BWW Interview: Faeron Wheeler on Making F Creation's Digital Debut at the National Arts Festival's vFringe
With just over a week to go until this year's Virtual National Arts Festival, creatives across the country are having to find ways to showcase their work digitally. Faeron Wheeler behind the production company F Creations discusses how three of their productions are preparing to be on screens at 2020's vFringe.
BWW: What were your initial thoughts when you were first told you had to take your productions digital?
Faeron: I honestly felt deflated to begin with - the thought of not getting to perform for audiences at the festival was a big blow. After having a little mope about the changed world, I got an email from The Edge organisers about how they wanted to keep going and that really inspired me to take our shows digital. The two F Creations productions we were originally taking up to the festival had been accepted into The Edge, a curated space within the Fringe, and I couldn't be happier to be part of this great team.
Sue Diepeveen (director of YOUR PERFECT LIFE and writer and performer of SO YOU WANT TO BE A TROPHY WIFE?) also jumped up and started learning about lighting her theatre for filming and talking to production companies about filming quotes. Between The Edge team and Sue, I had a good feeling that we could pull this new challenge off together. It's really quite something to be part of a team like this and I am so grateful to all of them.
BWW: What has the preparation and process for that been like?
Faeron: Firstly, we had to wrap our heads around what would be possible with the new virtual National Arts Festival. This included a number of Zoom webinars, lots of Q&A sessions, and a bit of confusion as the festival itself worked out what a virtual event would look like. Once the F Creations team decided that we were going to film our productions and offer them as on-demand content on the vFringe platform, we set about planning what that would entail. Of course, we were also battling with lockdown regulations and wondering if we were going to have time to rehearse, film and edit before the festival deadline. It's been a case of a lot of planning and waiting, and then full steam ahead as soon as we were allowed to go.
BWW: When were you able to get the ball rolling with your productions? I imagine under level 5 and level 4 of lockdown things might have been stricter for you getting teams together.
Faeron: Under level 5, we could merely talk about what we wanted to do via chat and videoconferencing. Thankfully under level 4 we were able to get back to rehearsals and also film. Sue did the mountain of paperwork necessary to get The Drama Factory certified and safe to film. We also continued to rehearse via Skype for YOUR PERFECT LIFE (just like we did last year when Erika Marais lived in Hong Kong). During this preparation time, I also convinced Erika that she should film her one-woman show JAM EVERY OTHER DAY while we were at it and make it a three-show festival for F Creations. She jumped on the idea and started rehearsing via Zoom with her director.
Rehearsing in person and the actual filming were interesting times; masks on while moving set around and whenever you needed to be closer than 2 metres to someone else. Thankfully the new venue for The Drama Factory is nice and spacious so it was easy to social distance for the most part.
BWW: So your company is doing three shows for vFringe. Which of these have you found most challenging to translate virtually?
Faeron: They all presented a challenge as the entire thing was a learning curve for us. The best thing is that none of the shows have particularly complicated lighting or sound cues, or any set changes. We opted to film the plays as plays, rather than to try and make them more filmic. We used three cameras with different shots set up and filmed the show in one take. The editor then cut from those three recordings. We wanted to give the feel of watching live theatre with these pieces.
BWW: Two of your shows are returning pieces, and one is brand-new. The newest piece - SO YOU WANT TO BE A TROPHY WIFE? - will make its debut at the NAF virtually. How has this changed the approach to the production?
Faeron: I think it's made things a little bit more urgent in terms of the rehearsals and getting the script ready for Sue and director, Wynne Bredenkamp. The initial lockdown meant they couldn't meet and rehearse physically, and they are also losing out on the time just before the festival to rehearse because the plays need to be filmed with enough time for editing before we submit by 20 June. However, these two are very good at what they do and are creating something great.
BWW: Will you be embarking on being involved with any other shows this year aside from vFringe?
Faeron: Our plan is/was to tour later this year with YOUR PERFECT LIFE to Hong Kong. We aren't sure yet how or if that will be possible but are keeping our fingers crossed for November. Other than that, we'll have to wait and see what happens as lockdown restrictions are eased further and when borders open up.
BWW: What will you miss most about being at the National Arts Festival?
Faeron: It's weird because the fun part of the festival for me is the performing and now that is done before the festival even starts! We don't get to wake up every day and know that we will be on stage in front of an audience. My favourite part is always the chaos just before a show: waiting for the previous show to move their set out and leave the dressing room, setting up our show, and then focusing on calming down and changing into character.
I think I'll miss but also not miss the constant handing out of flyers and looking for space on walls to put up posters. That's hard work but can be very rewarding as you get to connect with festival goers. And then there's the personalities that inhabit the Village Green. That I will definitely miss!
On the other hand, the virtual edition of NAF gives us an opportunity to reach audiences all over the world. My family in the UK will be able to see these productions for the first time. That's definitely a blessing that has come out of this.
Photo credit: F Creations
Works will be available every day of the Virtual National Arts Festival 2020 on demand through their website and other internet-based platforms from 25 June to 5 July. Visit the NAF website for more details: https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/ and follow F Creations on Facebook for updates: https://www.facebook.com/FCreationsCT/