Pictures: Daniel Rutland Manners

The award-winning actor Emily Child will be appearing in Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca with Sandra Prinsloo and Marius Weyers, at the Fugard Theatre. She talks to WeekendSpecial about the role, and her work in general:

Emily Child

WeekendSpecial: So … you’re in a play written by one of SA’s most famous playwrights, alongside two of SA’s most famous actors. How does it feel?

Emily Child: I feel like one lucky lady! Especially because Sandra and Marius are two of South Africa’s most humble and generous actors. They approach their work with such care, discipline and honest humour. This is the first time I have ever worked on an Athol Fugard play and so far it has been a tough and illuminating adventure! I couldn’t be happier!

WS: To what extent did you research your character, and the play as a whole?

EC: We have all done a lot of reading around Helen Martins, her close friendships and The Owl House itself. I went to visit Nieu-Bethesda with my parents towards the end of last year to get a feel for the world we will be working in. It was extraordinary, but Greg (Karvellas, who is directing) is very clear about the fact that we are not producing a documentary. It is more important for us to inhabit a feeling and a sense of Helen’s universe, than to portray real people in history. That gives us wonderful freedom to explore the “temperature” of her life and explore her relationships through our reaction to her story as well as our own experience.

WS: Has there been input from Athol Fugard himself, at this point?

EC: Athol has given his blessing for us to go about it on our own. I think he trusts and respects Greg’s choices so we are hoping to make him proud, when he comes to watch the show!

WS: Since graduating from UCT, and picking up two Fleur du Cap Awards along the way, you’ve been in a company (The Mechanicals) but also done much independent, freelance work. How hard is it to make a living as an actor in SA – even when you have awards under your belt?

Emily Child - 'The Road to Mecca'

EC: It is hard, just like any industry, but as long as you ditch your ego, anything is possible. I think it is important to know that there will be times when you need to make work for yourself. You cannot expect work to fall in your lap. The industry owes you nothing. If you actively pursue your craft, every day, in whatever way you can, you will be inspired and because of that, you will find opportunities to create work and audition better.

WS: Your advice to younger theatremakers getting into the biz?

EC: Respect other people’s time. Know what it takes for every person, in every department, to do their job well and appreciate how that helps you do your job. Stay organised. Stay fit. Stay confident but never vain or arrogant. Work hard and expect everyone to work hard. Watch as much theatre as you can. Read as much as you can. Know when to leave the bar.

WS: You are also the author of two children’s books, “Jeff and George”, illustrated by Julia Anastasopoulos (SuzelleDIY) and the recently published “Lucy and Mum’s Shoes”, illustrated by Warwick Kay. What inspired you to write these?

EC: I live very  much in my own imagination and can often be caught staring into space, wondering about things like what tables really talk about or why rabbits look so cross. My stories are just a way of sharing those thoughts with other humans. These two books are inspired by people I love. “Jeff and George” is inspired by my husband, Geoffrey, and his love of ungulates and rugby and “Lucy and Mum’s Shoes” is inspired by my mother and the journeys her shoes used to take me on when I tried them on as a child.

WS: So, as an actor and a children’s writer, who would you prefer to have a cup of coffee with – Frances McDormand or JK Rowling?

EC: Frances McDormand! She is feisty and amazing! I wouldn’t want JK Rowling to know that I have never read any of the “Harry Potter” books…

Emily Child - 'The Road to Mecca'

WS: Can you tell us one thing about yourself that others would not know or suspect?

EC: I have never read any of the “Harry Potter” books … also I used to be the drummer in a band in high school. We were called Sigma.

WS: When you’re not working/acting/writing, what do you like to do to relax?

EC: I love yoga, books, and delicious whiskey. I find vacuuming extremely calming! I also love camping and generally frolicking about outdoors with my husband. And dinner parties! Food with my best friends and family makes me very happy.

WS: What was the last live show you saw, and how did you find it?

EC: I watched Louis Viljoen’s The Demon Bride at Woordfees. It was hilarious and scary and naughty and everything I love about theatre.

What: The Road to Mecca

Where and when: The Fugard Theatre from 27 March to 21 April

Book: Computicket and 0861 915 8000

WS