Megan Furniss chatted with the divinely passionate, quirky and committed Sue Diepeveen – actress, voice over artist, drama teacher, director, theatre maker and owner of Somerset West’s only independent theatre, The Drama Factory (pictured below with her two daughters Jessie and Casey Diepeveen).
They had to interrupt themselves from water talk, industry gossip, personal histories and other fun stuff to get down to the business at hand – how Sue is celebrating a year of The Drama Factory.
Megan Furniss: We have been working together for a good few years now, even though we have only recently met in real life, right?
Sue Diepeveen: Ja! Dubbing for Hindi soapies. I absolutely love it. Best job ever.
MF: Oh, me too. Best.
SD: I think our characters have often interacted.
MF: I would know your voice anywhere!
(They both exchange a bit of Hindi.)
MF: Right, serious stuff now. Tell us the important things about you …
SD: Okay so background; I studied at PAW (Performer’s Arts Workshop), the first non-racial school in the country in the 1980’s, and then studied further in England. When I came back I ran a huge drama teaching studio with 300 kids, while raising my babies, and wrote and taught, and did eisteddfods and invested in the teaching side of things. I am passionate about drama training in schools, teaching kids about theatre, and an appreciation of theatre. Then, at 40 I decided to get back into acting myself, and that was so scary and daunting. Fast forward to now and I have a theatre!
MF: Great, so that’s your bio. What else should people know about you?
SD: (With the naughtiest glint and a flick of her pretty, blonde hair.)
Oh, I am cleverer than I look.
SD: I despise gender stereotyping.
MF: Then you must be excited about The Taming of the Shrew?
Long discussion about how they both auditioned, what it was like, and a teeny bit more gossip.
MF: Right, back to The Drama Factory. It is now a year old. Why did you start up a theatre in Somerset West?
SD: The main reason is that I had a building, a space that wasn’t being used. Really.
Also, I wanted to make some money in my field of expertise.
But, having a theatre is a lifelong dream. A theatre that is a platform for brilliant work, and a space for young people to make brilliant work. Somerset West is a big area with only one other theatre – a community theatre. There was a need for a small independent theatre, for work that is not mainstream or community spaced.
And I wanted to have a space to teach pupils in a proper theatrical venue; NOT a foyer, or gymnasium, or dining room. Now there is respect for the space because it is a proper, working space. There are lights and a stage.
MF: What was your vision?
SD: To be honest, I didn’t do a lot of planning or a business scheme. Anything that was generated in the space was a bonus. For me, it is a project of love. If I look back at the calibre of performances, from music to drama to comedy, that has come to the theatre, it has been mind-blowing and completely exceeded my expectations.
MF: What were/are some of the challenges in starting what most people would consider a doomed-to-failure venture?
SD: Growing an audience has been the biggest challenge. When you put pressure on a small group of theatre goers to come, audience fatigue sets in, where a small group is expected to come to all of the shows, like seven shows a month.
Another challenge is that each production doesn’t do independent marketing and they rely on me to get an audience.
And finally, trying to understand what will appeal to the audiences, the balance between serious, music, fun, whimsical.
The marketing of the actual venue is a challenge that is getting easier and easier as people get to know me and the space. They are starting to trust that what I am bringing is great. And word of mouth is everything.
There is this one guy, David, I don’t know how he found out about The Drama Factory, who comes to every single show. Every single one. He arrives for every show and loves everything we do. A loyal patron.
Our vision is also to have more workshops, and bring more people. Somerset West is only 40 minutes away from Cape Town.
MF: What makes it worthwhile, for you personally?
SD: Personally, when I know something is brilliant, and someone who I have asked to come comes, and they walk out weeping, either with laughter or because they were moved, they feel their soul has been fed.
It is a privilege. I look down from my little office onto the scene below me. I share that. I make these awesome connections with awesome artists and help them on their journey.
MF: That is beautiful.
SD: It is a privilege.
MF: Okay, Describe your most favourite moment in the theatre.
SD: Easy. The day Mike van Graan came to see the theatre, before the changes to the foyer and dressing room, and we sat down to discuss Pay Back the Curry and he said: “Yes, I do like your theatre.” When he said it, it was an acknowledgement of the space as a theatre.
MF: What has been the most unexpected thing that has happened at The Drama Factory?
SD: Oh, this! Rob van Vuuren was performing and I looked at his panicked face. He almost had to stop his show because a young teenager was laughing so hard he literally couldn’t breathe. And then, we had a whole bunch of young students who had never ever been inside a theatre ever before. Beautiful.
MF: And, funny audience moments?
SD: These two old tannies who hadn’t booked and rocked up to a totally oversold show of something; we had shoved in a whole lot of extra chairs and we were totally full, and these two wouldn’t hear that there wasn’t space for them and said, “Ag, maar ons is dan hierso!”
MF: And strange requests or quirks from productions or performers?
SD: The strangest request ever – I was asked if I would host a man who wanted to train trapeze artists that are blind. I said yes of course, what could be more dramatic than a blind trapeze act?
MF: What’s in the line-up for people to look forward to?
SD: You are! ImproGuise performs on Saturday night, 10 February. Jam Every Other Day with Erica Marais is on 23 February, Mel Botes’ Poetry, Wine and Song will be on 3 March, The Island is coming back, Thirst, that I directed, and The Drama Factory will be doing a production this year now that the venue is up and running.
MF: Anything else you’d like people to know about The Drama Factory, or you?
SD: Yes, it is so important to acknowledge Pop Art in Jo’burg, and The Alexander Bar for all their help and support. They have been amazing, and we go onto The Alexander Bar booking system now, a birthday present for us.
MF: How cool. We’re done. Thank you. See you on Saturday.
What: The Drama Factory
Where: 25 Comprop Sq, Henry Vos Close, Asla Business Park, Strand
Contact: 073 215 2290
Visit: The Drama Factory