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Steven Stead

Interview with the Director of Puss In Boots

Following the success of Shrek, Kickstart Theatre presents Puss In Boots, which has been showing at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City.

The show ends this weekend; 23 July 2017, but I spoke to well established and accomplished, Director and Writer, Steven Stead.

What is it about directing that you love?


“When you are an actor, you are always looking inwards, you are always worried about how you sound, how you look, how you feel. When you are a director, you are always looking outwards, you are always looking at other people. You are observing the big picture. It is a healthier head-space for me personally. It gives me more perspective.”

Do you think that anyone can direct?


“No I think it is a very specific skillset. I think you have to be one third psychologist, one third uber planner, and one third kinder garden teacher.”

There are Directors who are the ‘actors-director’, and then you get the director who is just there to direct and the actor must get on with it.

How would you describe your style?


“Well, somewhere between the two, because you can’t ask sensitive people like actors and artists to do things, and make them jump through hoops if they don’t feel safe. So firstly, you have to make people feel safe in a room. I am a facilitator, so I’m there to make people feel safe and to create, and in order to do that, you have to put parameters down, because like a child, if you don’t have parameters to work with, then you just feel like you’ve been thrown into the deep end and there all so many options, and what do you do? So I like to give very strong guidelines, and say that this is the period I’m setting it in, this is the mood I want, this is the style I’m going for… so that everyone knows that we are all on the same page. And then we depart from there. I tend to be slightly prescriptive, but then it depends on the kind of genre I am directing. If I’m directing a pantomime, I am very specific about what I want, because the comic beats are all so specific and timed, and the style is so specific.”

With PUSS IN BOOTS, a lot of people have commented that it has moved back to that traditional pantomime style – explain to me the difference between the traditional pantomime and the pantomime that people know in South Africa?


“Well, I don’t actually know, because I haven’t really seen many Joburg pantomimes. I only know the pantomimes that I grew up on. They were produced in Durban by an Englishman, John Moss. He had performed in the original pantomimes on ice. When he came out to South Africa he brought Pantomime with him, so I learned it from him, which goes directly back to traditional turn of the century English Panto – that is the style that we have developed in Durban. This is very different from what Janice has probably done in Joburg, where she has made it into a very South African commodity. I have followed the very strong traditions in the Panto; the sing a long, the dame, the ‘it’s behind you’ routine, the chase within the auditorium, rhyming couplets for the immortal figures, all the slosh scenes, all those are elements that I have incorporated in every Panto that we do. Because it is part of the tradition of pantomime. The actors do bring their own stamp and contemporary interpretation, and their understanding. All the political and contemporary references make Panto so interesting.”

What was it about PUSS IN BOOTS that made you want to do this show?


“In Durban we had done a whole lot of girls’ stories, princess plays – we did the Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. So we wanted to do one that was more for the lads. Puss in Boots is a novel one, and after the success of SHREK, we went for PUSS IN BOOTS, which is pat of the franchise, which came after the film. I loved it and that it would be a great basis to create a Panto, one I had never seen before, which was also quite challenging, because I write these shows as well. I had never seen a PUSS IN BOOTS pantomime version so it was totally up to my imagination. It was exciting.”

Do you prefer having the freedom to write your own play?


“I don’t actually, I write out of necessity. With the pantomime because there are so many traditions and formulas, when I’m writing a panto I feel safe because I am writing within those parameters, a medium I am comfortable with.”

“You won’t find me writing plays and musicals. I am not that kind of writer. I am not an original creator, I like to take a piece that already works and give it three dimensional life on stage. The panto is an exception because I have to write it.”

There was obviously something you were looking for when auditioning your actors – what was it?


“The ability to play bold and big with complete sincerity. Pantomime is very bold, like a cartoon but if it is not done from a place of integrity, and doesn’t have emotional truth, it is the most empty and boring art form to watch. I wanted actors who were able to fill that big space but do it with lots of heart.”

Any favourite moment in the show for you?


“For beauty of tone, pretty pictures and the sense of gentle fairy tale spirit, I love Ilse Klink singing ‘Hero’ in the forest scene, to the prince and princess. That is one of my favourite parts. Then the scene between the Dame and the boys makes me laugh all the time, the Dame says ‘I want you to follow my instructions to the letter’ – I always laugh at that.”

Why should people see PUSS IN BOOTS?


“It’s the most fun you can have as a family during the July holidays in Joburg. It is a very joyous experience, to have a family sit together and come in as 5 separate people, and then leave as a unit. I have seen it. They all sing together, they all shout together, they enjoy different aspects of the production, but it really brings a family together in the most profound way. The sense of joy that the adults feel when they watch the kids letting go and engaging is momentous; you can’t put a price tag on that.”