A theatre-maker with the soul of a poet, Andi Colombo is ready to leave her heart on the stage in 'i want to write you a submarine' at the intimate Toneelhuis. She shares her inspiration with us in this Spotlight Q&A.
1. When did your love for theatre first blossom? And is it still an inspiration for you at this stage of your theatre journey?
I started performing at age 5, and never really stopped. It's been a lifelong journey - first primarily as an actor, and later I added writing and directing into the mix. The thing I've always loved most about theatre is the way it fosters connection. That's really what i want to write you a submarine is about, as well. There's nothing like performing live and having the opportunity to connect with people in real time, to shape time and space and build a whole world for an audience. It's electric.
2. Independent theatre, especially currently, is for the brave and truly passionate theatre makers. You are clearly part of that group. Where does your drive and commitment to keep creating and performing come from?
I really believe in the power of story. For my graduation piece out of university, I made a show called PAN., which was all about anxiety, which I was massively struggling with at that stage. I felt so alone in that. Making the show was a way to express that feeling, nothing more. And yet, when I put the show on stage, without fail, someone always approaches me afterwards and says that they felt represented by that show, or that they left with a better understanding of someone they love, or that the show spoke to them. Stories connect us, they shine a light through the darkness and say, "come join me here. we can be together." I believe so fiercely in the power of storytelling that I couldn't stop writing stories if I tried. If my work can make one person feel less alone in a feeling, then I've done my job.
3. What would you want to say to people to convince them of the importance of supporting small, independent productions?
Theatre makers in South Africa are world-class. You only have to look at how our work performs overseas to know that. But the truth of it is this: none of us are in it for the money, or the fame. It's a tough industry with very little support. When a show is on stage, it means that a group of people have fought hard for it, that they've poured their hearts and souls into it, that they stand behind it. And when you support small productions, I can guarantee that there's a theatre-maker on the other end of Webtickets or Quicket doing a happy dance that someone has bought a ticket. I would so encourage the general public to watch more independent work, and support the industry. There is incredible work out there, and you might find your new favourite passion!
4. If someone has not seen an Andi Colombo show before, how would you describe your style of theatre to them?
I would say my style tries to blend the real with the poetic. Sometimes, like in i want to write you a submarine, this means it's just me on stage playing myself and performing poetry. In other cases, like my new show Double Star, which is on in December at the Baxter, it's a case of blending realism with more poetic elements. Really, I'm interested in the ways that poetic can be layered on top of the real, like a collage.
5. How do you generally approach the creation of your shows? Do you wait for inspiration or do you actively go in search of it?
Usually there's some kind of impulse or idea that comes to me. It varies from show to show - sometimes it's in a dream, or I'll see a moment between people in public that sparks an idea, or it's just a flash of inspiration. And then usually it takes me a while to feel like the impulse is strong enough to actually make something. When I feel like the idea is strong enough, I start writing.
6. Where did the specific idea for ‘i want to write you a submarine’ come from?
I've been wanting to create a solo show that blends poetry, song and story for a few years now, and to be honest, I've never felt brave enough or confident enough to pull it off. A few months ago, I was chatting to Nardus Engelbrecht (co-founder of TONEELHUIS) and asked if they had space available, and I decided to be brave and I booked it! Then I made the show from there.
7. Is there an overarching theme to the show?
The show is really about trying and failing at love, and about being brave enough to try again once you've had your heart broken.
8. The decision to present the title in lower case feels meaningful. What’s the intent/message behind that decision?
The play itself is really an investigation into trying, and not quite reaching. I think part of the choice to go with lower case is about representing a "first draft" of feeling - an honesty with no edits. The way we write when we are not thinking about grammar. I wanted the show title to feel like it came out of a place of free-flow, of blurting out your feelings, where there is no time to go back and capitalize.
9. You say that it’s a mix of poetry, song and storytelling in an intimate experience that is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always honest. That’s a lot of elements to incorporate into a narrative. How has Andi (as director and writer) approached the guidance of Andi (as performer) to package all those aspects in a cohesive way?
It was really about following the material for me. I looked at everything I had generated and shaped and guided it from there. I had quite a strong impulse about the 'feeling' of the piece, so it was more about trying to follow that feeling all the way to the end.
10. Do you have a favorite line from the show that you can share without giving too much away?
"Writing a submarine means free falling, to leap while looking, to hand over the remote. To say: here I am. Here you are. Now what?"
11. What would you like audience members to take away from ‘i want to write you a submarine’?
I would like audience members to feel like they've really connected with me at the end of the show, and perhaps that they've related to some of the material. I try not to think too hard about the audience's response, but rather to focus on really being present with them in that moment, and being honest. This is really a piece about being honest with yourself, and I'd like the audience to feel that I was honest with them, too.
'i want to write you a submarine', written, directed and performed by Andi Colombo, is on at the ToneelHuis (55 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town), weekends from 18 to 27 November 2022, with tickets (ranging from R150 - R200) available online via Quicket.