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Actress brings performer’s ‘dramedy’ to life

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Actress, teacher, writer, singer, dancer, and chorographer Talia Kodesh has performed in many acclaimed musicals, but she’s now about to launch her first “musical dramedy”, which she co-wrote.

The show, Actress, that Kodesh and musician and renowned arts journalist, Bruce Dennill, wrote is hitting the stage on 27 September.

Actress, which is directed by Daniel Geddes, is described as “a funny, moving story of a woman trying to define [and succeed] in her different roles – actress, wife, mother, daughter, teacher, and more – while juggling the complexities of all of those responsibilities”.

Kodesh matriculated from King David Linksfield, and studied a Diploma in Musical Theatre at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria. “I timed it perfectly, because as I graduated, there was an influx of international musicals. I hit a really good wave, and got into lots of shows and toured a lot,” said Kodesh, whose stage credits include The Sound of Music, Cats, We Will Rock You, Rent, Chicago, Beauty and the Beast, High School Musical, and The Last Five Years.

In 2010, she moved to New York with her boyfriend – now her husband – and rediscovered her passion for dancing. When she came back to South Africa, she started teaching dance classes and choreographing various projects. During that time, she had two children, now 10 and eight years old.

“I started to miss the sensation of singing, dancing, and acting all at the same time,” she said. “It coincided perfectly with wanting to do a one-woman show. The seed was planted many, many years ago in New York.”

Two years ago, she and her co-writer began developing the script. “When I asked Bruce if he would be prepared to write with me, he said yes, but he would keep me accountable. ‘We’re not starting a project that’s going to land up in the bottom drawer,’ he said. So, we would meet at a coffee shop once a week, and write until we had a solid structure.”

They showed the work-in-progress to some close theatre colleagues such as Gina Shmukler and Bryan Schimmel, who gave feedback and ideas. “We redrafted and redrafted until we got to a point where we thought we better just hold hands, close our eyes, and jump off the cliff,” she said. They sent the script to Collett Dawson of the CoLab Network, who agreed to produce the show.

Kodesh said that they started with a “write-what-you-know” approach and, in the beginning, the show was quite autobiographical. “I thought, well, New York is a good place. Let’s start plotting from there. But with every draft that we rewrote, we realised that the character’s emotional development and the movement of the piece needed to have a little bit more nuance. The stakes needed to be higher, the ups needed to be more up, the downs needed to be more down, so as we were redrafting, we were adding more and more fiction. Now, most of the storyline is fiction.”

The story is set in New York and South Africa, and follows an actress “on her journey through stress and success, anger and auditions, triumph and tears, dance and delirium, and perhaps the possibility of peace”.

“The character is an ambitious person,” said Kodesh. “She’s hardworking, a bit of a perfectionist, but she’s also quite quirky. She can be a little bit highly strung at times because she really wants to do well. She’s got a great sense of humour, quite self-effacing. She’s passionate about theatre. And she’s well-meaning.

“She fails a lot, whether it’s her own failure or just the failure of the system or that she’s just juggling too much and not managing to keep anything together. She has a very positive aspect to her nature. And I love how by the end of the show, she’s been through a lot of ups and downs to get to the very centre of who she is,” Kodesh said.

“The main theme is that she’s trying to be so many things for so many other people, always with a smile on her face, and eventually, she realises that she needs to do what she wants to do her way. She does kind of blossom towards the end of the show, which is lovely.”

Kodesh said the storyline was merely a platform to portray different life themes, and should appeal to all viewers. “As much as this woman is an actress who becomes a mom, our hope is that the greater themes of the show resonate with the viewer no matter their gender or age bracket, where they come from, whether they have children or not, whether they are professionals or not. The main themes are success and failure; loss and discovery; heartache and triumph, which I think everyone can relate to in some way.

“We’re constantly hiding ourselves because we’re too scared to show failure,” she said. “I hope that the honesty of the piece will make people realise that we’re not actually alone and that everybody is falling apart, everybody is floundering, everybody is tripping up all the time, and that it’s OK because we’ll be OK in the end.”

Her greatest hope is that the play can tour and that the essence of the character will resonate with performers and audiences anywhere in the world. “Most of all, Bruce Dennill’s song writing is so powerful, it would be an absolute travesty if it didn’t play again on other stages and if other singers didn’t get to experience singing it, because he’s a master storyteller.”

The production team features some of South Africa’s best, with multiple Naledi, Fleur Du Cap, and Vita awards and nominations.

  • Actress opens at Pieter Toerien’s Studio Theatre at Montecasino on 27 September, and runs until 8 October.

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