Johannesburg may 2012.
Explicit sexuality or suggestion on stage.
Casting takes time.
In “The Madonna of Excelsior” by acclaimed South African writer Zakes Mda, a sex scandal in a small town is transformed into an emblematic story of a country whose racial history can be rendered authoritatively only in art. In the adaptation for stage by Kobus Moolman is an astonishing scene in which the main character Nicky, a girl working in a butchery is forced by Cornelia, the female owner of the butchery to strip naked in front of all the workers because she suspects her of stealing meat by hiding it under her clothes. This humiliation is the source of Nicky’s revenge. In “The Madonna of Excelsior“ Mda explores the underbelly of sex and power in a social historical background in the Free-State in the seventies, nineties and today.
We had to find an actress who fits the character profile of Nicky but also who has no problems stripping on stage. I thought that would not be a problem. We wanted this scene to be provoking. The audience wouldn’t see much of the humiliation and nudity. I think suggestion always creates more fear and dreams in the heads of the audience than when facts are too explicit. But finding an actress was not an easy task. Auditions were held in Bloemfontein and in Johannesburg. As casting directors we were very clear from the start and happy to find different actresses. But talking to them after the audition, they all said, maybe I will think about it. For a director it is difficult to work with a “maybe” actress, so a maybe is a no.
We casted all the chacacters except Nicky. Jerry Pooe my artistic leader and co-director started to phone more actresses. Some said polite that they were not interested. Others felt insulted and said: “That is a big no Jerry, goodbye!” Even actresses that we thought were very open minded were not open minded enough. I was surprised by the narrow reactions. When I started to worry I thought of Paul Grootboom he made some intriging theatre shows with sexually explicit scenes. I remember Foreplay and Cards, provoking but also with a very strong story.
We called some actresses. Some came for audition. For one the issue of nudity was not a subject. She wanted to know about the background of the book, about the other actors, about our ideas for the show. She said: ”South-Africa doesn’t need suggestion but explicit violence and sex on stage. Art should be about reality about now and shock those who are comfortable.” I didn’t want to get involved in discussions like that and she didn’t want to be casted. I needed a good actress not a big ego. We had one audition to go: Tshidi Thinyane. She did a marvalous audition, liked our plans and nudity was not a problem. It was only an hour later that we realised we have 9 actors who are fully engaged to create with their talent, body and soul a great peace of musical theatre. I can’t wait to start rehearsing.