Love of theatre keeps Richard going
PETER TROMP spoke to RICHARD LORING about his decades long showbiz career, what keeps him in the game and his new dinner theatre venue in Seapoint.
Where and when did your love of show business originate? Were there any specific triggers?
My love of music and singing came from my singing in the church choir from the age of seven, which led to my younger brother John and I, at 12 and 16, becoming the Channel Islands’ ‘Carol Levis Discoveries’ – yester-year’s ‘Idols’ winners. I suppose this affirmation gave me the confidence to leave Guernsey in my early 20’s to ‘seek my fortune’.
In your vastly expansive career are there any highlights that sit particularly close to your heart?
An emotional moment, never to be forgotten, was when I stood in Block B on Robben Island on Millennium night watching the cast of ‘African Footprint’ perform the celebratory ‘Stick Dance’ in front of Nelson Mandela and the Rivonia trialists (sic). I struck me then that it was my destiny to help showcase the exceptional talent in South Africa.
Please tell us about Richards Supper Stage and Bistro and the opening production ‘Kaapse Stories from the Mother City’. What can the audience look forward to with this new venue?
There are three aspects to the venue – the Supper Stage, the Memorabilia Bar and the Bistro and deck.
Richard’s Supper Stage is based on the Sound Stage Supper Theatre in Midrand, Johannesburg, where I produced shows that appealed to the man in the street for some 18 years. In Cape Town, the local market demands quality entertainment and the tourist is curious about our culture. Thus ‘Kaapse Stories from the Mother City’, written and directed by Basil Appollis, gives the audience, through interactive theatre, an insight into the people of Cape Town. Through the entertaining stories of the Kleinjies family, we discover ‘Diamonds in the dust’ – the extraordinary talents, spirit, culture and humour of Capetonians from all spheres of the community.
Richard’s Bar gives one a peek behind the scenes of showbiz though the memorabilia I have collected and pays tribute to friends, family, cast members and theatre personalities. It has a warm friendly ambience.
Richard Bistro, decorated with various scenes of Cape Town, and the funky Deck, offer diverse tasty meals – from freshly-baked muffins to salads, Mediterranean dishes, fabulous prawns and steaks and home-made ice cream - from early morning to late at night after shows.
What drove you to open a dinner theatre venue in the city at this time, since so many of these types of venues have failed in the last number of years?
Backed by my passion, love and experience in theatre and the tourism marketing expertise of my friend and partner, Roland Seidel, we believed we could create a quality dinner-show experience. However, to be sustainable it needed to have cultural integrity that would also appeal to the tourist market. By also offering new-found artistes a platform to perform we could not only fulfil a need but help grow the industry.
People perhaps know you best these days for the massive success of ‘African Footprint’. What do you think it is about that production that has resonated so deeply with audiences?
I believe it is the passion, energy and integrity of the show that had local audiences saying that they “felt proud to be South African”, whilst international audiences experienced a new perspective of our country. The energy of the show and the diverse dance genres of Kwela, Tap, Contemporary Ballet, Jive, Gumboot and hip hop Pansula keep surprising the audience, and as the cast dances and sings “We are the children of Africa” with passion and a deep belief that they were spreading a positive message about South Africa, it is difficult not to be enchanted.
How did it feel to be honoured with the Naledi Lifetime Achievement Award?
The most important award a performer can achieve is the applause of the audience but to be honest, to be honoured alongside veteran actor Tobie Cronje and friend of many years, Hugh Masekela, was deeply humbling.
As one of the busiest men in show business what does an ordinary day usually look like for you? What are some of your routines and, and do you like to relax when you’re not working?
Since I have been in the Cape people laughed when asked what was I doing with my time and I said “working 24/7” – a light reference to the 7/11 that sits below our Supper Stage where when we started renovating I could often be seen with a hose and broom literally cleaning up the area!
Actually there is no typical day but any day will be taken up with phone calls meetings, planning shows or overseas ‘African Footprint’ opportunities, looking at creative projects – current and long term – lunches, meetings with people who just drop in to say they have a business proposition or are fans of yesteryear, planning sessions, staff applications, uniforms, sound and light issues, toilet requirements, fire regulations, building of emergency exits, bus parking negotiations, script discussions, auditions process and general follow through on all of the above aspects; but however busy, my family is very important to me so I always have made sure that I had time for them. I enjoy watching a good movie with my family, perhaps soccer, enjoy entertaining and a good laugh with friends and a brisk walk.
How has the theatre industry changed since you started? Where do you think if finds itself at the moment?
My first West End show was at the Strand Theatre with ‘A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum’ in 1963, and since then theatre has changed considerably, especially in lighting, sound, decor and special effects. However, the shows that were around then are still being produced like ‘Sound of Music’, ‘Oliver’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, ‘Robert and Elizabeth’, ‘Grease’, ‘Fame’. Certainly they have different sets, costumes, musical compositions and a different directorial approach for today’s new theatre audiences - a good show produced and presented professionally will live long term.
The big change in musical theatre trends came from British theatre in the 1970s with the emergence of musician Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Sir Tim Rice, and in the 1980s producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, all of whom where my contemporaries in the swinging 1960s in London. They ‘re-invented’ musical theatre by introducing modern ‘Rock’ music and thus attracted a whole new generation and competing with the Rock stars of the day.
The greatest theatre producer of the last few decades is Cameron Mackintosh, with whom incidentally, I shared a flat in the 1960s in London. His high production values and marketing machine grew his shows to be multi-national productions, even producing shows for stadiums. Marketing through merchandise and international sales aimed at the tourism industry resulted in new audiences and grew his products. Both he and Andrew Lloyd Webber have embraced modern technology and instead of behind the scenes auditions, they have found new stars through reality TV and in the process gained major publicity.
Thus one has to constantly keep an eye on what the market needs and how to reach that market. While I seem to have emphasised that ‘old stories’ will survive, it is also important to realise that there is always a need for new product – for new stories to be told. Here in South Africa with our history of challenge, pain and triumph, there are so many stories out there and there is a great need for script writers to tell those stories – what a wonderful opportunity for South African theatre!
What do you think local theatre needs to do to survive competition from the likes of Hollywood, Bollywood, Social media etc.?
There is no quick solution to that question which is being asked wherever there are theatres all over the world. Good product helps, but the big question will always be “How does one keep the doors open and put bums on seats for 52 weeks of the year?”
You have to create and build a brand of both the venue and the product.
You have to create not only a successful brand, but a dedicated motivated staff.
You have to be prepared to think creatively out of the box.
You have to take calculated risks.
You must minimise your possible losses with pre-sales, subsidy or sponsorship.
You cannot present product of your own selfish liking – it needs to be what the audience wants to see so.
You must be aware of what your audiences would like to see.
You must embrace those new forces to engage the new age of technology.
Most importantly, remember you have a vital asset – I do not believe that these other media can fully compare with the immediacy, the intimacy and an exciting element – the danger – that live performance offers.
Finally, what are some of your future plans and ambitions yet to be realized?
I would like to continue to use my success and skills developed over the years for the ongoing benefit of people in the entertainment industry that are less fortunate. I dream of creating a ‘Presidential Performance Event’ in aid of the Theatre Benevolent Fund and of creating the ‘African Footprint Academy’ that will empower our current cast and help them to pass on their vast knowledge to new talent. I love creating new shows and as Clint Eastwood says when asked why he continues to work, “I do this for a living”. I love…I need…to create and thus will continue to produce shows that hopefully audiences will love.
* Book for ‘Kaapse Stories’ on 076 144 4809, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.