By Peter Tromp
Anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to local theatre will likely have noticed that the industry has become possessed by the spirit of DIY in recent times. All over the city, passionate young – and sometimes not so young – theatre makers are doing it for themselves; oftentimes staging plays in venues that probably function as Sunday schools on the weekend.
There are perhaps none more passionate than Gabriella Pinto. The young theatre maker has an impressive résumé to show for the relatively short time she’s been active as a working artist. She penned ‘Eden’, ‘Chickens’ and ‘Heart’, and directed a production of the celebrated Stephen Belber play ‘Tape’ that showed at the Nassau Theatre in Newlands in June.
‘Tape’ is now back for a limited series of performances at the Alexander Bar in Strand Street from Monday to Wednesday, November 25 to 27 at 8pm nightly. It is a wonderful little show that cuts quite deeply, dealing as it does with a poisonous love triangle and betrayal on multiple levels, and features spirited and charming performances from actors Scot Cooper, Bjorn Steinbach and Shannyn Fourie.
When I watched ‘Tape’ at the Naussau in June, Pinto was literally micro-managing everything, buzzing about all over the place, even taking care of front of house. And yet the whole affair ran almost flawlessly.
You know that this is an artist that means business when she says, “Not enough theatre is challenging enough.”
I caught up with Pinto earlier in the week over cappuccinos at a sunlit Mugg & Bean at Canal Walk to chat about ‘Tape’s’ triumphant return.
Tell us about ‘Tape’. What drew you to the play?
Scot Cooper approached me to do it. Structurally, it’s a great script that deals with serious – I’m reluctant to use the word “issues” –it deals with serious subject matter, but not in an overt way. It’s ultimately a story of unrequited love, damaged egos; about people hanging onto things that don’t matter anymore and about how we can hurt friends without even realising.
But that’s more of the subtext. Can you give me a little more of a teaser?
I’m terrible at these things. Ok – let me set the scene: a dingy motel room; an ex-girlfriend; two guys; lots of beer; a confession; and betrayal. But that’s all I’m giving away.
How is this run at the Alexander Bar shaping up? Has the show changed at all from when it played at the Naussau a few months ago?
This time we are finding different things and are making different choices. When we did it before, people from all sorts of different target markets really responded to it, so that was very encouraging. You need that encouragement to know you’re doing something right.
The spirit of DIY really seems to have taken root amongst theatre practitioners in this city, and you appear to be one of its chief exponents.
You do it because you have to, otherwise you might not work at all. A lot of good things come out of it, even though it can be daunting to wear so many hats. Marketing is a skill for instance that you almost have to acquire, even though it has almost nothing to do with the creative process. There are so many challenges along the way. It can be very depressing when you put so much work into something, and there’s only eight people in the audience, and most of them are your friends. But you soldier on. You can’t be young and expect handouts. As a young director I just learn from doing, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Luckily my determination to put on interesting, challenging work drives me constantly, even when things aren’t going my way.
I’ve seen quite a few of your productions, and I’ve gotten the feel of a real sensibility at work, which one cannot always say about your contemporaries.
I think it just comes from being young and creating work constantly, and from having a certain sense of self, but also identifying certain qualities in other people; questioning why, which inevitably leads to an investigation. At the same time you never ever want to be indulgent. You want to locate something honest within yourself and then make it relatable to an audience.
A lot of what ends up in a play also just comes from engaging in a discussion with your actors. It becomes a real team effort. I might have an idea, or a texture in mind, but then an actor will fill in the gaps. And it’s a beautiful thing when that happens, and it makes the struggle to get something onto a stage worthwhile.
* Book for ‘Tape’ by visiting alexanderbar.co.za.