongs to all of us. We are the owners of the theatre. We need to be asking, “How can I help to keep this treasure in our town going?”
There are small things that don’t cost money, for example, you can offer to give out flyers in your area or put up some posters.
When you see a poster on Facebook you can share it. There are all kinds of different ways so we keep the theatre alive. Bring your family and your children to the shows. We need to grow our theatre culture in George and teach kids that they need to learn a life lesson such as patience. Put away the social media and escape to the very different experience of a two-hour live theatre show.”
HS: I can see that you are most passionate about theatre and incredibly creative. It must take a lot of time and energy.
Carina: “Yes it does. The time you use to put shows on gets taken from somewhere, stolen from your family time. It is a real commitment which is why we are always looking for new directors”.
HS: We at the George Society of Arts are unbelievably thankful to directors who keep the theatre alive and fresh. What can you suggest for us in sourcing new directors?
Carina: “I think it’s a desperate need. This is how the theatre has survived for the last 50 years. Young directors are mentored and then take the brave step to put on a show. If this is you, talk to our team of experienced directors at the theatre and get that support behind you. This is a Community Theatre and the support is there.
If you don’t grow new directors or make people think that it’s possible to be a director, the theatre is put at risk. This is how I got involved in the theatre. I auditioned for a role for Pat Savage. I fell in love with the theatre and people like Pat and Denise Swanepoel, who has passed on now, supported me. They have passed the baton of their knowledge and skills over to me. Edwina Rapley, too, was a mentor for future directors, Bronwyn and Heather. Now we need to hand that baton over to someone else. We all learn from each other. I still refer to Pat and ask her questions to this day. It is important for all directors to have a team to bounce ideas off each other.
When I started, the theatre committee, then headed by Denise Swanepoel, looked at my big idea and she said I could do it but someone needed to support me. I was only allowed to do it because Pat Savage and Linda Nienamer were helping me. They were my training wheels. That is the culture that we need to encourage. We are continuing to mentor new directors. I have a trainee director, Joanelda Brandt, who is shadowing Bronwyn Stammer who is directing Varieté Varieté. We need to nurture new writers and directors and choreographers. Here is a safe space to learn and be supported in learning new skills.”
I am excited and looking forward to more interviews with some other members of this cast. People like the local actor, Schalk Visage, who was so much a part of every show for many years, and who has joined Varieté Varieté cast, but now accompanied by his 8-year-old daughter. What a wonderful heritage we have that we can pass on at the George Society of Arts.