BWW Interview: Greg Karvellas on Directing Acclaimed Production of His Favorite Fugard Play
As The Fugard Theatre's Artistic Director since November 2018, Greg Karvellas has an impressive number of productions behind his name. His latest offering - STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT by Athol Fugard - comes to The Fugard Studio Theatre this month, following an esteemed run at the KKNK Festival. Karvellas chats to BroadwayWorld about directing this powerful "fever dream of a play".
BWW: Let's start off with - what made you want to take on STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT?
Greg: The idea to do the show came about after a meeting with Hugo Theart, the Artistic Director of the KKNK festival. We were looking for a project for The Fugard and the KKNK to co-produce and STATEMENTS came up. In an instant we both realised it was perfect and a text we both wanted to present.
BWW: Coming from KKNK with 5 Kanna Award nominations, what was a highlight of staging STATEMENTS there for you?
Greg: Having the opportunity to unpack such a rich and deeply complex text with two amazing actors and a creative team who have risen to the challenge. It has been such a rewarding and exciting journey, I can't wait to share it with Cape Town audiences.
BWW: And what was the most challenging part of your directing journey with this production?
Greg: It's a deeply complex text and, added to that, the nudity is a challenging element. I had to formulate a process that gave myself and the actors space to unpack the text fully; as well as create a safe and creative environment for the actors to explore the nudity required by the piece. I have rolled the dice on a few elements in the show and I wasn't sure how audiences would react - thankfully it has been a good response. Another challenge was to find a way to have the production represent the time it is set in (1966) as well as highlight the now hugely relevant themes around human rights abuse and surveillance. Working with the creative team, Wolf Britz on Set and Lighting and Charl-Johan Lingefelder and David Classen on sound, I have put the play into a conceptual space rather than a realistic one as well as turned the show into a 2-hander by representing the Detective as a machine of surveillance rather than it being played by an actor. Pulling all these strands together was a challenge but a deeply satisfying one.
BWW: Tell us a bit more about the process of working with Marlo (Minnaar) and Liezl (de Kock). What made them standout for the leading roles?
Greg: Oh man, what a beautifully creative and generous pair of performers! I saw so many incredible actors in the auditions, but when Liezl and Marlo did the scene (they had only just met on the day of the audition) I knew in my heart that they were the actors I wanted to collaborate with. They have been so generous, brave and honest and I am so grateful for having had this process with them.
BWW: Written nearly 50 years ago, how do you strike that balance with making the subject matter of STATEMENTS fresh and relevant while still staying true to the space it was created from?
Greg: The beauty of Athol's writing lies in his (scary) insight into human nature. All of his work is centered around the human experience. The world is changing so fast but one thing that doesn't see change that quickly is the human condition. It may well be packaged differently, but ultimately: human then, is human now. STATEMENTS deals with surveillance as a tool of oppression; in the 60s it was the apartheid police spying on people and kicking doors down to take pictures of them while in the act of making love. Now all you need is an IP address and some basic online information, and you can swing the vote of a country, bribe someone or destroy a life.
BWW: I personally love Fugard plays for their unapologetic rawness and real-time confrontation; do you find your approach for directing a Fugard play different from that of (say) a more lighthearted SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE-esque production?
Greg: My approach to work is always an open and collaborative one. I work hard to find the joy of rehearsing a text with actors, even with serious work. We have had some really light moments along with some very heavy ones unpacking the world of Frieda and Errol, especially in relation to the world we live in today.
BWW: Is there more pressure for you directing a Fugard play and staging it at its namesake theatre? Or do you find each production comes with own pressures?
Greg: There is always pressure working on a new show, or re-staging a show - it comes with the territory. I guess there is a little extra (self-exerted) pressure on this one, but knowing Athol and the incredible theatre maker he is and having the team I have standing beside me creating this work, it helps dial the pressure down a little which is great.
BWW: And lastly, do you have a favorite Fugard play yourself? Or which do you hope to direct in the future?
Greg: I have to say my favorite Fugard is and always has been STATEMENTS, it's a fever dream of a play and I have always had it on my list to direct, especially as it is his least produced text. Second in line is MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS and, luckily, I get to work on that next year for The Fugard's 10th Birthday.
Photo credit: Claude Barnardo
STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT will be performed in The Fugard Studio Theatre from 17 September on Tuesday to Saturdays at 8pm with a Saturday matinee at 4pm. Tickets from R160 to R220 can be booked through The Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or through The Fugard Theatre's website at www.thefugard.com. There is an age advisory of 16 years (there is full nudity throughout).