South African-born actress and playwright Robyn Paterson has worked for over 14 years in theatre, film and television, in Australia, New Zealand and London. She is a guest lecturer on acting and the Meisner technique at some of London’s top dramatic universities including The Royal Holloway University, Kingston University and London’s South Bank University.
Where are you originally from in SA and where are you based now?
I was born in Pietermaritzburg , spent my first few years in Somerset West before immigrating to New Zealand in 1994. I’m now based in London.
When you were 6 your family moved to New Zealand which we are guessing inspired the plot for your play. Tell us how you found the move and life as an expat?
We moved when I was so young I don’t think I really fathomed what was going on. But growing up in New Zealand, I definitely felt different. I always felt slightly out of sync. I felt distinctly different on a strange subconscious level.
What is your professional background?
I started acting professionally when I was 14 years old. I went to the Unitec School of Dramatic Art after graduating high school and then after graduating with a degree in Performing Arts I studied the Meisner technique before attending the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York, USA in 2011.
You recently performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. How was the experience?
It was amazing. The lead up to the festival was very intense and it was a lot of hard work and there were times where I’d wonder if it was worth it, but we had a wonderful season. We sold out eighteen of our twenty-five shows, we won ‘Best Solo’ from an independent Fringe reviewer and the response from the press and the audiences were so positive that I don't think we couldn’t have hoped for anything more from our first Fringe season.
Tell us a bit more about your dark comedy South Afreakins?
The South Afreakins is a dark comedy that I perform alone - about displacement, immigration and finding that home cannot only exist within places, but within people. I play 2 characters - Helene and Gordon who are stuck in their same armchairs, on their same farm and in their same rut. One longs to get out and experience everything the world and retirement has to offer, while the other won’t leave his milk tart. When they finally leave everything they’ve ever known and immigrate to New Zealand, the result is hilarious and heart breaking as they discover it’s hard work to find “home.” Sure, the grass is always greener, but home is always home.
What is the one element about being South African or about South Africa that has shaped who you are today – even though you grew up as a kiwi?
I think it’s hard to sum up feeling South African in one element but if I had to, I think I would say it’s that they have pride in themselves. I think of my parents as stoically South African and I see their pride. Their pride in themselves and in their background and family. Their pride in what they’ve achieved and what they’ve done in their lives. There’s something in the South African nature that doesn't allow people be ashamed of their achievements.
Why did you start your career and where do you hope to go with it?
I started acting because I believe I was an attention seeking child. I hope to get to a place in career were I can work constantly. Where people know me and know my work and I can move from contract to contract easily without the long gaps in between.
Tell us a bit about your team?
My Edinburgh team were assembled of recent graduates from some of London’s top dramatic universities. I knew that if I wanted to take a solo show up to Edinburgh, I didn't want to be alone in the endeavour and so I interviewed about 12 recent graduates and picked four that I felt a strong rapport with, Madison Turner, Georgie King, Robert Watts and Xiomara Meyer. They came on board and I have to give them so much credit for the work they did in the lead up to Edinburgh and during the festival. They did my social media, they flyered every single day with me, they packed in and packed out the stage, they hung posters, they operated my lights, they emailed and organised my crowdfunder. They did so much for this show and their enthusiasm never waned.
Can Global South Africans get involved and if so - how? Are their any performances they can go watch etc?
Yes, absolutely. We have two performances in New Zealand during September. We are performing in Hamilton, New Zealand on the 22nd September at 7pm at Creative Waikato and in Tauranga, New Zealand on the 24th September at 7pm. We are also performing at the London Vaults Festival next year from the 15th-19st February 2017. There are more endeavours to come after that but they’re yet to be confirmed!
What message do you have for South Africans around the world?
We’re all united in some aspect, aren’t we? Whether you’re still in Africa or not, we all come from a country that teems with magic that lies underneath its layers. A country that has a heritage and a history that we all carry with us. Some of leave Africa but no matter how long we’re out of the country, Africa never leaves us.
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