Greg Homann: An unfolding drama

Greg Homann is many years into a hugely productive career in theatre, in capacities ranging from director to producer, teacher, actor and writer – so the only surprising thing about his being awarded the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award (SBYAA) for Theatre is that he just about shrugged off the "young" tag before it arrived.

“This was the last year I was eligible for it,” he smiles.

What difference does the award make in real terms?

“If you had asked me that before I knew I was going to be receiving it I would have given you a very different answer,” Homann says.

“I’ve had about five months sitting with the news now and I’ve realised that it’s very significant. It’s given me the impetus to choose work that challenges me in a way I wouldn’t have chosen if I hadn’t won the award. Rather than seeing it as an opportunity to relax, I’m seeing it as a way to further myself and be braver and bolder in the work that I want to make.

“It builds confidence, which, strangely, I wasn’t really expecting.”

The expected initial response might have more to do with the pressure of expectation.

“It is rather daunting,” Homann agrees.

“I have to present a new work at the National Arts Festival this year, which is exciting. But there was also a lot of introspection and reflection that came with the news – it made me ask questions about what I wanted to say as an artist.

“And when you look at the list of past winners, you say, ‘Ooh, gosh – am I really in this group? Can I live up to this?'”

Part of the SBYAA prize is funding for a new show at the National Arts Festival (NAF) – a boon for any arts practitioner.

“To have the luxury of having a guaranteed show at the festival is wonderful,” says Homann.

“I can’t give too many details about my production, as the NAF line-up is only announced in March, but I can say that it has to do with the position we’ve found ourselves in with Nelson Mandela’s passing and being 20 years into democracy. I do try to find an amusing element in all of that – the relationship between tragedy and comedy is implicit in our daily lives in South Africa, so why not put that on the stage?”

Before that, Homann launches Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks at the Auto & General Theatre On The Square in Sandton.

“It’s a beautiful little two-hander that’s played on Broadway,” says Homann, “which has Judy Ditchfield in it.”

Ditchfield is suddenly a regular on Johannesburg stages again, having recently starred in Kevin Feather’s revue Tarts at the same venue.

“She hasn’t been on stage in a play in 14 years,” says Homann.

“She’s been doing musicals, and she’s also well-known from Isidingo. She found the play and gave it to me, and I read it and loved it. It’s a very delicate play. It features an elderly retired woman – Judy will be playing above her age – who hires a dance instructor, played by Jose Domingos, who is in his late thirties, to give her ballroom dancing lessons in her condominium in Florida in the US.

“There’s a very poignant relationship between two people who start out as quite bitter and cynical, which creates quite a lot of humour. It’s nice to watch people like that, even if you don’t want to be friends with them. And over time they connect through their cynicism and their pain. They find a companionship that helps to humanise them. The play has a lot of heart. We’ve been crying a lot in the rehearsal room.”

The play has done well around the world, having already been produced over 50 times.

“It’s been translated into something like 30 languages,” says Homann.

“The playwright, Richard Alfieri, is not, as far as I know, particularly well-known for any other play. This one has just taken hold of audiences.”

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