Reznek explores womanhood in first solo show in two decades

Reznek explores womanhood in first solo show in two decades

One of South Africa’s longest standing and most celebrated theatre companies will present the world premiere of their new production during the following week.
Magnet Theatre’s ‘I Turned Away And She Was Gone’, will be performed Wednesdays to Saturdays from February 18 until March 14 at 8pm at Magnet Theatre in Cape Town.
Written and performed by theatre legend Jennie Reznek, ‘I Turned Away And She Was Gone’ excitingly marks Reznek’s first one woman show in more than two decades since ‘The Show’s Not Over Til the Fat Lady Sings’.
PETER TROMP got the inside scoop from REZNEK.

How did you get started in the arts?
My mother was an amateur actress and my father – a physician – also made amateur movies. I seemed to have grown up knowing that I wanted to be an actress. I was the one who always got the lead in the school plays and got A++++ at all the Eisteddfods. I studied at UCT drama school as an interpretive actress and then, when trying to make work for multi-lingual audiences with Professor Mavis Taylor and the People’s Space Road Show, I decided to study ‘theatre de Mouvement’ with Jacques Lecoq in Paris. I was searching for a theatrical language that could cut across the linguistic boundaries that exist in South Africa. I always say Lecoq gave me the gift of myself – an understanding that stories could be told with the body and that I could be a theatremaker and make theatre from my own stories and obsessions and not just interpret other people’s work. When I came back from Paris I made my first solo show called ‘Cheap Flights’ as Magnet Theatre.

Can you give us a few of your personal highlights in the almost three decade history of Magnet Theatre?
Making ‘Medea’ with Jazzart Dance theatre, directed by Mark Fleishman choreographed by Alfred Hinkel, designed by Craig Leo with Kurt Wusstman, Bo Peterson and Jay Pather. We did a first run-through at the old Jazzart studio in Jamieson Street and it was electric – we knew we were onto a completely new and exciting language.
Having the privilege of being able to tour the world with a company of people who I love and as a result of the work that we have made – ‘Every Year Every Day I Am Walking’ has had 27 international tours.
Teaching and feeling part of the transformation of young people’s lives…seeing people change and transform and feel empowered. Feeling part of that process.

Tell us about ‘I Turned Away And She Was Gone’ and what audiences can look forward to with the show.
It is a very human story that talks about this crazy journey we have on earth as we transform from a baby to a young person and then mature into an adult, then transform into an old crone ( if you are a woman) and finally move from matter to spirit. It is a huge story, but also a very intimate one. People can expect to be moved, to laugh and to identify with how the passage of time makes us ask where the younger incarnations of ourselves went to. We all look in the mirror at some stage and ask where has my youthful face gone?

This is your return to the format of a one person show. Why did you decide to return to the form at this current juncture?
I wanted to make a new piece that was my own. I wanted really to create the opportunity to engage with my own obsessions and the passions and themes that drive me. Magnet’s work always provides a moment where the inner life of the performers/creators intersect with the outer life of a story or an event. The last piece that I made like this was ‘Every Year Every Day I Am Walking’ – made in the year that I lost my last surviving parent and had to pack up my childhood home. The story is a story of loss and recovery, about refugees, but it was rooted my own private story. I wanted to make another piece that I was as emotionally connected to as the two hander I made with Faniswa Yisa and Mark directing seven years ago.

How have rehearsals been going? And how do you feel about opening night, knowing that you’re going to be out there all on your own?
I am loving the rehearsals. I love the empty space that I go into and I love having the opportunity to really work on my craft, to work hard and to feel exhausted after. Ina Wichterich – the choreographer – is wonderfully demanding and pushes me hard. Opening nights are nerve wracking. Always. I have to really keep my focus also because the staging has the audience sitting on three sides so I am aware of everyone and the tiniest reactions.

Tell us a little about your collaborative relationship with your husband, Mark Fleishman, especially how it differs from working in an ensemble cast to the solo format.
Mark and I have learnt how to work together. It works best when we have very clearly defined roles, like him directing and me performing. It also works if I am directing the movement and he the whole show. I know that he is good at holding the whole and I am good with the details. It is a good balanced partnership, but when the boundaries and our roles are blurred it gets messy and uncomfortable. We have a huge amount of mutual respect for each other, which has allowed us to continue making work together. I think he is one of the most interesting, intelligent and skilled directors in South Africa. I trust him completely. He really understands how the body and text can work together in the theatre.

You’re not only acting in the show; you also wrote ‘I Turned Away And She Was Gone’. What inspired you to write the play, and was the creative process like?
I knew I wanted to make a play about the moments of transition in a woman’s life. I was moving out of mother/mature woman at the same time that Hannah – my daughter -was going through adolescence, moving from girl to woman. I was interested in those life journeys, those moments of transition. I started working like Magnet usually does with improvisation on the floor when Mark suggested that we needed a frame – a story to hang the exploration on. He found the Persephone/Demeter myth, which we got very excited about. He also suggested that I try and write. So I did. I went into an empty room at Hiddingh Hall and wrote and wrote and wrote – loving every minute; adapting the old deep Greek story into a more contemporary moment. The text came out in blank verse and Mark was happy. So we started the rehearsals with a script and then Ina and I played and played exploring the physical language of the piece. Then Mark put it all together. With Neo’s wonderful music.

Having been such an integral part of the theatre scene for such a long time, what do you think of the current state of the form in our city?
I am always amazed at how much product there is out there and equally amazed at how small the audiences are. I think we need to make theatre a very trendy sexy thing to go to, to encourage audiences away from their DVD’s and decoders. I also think we all need to work hard to create access for young theatremakers from the geographic and economic margins to become visible in the more mainstream spaces.

Random question: what is your favourite caffeinated beverage?
Earl Grey tea.

Another random question: what’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday morning?
Swimming/walking in Silvermine.

* Tickets cost R120. Enjoy the Whacky Wednesday special on February 25 and March 4 and 11, when tickets are 2 for the price of one.
Bookings can be made at Computicket. Tickets are also available from the Magnet Theatre box office, Mondays to Fridays, between 9am and 5pm, and on the evenings of performances for cash and credit card sales only (no debit cards).
Magnet Theatre is situated on Corner of Lower Main and St Michael’s Roads in Observatory. Ample parking is available next to the Theatre.