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June 07, 2012

Cape Town Tourism’s dame of theatre – a chat with Coleen van Staden

Coleen van Staden, Cape Town Tourism's industry services supervisor and dame of theatre. Photo courtesy Coleen van Staden

She’s the life and soul of the Cape Town Tourism office, the charismatic colleague who brings a touch of drama to the mundane workday and now industry services supervisor Coleen van Staden is taking her panache to the Masque Theatre stage in Muizenberg.

Slipping into the director’s chair – a position she is quite familiar with having directed the Beatles revue All You Need Is Love, Shaken and Stirred (a tribute to the Bond theme songs), Under Milkwood and Beloved Friend – Coleen brings the Sir Alan Ayckbourn classic, Season’s Greetings, to a fresh Capetonian audience from June 1 to 9, 2012.

A crowd favourite since 1980, Season’s Greetings showcases grappling issues of unrequited love and undercooked lamb against the festive backdrop of a Christmas weekend.

Coleen chats to us about her latest production, her love of theatre and why she adores the Mother City:

Season’s Greetings is one of Alan Ayckbourn’s classics. Why did you choose to bring it to the Masque Theatre?

I had not tackled one of the “vintage” Ayckbourn works, having done his more recent and lesser known works. So, I decided on this one as it had just enjoyed a fabulous revival at London’s National Theatre in 2010. I also have a fairly good idea of what the Masque Theatre audiences enjoy.

With quite a few productions under your directorial belt, including The Beatles revue All You Need Is Love as well as a number of awards, do opening nights still frighten you?

More so than ever because one learns more and more, with each production, how much one doesn’t know and how much more there is to learn, how much deeper one can go and what a responsibility one has towards one’s audience.

What would be your dream production to direct and/or star in?

To star in (and I think it’s too late now), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. [It is a] brilliant play and wonderful female role. To direct,with a great deal of trepidation (if I EVER do it), is Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia!

Coleen returns to the director's seat for the latest production of the Sir Alan Ayckbourn classic, Season’s Greetings, at the Masque Theatre in Muizenberg. Photo courtesy Coleen van Staden

What are your thoughts on Cape Town’s theatrical culture and what are your hopes for its future? 

When one considers what young professional actors and directors are doing with limited budgets – the creativity, vision and excellence in play choice, space choice and inspirational material – it is so encouraging and evident that theatre continues to evolve and entertain in this city of ours.

Community theatres are a great nursery for young people who are considering theatre as a profession. From front of house to backstage, to lighting, sound and performance, the hands-on experience is invaluable. A good number of today’s successful theatre practitioners started off in their local theatres as amateurs.

Any tips for aspirant directors?

In the non-professional world in which I move – start out as a production secretary and work alongside an experienced director – co-direct if necessary. One can source basic information from a host of theatre books – how to organise auditions, rehearsal schedules, dress rehearsals etc., but really the more plays one sees or is involved in, whether onstage or backstage or from a planning point of view, the better. Having onstage experience as an actor is always a huge plus for a director.

If Cape Town was a famous musical, which one would she be and why?

We will Rock You. [It has] fabulous music from Queen with a quirky story built round it. How can it not represent Cape Town when the leading man plays a character named Britney Spears whilst wearing a kilt? It was the story of a dictactor’s attempt to squash creativity, it was a story that looked back in time to an era of freedom and vinyl and there was even a reference to Fish Hoek in the Cape Town production that brought the house down!

How does Cape Town inspire you?

The colours, vitality, spontaneity, creativity and joie de vivre of the Capetonians I come in contact with are a daily inspiration. A train trip from Muizenberg to Cape Town (my daily commute) can offer an unexpected joy – a spectacular sunrise, a child’s song – all in the space of a 50-minute train trip.

What is your best kept Capetonian hidden gem?

In summer it has to be Fisherman’s Beach just beyond Simon’s Town. All year round, it's Muizenberg’s “village” area, which is a mix of eccentricity, interesting architecture and old souls.

Season’s Greetings runs at the Masque Theatre in Muizenberg until Saturday June 9, 2012. To book tickets, contact +27 (0) 21 788 1898.

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