We are very excited to see theatres slowly, but surely, reopening and adapting to the new-normal of Covid-19 protocols. The audiences may be smaller at the moment, yet the energy and excitement of taking a theatre seat feels like it has doubled. One of the entertainment spots open and granting audiences that opportunity of a giddy theatre-high is Gate69 with their latest production, EROS.
We did a Q&A with Brendan van Rhyn, who everyone in Cape Town knows as the outspoken Cathy Specific, about the latest Trolley Dollies offering, EROS, and what it means to be back on stage.
1. How did you and the Trolley Dollies stay positive and focussed during the first hard lockdown?
That’s the million dollar question. At times were weren’t focussed OR positive; at times we thought we were going to lose our business, everything we had worked so hard for, sacrificed for, would be taken from us. As hard as it was, we’re still here to tell our story so it seems we somehow managed. We dug deep, kept each other motivated and just knew we had to save Gate69. The hard lockdown gave us the time to review our business and work on a whole new model going forward. Change was inevitable as much as it was imperative and we have brought about quite a few changes: All for the better though, we have streamlined things and are hopefully now working smarter. Our landlord was also incredible during this time and was very much our saving grace. We joke and say that we have no fingerprints left because we held on for dear life. If something so special is worth saving, then that’s exactly what you do, you hold on.
2. How does it feel to be back on stage doing what you love?
If feels great! We are so fortunate to be doing what we do best and that is making people smile. So many performers have no idea when they will be back in front of an audience once more. We promised ourselves never to take this gift for granted again. When something so integral is suddenly taken away from you, you realise that there is no place for complacency, if anything we now have to strive to be better than ever. We are just so grateful that our doors are once again open and that we can continue spreading that all important Gate69 magic. We are also so appreciative of those patrons, new and old who have supported us. We will be around as long as they want to see us!
3. Does Cathy Specific already have a collection of fabulous masks that matches all her fantastic outfits?
She has one or two yes, but wears mostly a see-through plastic mask that covers the whole face and goes with any outfit. After all, she doesn’t spend almost three hours painting that face to keep it hidden!
4. Tell us about EROS: Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
We are in the very capable hands of Christopher Dudgeon who writes all Gate69’s material with a tiny bit of input from the rest of us every now and then. To be honest, we have always wanted to spend just a day in that mind of his, only to come back exhausted no doubt! What goes on in that head of his is nothing short of astounding! With an honours degree in Literature and Linguistics there is no better equipped person to guide us from show to show. We trust him implicitly. I think in general, EROS, being the Greek word for ‘love’ is something that we could all do with a bit more during these uncertain and trying times. We thought people needed to feel alive again, to feel wanted, to feel valued, to know they’re glorious and to love themselves once more. Throw in the Trolley Dollies as you’ve never seen them before, add two saucy male dancers and a gorgeous female singer and dancer, and you have a product that has people begging for more. We knew we had to offer our audiences something that wasn’t Covid related to start off the new year with a bang. It really is the hottest ticket in town, on so many levels and for so many reasons.
5. Stories inspired by the Greek Gods appear to be a favourite theatre narrative, since, well, Mount Olympus arose as the first party palace. Why do you think mortals have such a fascination with these deities?
I think we are so fascinated by the Greek pantheon, because unlike monotheistic religions like Christianity, the Greek gods reflect our own humanity back at us. They are more like fallible superheroes than the serene, omniscient, perfect religious figures we are familiar with. They are (mostly) beautiful, have special powers and can basically do anything they want to, but they are also susceptible to temptation, bad decision making, vanity, jealousy and even heartbreak. The ancient Greeks used their myths to explain and contextualise human behaviour, as well as the inexplicable and ever-changing fortunes of our lives on this planet, and that still resonates with us today.
6. What’s your favourite part of the show? Can you give us a hint without giving too much away?
The show is truly spectacular from start to finish, I couldn’t possibly chose a favourite moment. The choreography is energetic, precise and varied; the choice of music is sublime. There is something for everyone, young (PG18) and old. As the announcement states at the beginning of the show - there is full frontal nudity and foul language, why else would you be here? In true Gate69 style we push the boundaries without ever crossing ‘that line’. People have come to expect that of us; what they also expect is the unexpected. There’s always a surprise element which really is one of the many reasons they keep coming back for more. We as a cast have such a wonderful chemistry on stage which the audience can not only see but feel as well. The show is debaucherously beautiful and unapologetically sexy. Just what the doctor ordered!
7. We've spoken about the inspiration for the show, so what can Gate69 patrons expect when they book their seats for the Eros-experience? What makes this a quintessential Trolley Dollies production?
Patrons can expect to be transported to a place they’ve never been before … and if they have, a place where they will most certainly want to return. The Eros-experience will give them hope and the courage to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s a SPOTLIGHT, so you better shine bitches!
8. Why do you think people need a socially-safe theatre-night-out now more than ever?
We have always maintained that Gate69 IS a safe space, especially for those who are different. Now we have also ensured it is socially safe, not only because these guidelines have been prescribed for us, but also because it is our duty and the responsible thing to do. But just as importantly, theatre is so necessary during hard times. It is the escapism that people need, that people crave. That lifeline to just hold onto, the reassurance that all will be ok; to just for a few hours forget how crap life is at the moment. I know it’s all relative and some have been merely ‘inconvenienced’ by it all but everyone takes from live theatre what they need to, what they have to. Theatre feeds the soul, it nourishes the senses and in some small or big way makes you realise it’s something you can’t do without.
9. Why do you think drag as a performance art has such a unique ability to address that need and uplift people when they most need to find hope?
Drag is the perfect performance art for the current climate of uncertainty, because it totally removes an audience member from the stress of their day to day existence. Drag is humanity heightened and that immediately changes a person’s perspective, even if only for the duration of the performance. It is an art form entirely based on the expression of joy – a celebration of what it is to be a human being free of boundaries, real life struggles and, most importantly, concern for what other people think. When you allow yourself to let go of those constraints and revel in the possibilities of your own humanity, you are free. A drag queen is an expression of freedom, and freedom is what we all hope for in the very near future.
10. We see there was a Schalk Bezuidenhout show “Feeling Good” for two nights at Gate69. Will audiences in future more frequently see other creatives visiting the Purple Palace?
Yes absolutely! We’ve just had the inimitable Amanda Strydom with us a few weeks ago for one performance only which sold out quickly. We intend to bring her back in July for two nights only. Schalk was with us on the 12th and 13th of April, and both shows sold out: He also comes with a huge fan base which is perfect for both parties involved; it introduces a new audience to our theatre who might not have ventured through our doors before. We have had a few other performers in the last four years, Christina Bianco from New York and twice before we’ve had Ceri Dupree from Wales. One a vocal impressionist and the other a female impersonator respectively. Christopher also intends to write shows for other performers at Gate69 in order to free up The Trolley Dollies for any work outside of The Purple Palace. It’s time we spread our wings and shared our magic with the rest of the world!
You have until 1 May 2021 to see EROS at Gate69. Thereafter, Cathy Specific herself is set to bare all from 6 to 22 May 2021 in CHATTY CATHY: A One WoMAN Show. See all the show and booking details online at https://gate69.co.za.