Behind the scenes at the National Arts Festival: Faeron Wheeler

Several of SBAM’s artistes went to the annual National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown last month. We chatted to them about their experiences at the world-famous event.

Q1: Tell us about the production you were in.

Your Perfect Life is a brand new play that was written by myself and fellow SBAM artist, Erika Marais. We took our inspiration from our own lives and expanded on the idea of how two very different women can still relate to each other and also feel the same pressures from society to achieve more. The play is set at a 20 year high school reunion, and you can just imagine all the self-reflection and judgment that goes on at an event like that. Our two characters used to be friends in school but have gone on very different paths since then and haven’t seen or spoken to each other in 20 years.

Q2: Tell us who you played and what your character is all about.

My character is Caitlyn Dear and she is based on me but not entirely. She is very much focused on her career and not on relationships. She’s also pushing 40 and feeling all those pressures from society that say she should have a family by now and there’s something wrong with her for not. When she meets Karlien (Erika Marais’ character) at the reunion, she starts to feel quite overwhelmed and a little bit bitter about how alone she is. In her mind, Karlien’s life must be better because she has a husband – a companion to stick by her and support her all the time. It doesn’t even occur to Caitlyn that Karlien could be jealous of her single life.

It was an interesting challenge, writing this character and playing her on stage, because she is so close to me and my own life experiences. I had to be quite truthful about my life and the choices I’ve made over the years in order to write the dialogue properly.

Q3: How did you find the festival this year?

Two words come to mind: exhilarating and exhausting! There was just so much to see and experience, plus the added pressure of performing a play we’d written. This was the first time I’d ever performed at NAF. It was so exciting and I’m happy to say that it lived up to what I’d hoped it would be like. It was also very tough. We were constantly thinking about marketing the show: where to put up posters or hand out flyers. Everyone you talked to was a networking or marketing moment, and you had to put your best foot forward all the time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the buzz of the festival though. All these people who’ve come to be entertained and experience great art. And all these creators who’ve come to share their art with the world. It’s a great place to be. I love it.

Q4: What was the favourite thing that you saw while there?

Their are three contenders for my top show this year and I can’t pick between them:

  1. The Blue Period of Milton van der Spuy
  2. The Old Man and the Sea
  3. I am Somebody

Q5: What is your stand-out moment for your experience at NAF this year?

That has to be the moment I got the call from the Fringe Office to tell us that we’d won a Standard Bank Ovation Award for Your Perfect Life. There’s nothing quite like answering an unknown number on your phone and a) it’s not a spam call and b) it’s news so good you can’t quite comprehend it in the moment. There was an awful lot of happy tears, girlish screams, hugging and goofy grins after that phone call. I’m so proud of this play and so happy for our amazing team to be recognised like this.

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