Dawn Hope is a British actress whose musical theatre credits include Cougar the Musical, The Scottsboro Boys, Porgy and Bess, Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Piaf, and Little Shop of Horrors.
This incredible performer can now add another prestigious accolade to her resume and a show that she marks as a highlight of her career.
She plays the role of Stella Deems in Stephen Sondheim musical Follies which has been broadcast live to cinemas across the UK and internationally as part of National Theatre Live.
Follies will be broadcast live in South Africa from at Ster-Kinekor from 17 February 2018.
Set in 1971, New York, the production follows the reunion of a group of showgirls at the theatre where they used to perform which is about to be demolished. Thirty years after their final performance, the Follies girls gather to have a few drinks, sing a few songs and lie about their lives.
Screen acting and Stage acting are very different – here you have to combine the two, how do you do that?
“The wonderful thing is, that because I have never done a NT Live production before, I have only performed in a situation where they have maybe filmed one number of a show that I have performed in, or for an award show,… What we were told by the producers was that ‘you do the same performance, we’ll find the moments’. This stage is huge and so you can’t do naturalistic movements. There are times when you have to reach all the way to the back of the theatre, so you heighten something. But in this respect when I know I have to go bigger, I know the film crew will be doing it on a long shot, they can’t come up close at that point, as there is still alive audience at that moment. If it’s big, they can pull back. The crew and director have done this so many times and so they know what they have to do. I just left it in their hands – ‘do your performance, we’ll find the moment’.”
How do you think that the audience watching it in the cinema, are going to be able to feel that special effect of a live performance – because it is different?
“My niece is an English teacher, and the art department have taken their students to the cinema to see it, and she said that they all thought it was sensational. If you can say that in a cinema, it’s because of the way they have filmed the shots, perhaps the close up of the eyes and facial expression – which an audience member sitting in the theatre might not see sitting in the theatre.”
“They’ll get it in the body stance, in holding the moment. But the camera work was obviously giving them that extra essence, they are getting those moments that only a camera can give.”
“When we come off stage, there is a monitor where we can see the editing, so we all stand around the monitor to get an understanding of what they are getting. You can see the camera zoom in so gently to grasp the rhythm of the moment, so that an audience gets it. Then there is a cut away to the actual scene. It’s stunning.”
Let’s talk about the Follies – what do you feel makes the Follies still relevant for today. How do you feel one can still relate to it?
“The Follies is an age of innocence of a generation who come back to the present. From the Age of Innocence when Pearl Harbour occurred, which shook America, as they all thought they were protected. This opened up a can of worms socially. So everyone went through a major change and major shift in America, and that wonderful, glorious, glamorous age of innocence took a different turn. So then what happens, is that you re-evaluate your relationship, your marriage, what you are doing… so here it is 30 odd years later, and we come back.”
“Before I got the job, I was set to go to a 30 year anniversary of my school. I wasn’t going to go. I went just to know what that feeling was. As I was 10 minutes away I thought, who do I really want to see – who would fill my heart? When you are at school, you hold a candle for people, and then when you see them and time goes, you sometimes feel that you are glad that you didn’t fall into that.”
“Follies I very much like that. Some people were successful from Follies, some became movie stars, there was a Politican’s wife. We came from glamour and this is superceding the glamour. Follies is about how we embrace conversation with each other, what kind of mask we put on, what we are hiding in order to keep up appearances. We all have wounds, but it is how we cover it that unravels. That is what follies does, it covers the wounds in such a glamorous way and then as you have the conversations: ‘out of the heart, speaks the mouth’. Once it has happened, you can’t take it back. Follies is very much an adult heart situation of reevaluating your life.”
You play the roles of Stella Deems – tell me about this character, what is her story, and how you had to delve into this role?
“Stella Deems comes back to the reunion with a husband she is happy with. She is completely happy, her marriage is good. It’s interesting, because all the other relationships fall apart around her. She arrives from Miami with her husband, she is basically a house wife. She and her husband walked away from the industry as the industry was dictating how they should run their lives, it wasn’t glamorous at all. So it’s interesting that Stella comes to enjoy a great party, and as she does that, she also remembers the angst of her youth. So for me I had to pull those lyrics apart as I looked at people who were the first black women in that popular society – Nina Horn was one, and she came through the Follies. I delved into what that was like for her. You see her in an interview where she says that she was given such a hard time because she could’ve performed with the Renaissance Performers in Harlem, but she went through Follies because her father said, ‘don’t become the norm, cut your own path’.”
“Nina Horn understood how to create her own style, which she did – there was only one Nina Horn. So I took that on board. Part of Nina Horn’s sadness was that that they told her to perform like Doris Day, not the jazz stuff. She used to say that it used to hurt her artist heart to have to curtail who she is. Those words were so poignant. Because when I looked at Stella, I asked why would she be sad, she has a happy marriage. But she always had to put on a happy face to get ahead in the industry. She had a hard time from her black contemporaries and she was oppressed from the white producers who gave her the opportunities, so she couldn’t be true to herself in either camp. She had to find her own way through and she did and she had a longevity of a career.”
Is there a special moment in the show that stands out for you?
“It’s the opera singers. When the old opera singer comes back she knows she is dying. The old opera singer sings on the stage for the last time, knowing she will never sing again ever. When she can’t do it and her younger self comes up – the voice soars. I watch it every night and it breaks my heart; it is just exquisite to hear a pure opera song at that moment of the show. Between that mature voice, and that younger voice, it’s exquisite. The orchestra is so fantastic.”
If you could pick any show to do after this, what would it be?
“I did The Scottsboro Boys, a Kander and Ebb production and played Rosa Parks – that was phenomenal from an acting perspective. But nothing touches this experience for me, I have done musicals for years and this tops everything. ‘That was a blast, I love my life’ as Stella says. I am so blessed.”
Follies will be broadcast live at the following Ster-Kinekor sites on 17, 18, 21 & 22 February 2018. The running time is 180 minutes.
- Cinema Nouveau Rosebank (Johannesburg)
- Ster-Kinekor Gateway Commercial (Durban)
- Cinema Nouveau Brooklyn (Pretoria)
- Cinema Nouveau V & A Waterfront (Cape Town)
Since launching in 2009, National Theatre Live broadcasts have been seen by an audience of over 7 million people at 2500 venues in 60 countries.
For booking information on Follies visit www.sterkinekor.com and the Ster-Kinekor App. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).