BWW Interview: Nicole Fortuin On Being 'Flawed, Layered and Vocal' in OLEANNA

BWW Interview: Nicole Fortuin On Being 'Flawed, Layered and Vocal' in OLEANNAComing to The Fugard Theatre this month, OLEANNA is a two-character play by David Mamet. Stripped down to a discussion between a female student and her male professor, it addresses issues of inequality, language, gender, and more. In her role as student Carol, Nicole Fortuin delves deeper into her experience with this confrontational drama.

BWW: What attracted you to OLEANNA in the first place?

Nicole: To be painstakingly honest, my longing to be on stage was the catalyst for auditioning. Once I got the go ahead, I was sent a monologue of Carol's (still one of my favorites) that was so powerful, relevant and emotive that I immediately knew I wanted to be part of this work. When I read the whole play before my call-back, I was a bit taken aback by the multiplicity of layers Mamet addresses in it. Usually I prefer to have a sense of the play beforehand but making new discoveries as we dissected and unpacked the text has been vital.

What has been your favorite part of the process with the play so far?

Nicole: I know that people say this all the time, but it has all been exceptional for me, for different reasons. Working with Alan (Committie, in the role of John) and Greg (Karvellas, director) has been wonderful. We've laughed, had heated arguments and have all done some inevitable introspection while doing our best to remain honest with how we tell this story. I've also enjoyed the challenge of having so much to say as a character. I am not a very talkative person and to take on this text with only myself and Alan on a stage was terrifying.

Learning about myself while unpacking the research that has gone into sexual harassment as well as power-play in spaces of academia has also been one of my favorite things about this process. It's been painful in some aspects to look back and realize fully what had happened in the past but also to feel optimistic about what is possible in the future.

Did you find Carol a difficult character to portray?

Nicole: I sincerely enjoy playing Carol. I think the biggest difficulty has come in accepting the fact that I cannot protect her or prevent her downfalls. There are particular things she says and does that are frustrating or annoying and because we're putting on this play at this time, I know that she will be judged for it in some cases. Accepting that the only duty I have is to the text has probably been the most difficult part. The audience needs to make up their own minds without us as actors feeding them too much information. I've also come to realize that playing a flawed, layered, vocal and evolving female character (and at my age) is such an honor and necessity, and inspiring in its own right.

Having studied at university yourself, how could you relate to the issues addressed in the play?

Nicole: The power structures at play in spaces of academia are very, very real. We see this in movements like #feesmustfall. Many discussions have been had and should be on-going about how to address these issues. I hope OLEANNA will create opportunity for discussion for audiences.

How do you find the transition of going from a TV or film set with other crew and cast members, to just you and Alan on stage?

Nicole: The experience has been so refreshing! Returning to the theater has been something I've been wanting to do for a while now. I studied theater and it felt like a home-coming of sorts; to flex the theatrical muscles again. In some ways I feel more exposed, but most of the time I feel liberated. I'm free to move around, express Carol using my full vocal and physical landscape is something that is not as easy to do on a film set.

I think a lot of the ease transitioning back and forth is having helpful people to work with. I've felt very safe - which is important for an actor to play and make mistakes and then find your feet again. Greg, Alan and Ulibo (stage manager) have been so great.

What would you prefer: a busy set or borderline-empty stage?

Nicole: I would prefer to be able to be in both for all of my days. Whatever space you're in you're learning, whenever you're learning you're getting better. Fundamentally, I realized a while ago when my first job after university was as a lead on a TV series is that within the two mediums, the main shift is who your audience is: camera vs. auditorium of people. In both capacities your job is to tell a story truthfully and to make sure your audience hears you in whatever ways are most helpful.

With you and Alan being the only cast members, you must have formed a good friendship. What method do you draw on to then get on stage and adjust to seeing him in the light of a lecturer?

Nicole: We have become good friends, yes. Alan is very funny, thoughtful and open-minded. I think the biggest thing we have in common is a commitment to telling this story in the best way possible. We share a work ethic and some basic ideas about humanity. I'm not entirely sure if there is a particular methodology involved other than entering the world of play. I rely on myself to step into Carol. Once that has happened, she only sees her professor.

Aside from academia, what other spheres in which inequality operates does the play speak to?

Nicole: Sexism. Language. Perceptions of culture. Ageism. I also think it's relevant in the theater because it's relevant in society. We are addressing certain issues more than ever before (#MeToo, etc.) and hopefully this will be an extension of that coupled with helpful, positive action.

The #MeToo movement gets a lot of coverage in American media - so why do you think OLEANNA is an important play in the South African climate?

I think South Africans can sometimes be a bit more conservative in relation to the rest of the world, or more likely to turn a blind eye to certain realities. If we can create a space that challenges audiences to look beyond what is comfortable, then change is more likely. I think it's an important work to see because all the issues it touches on are issues we face on a global scale.

Lastly, who would you like to encourage the most to see OLEANNA?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about addressing problems is talking only to the victims about how to address their issues. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to see the play. Everyone.

Photo credit: Claude Barnardo

OLEANNA will be presented in the Fugard Studio Theatre from 14 September for a limited season. It will be performed on Tuesday to Saturdays at 8pm with a matinee on Saturdays at 3pm. Sunday performances will be presented from Sunday 30 September at 3pm. Tickets from R150 are available directly through the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or online at PLEASE NOTE: OLEANNA carries an age restriction of 16 for mature content and violence.

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From This Author Lindsay Kruger

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