I love my celebrities and I love my community, and when a celebrity is from my community and we can sit in a local coffee shop and have a stunning conversation on a Saturday morning, I know that something’s right with the world.
I’ve been wanting to chat with Ashley Dowds for a long time and when I heard that he is in Constellations at the Studio Theatre at Monte Casino, it was time to quit faffing and do it!
Ashley’s had a long, varied and exciting career in the entertainment business in South Africa and I’m proud that he lives in Kensington!
And there is NOTHING that beats Queen Street in Kensington on a warm Spring Saturday morning chatting to a star I’ve respected for a long time! It’s one of the moments that I will cherish.
I found out via Monte Casino that you’re in a play called Constellations with Janna Ramos Violante. You’re playing a bee keeper and she’s a quantum physicist.
They’re both kind of literary concepts more than the idea of him working as a beekeeper in the show. The whole thing plays on this notion of time.
The play takes place in parallel universes – is this a play out of a ‘what might have been if I’d made that kind of choice?’ idea?
The parallel universe is that at any given time there is a possibility of another outcome and even within each mini scene – some of them happen within seconds – there’s a possibility of another choice that’s made. She models herself on this idea of quantum physics that time is irrelevant. Time doesn’t exist in the quantum realm. It’s a non concept. The metaphor of bees is that they exist in harmony, there’s a system in place that helps to make things simple and meaningful.
It happens quite quickly and it can be a little bit confusing because suddenly you’re thrust into it. And everything’s happening at once. What the audience is given is an offer of four or five scenes. It’s all happening in the same place but they’re all slightly different. They’re the same people but they exist in a different realm.
|Ashley Dowds and Janna Ramos Violante in Constellations|
How do you research a role like this?
When it comes down to the rehearsal process and the chemistry that you’re developing with the other actor, that’s most important. You can do a lot of research and it’s always debatable how much that’s going to inform what you’re doing. Nick Payne wrote a very interesting script and he’d encountered this notion of multiverse and he was looking at quantum physics in various other books. I bought one or two of them to look at this concept of time. You do track a central story line so it’s not like it’s so fragmented that you can’t pick it up.
Ja, it is a nice little theatre. It only seats about 160. It was built largely for experimental work where there is a bit of risk involved. A play like this is fairly niche. If you expect to come in with a beer and be entertained you’re not going to be. If you’re not prepared as an audience to come and listen and focus it’s not for you. This is new story telling in the sense that the way that the language unfolds is very different to what you might expect.
I like a play that tells a story and there aren’t a lot of them around so this is nice.
If a producer puts something on he has to try and lessen the risk and the more he can appeal to a broader audience, the more sure he is of getting some profit.
Alan Swerdlow’s a hell of a director to work with. One of the most highly regarded in the country I think. He’s done The Mousetrap – Handful of Keys and a whole lot of other things. What’s it been like to work with him?
I started with a play called The Other Side of the Swamp which was basically Malcolm Terrey and myself. It was originally produced by Pieter Toerien in the late 70s, 80s with Eckard Rabe in my role, then Alan directed us about 15 years ago. Then I did another play called Hard Love with Alan and it was phenomenal because Alan is Jewish. The play was written by Motti Lerner who is the bad boy of Israeli Theatre. It was about orthodoxy. The notion of religion and faith and fidelity and love. I was cast with an Israeli actress. It’s about the choices that people make. The character I played here was a writer but he’d been brought up in this ultra orthodox community and had married this girl very young and then decided to leave the community. He’s excommunicated.
Have you done one man shows and then shows with big casts?
They’re very different dynamics. To hold a one man show together and to keep the energy is very tiring. It also depends on the kind of story that you’re telling as a one man performer. In a bigger cast like Mouse Trap or Hail Natives which I did at The Market Theatre this year, very different. That was directed by Bobby Heaney – it was originally a Bill Flynn and Paul Slabolepsky play and this was the 20th anniversary of it.
I haven’t been to The Market Theatre for a while. I’ve been a bit nervous. How is it now?
The Market Theatre are developing. You’ve got the main theatre on the right and then you’ve got the theatre on the left which they’re rebuilding.
I know you more for being on TV – Scandal, Generations, Isidingo and as a presenter.
Generations was a sausage machine. Pull in as much typical soapie material and churn it out. Isidingo was a bit more interesting. The character was a little riskier, risqué. He was gay and very camp. I did Scandal for three years. Scandal was going to start as a drama series and then they got the thumbs up to do a soapie. A lot of them start out with big aspirations and they do location shoots, and then they realise they have to save money and shoot everything in a studio. I was there until about 2006.
It must be interesting working on that kind of production. Was it daily or weekly show?
What normally happens with soapies is you have three storylines. You have an A, B, and C storyline and you go through a few weeks when you’re in the A storyline and you’re featured every day and then you take a break. It’s like a war when you’re out in the trenches for a while and then you’re back off.
I’d love to sit on the set of one of those shows one day and see how they do it. Do you have a favourite or most challenging role that you’ve played?
Quite recently there was a fascinating role that I would have loved to have had developed bit more. A real life character, Arthur Goldreich in the new movie Mandela’s Gun. It’s a cameo role. Arthur Goldreich was the front man of Lilliesleaf where Mandela was hiding out. Supposedly when he came back from military training he hid the pistol he was given by Haile Selassie and the movie takes you behind the scenes and leads you through the sting where the police came. And it’s so important, not just the role but learning about our own history. That led me to read a book earlier this year called Rivonia’s Children. If you ever want to know more about the history of the communist party and Umkhontwe Wesizwe, it’s an absolutely phenomenal book.
Going Nowhere Slowly was such a fun show. That must have been awesome but it must have been quite tiring too.
|Book by Ashley Dowds inspired by Going Nowhere Slowly|
I was involved on and off for two seasons. It’s hard to keep something like that going with budgets the way they are, and to keep someone on the road for more than a few weeks is a big ask. The producer used to say the best part was getting the viewing public to get out of their dialing zones. And what he meant was instead of hitting the highway down to Cape Town or Durban, to go off the road and find little towns and villages and explore things you’ve never explored before. We did a lot of the Karoo, and Sutherland, looking at the telescopes. In one spot we broke down and the car had to be repaired, which made the producer very grumpy but we had to stay put which was very different from the experience we’d been having because we filmed quickly and moved on. That was Prince Albert and I met some people there who had moved up from Cape Town to settle in a small town and opened up a B and B. The husband had a major stroke and was incapacitated and couldn’t talk. I learnt about how you handle that situation from a spouse’s perspective. He was working with horses to learn to get back on his feet. He’s lost his language, but the horses understand his tone. And so they understand him more than anyone else. And just down from Prince Albert, there was a very old character called Oute Lappies. He was 92 years old when I met him there. He was part of the Karretjie Mense who according to the Wits University DNA department arethe oldest DNA in the world. Groups of peple in the Karoo region who ended up being itinerant sheep shearers and travelling around in wagons. He would collect junk and make things and he was famous for lanterns. He would collect flattened tin from the railways and at night he would construct this long chain of wagons and light them all with candles, and on this old dusty Karoo Road you’d see this long chain of wagons lit up with candles.
You must have quite a busy schedule. What does a day in your life involve?
I keep busy and also I have a family. Sod’s law is applicable in many cases, because very often the busier you are the more work you get and you have to turn away work. And then you find yourself with nothing the next month.
I’m trying to generate something of my own, I’ve built a little studio and I’m doing sound work. I’m hoping to get into audio books. Recording stuff in my own studio. Partially because I hate getting into traffic and having to travel to studios to do voice work, which is a bread and butter for me. I do commercials, radio and TV voice. It’s still new and something that people are trying to get used to. We’re still looking at the market. There’s a friend of mine who is a writer and he has 7 books on Amazon. He’s taken ownership of them again. He holds the copyright. There are big companies that do this. It’s called Cabin In the Words. I’d love to get into the local scene where people are using it over here. And I can hire it out for recordings. I also do AVs for corporates. There’s a mining company that’s been asking for Zulu voices, and then Russian and then Polish. I’m not that connected with those languages so it’s been a mission. But they are here, believe me. I know one of the vets over here is a Russian. So if anyone is looking for studio hire or some help in recording –
I heard the other day people are so busy they don’t have time to read so you can put an audio book in your car and you can listen to it and it’s taking off.
It’s a growing industry.
We both come from the same part of town. How long have you been here?
Since 2010. The history and the community appeals to me. My grandfather came out here from Ireland when he was six and settled in Malvern. And I received an invitation about an event for the Foster Gang centenary tomorrow.
You should definitely try to go along to that. It will be very interesting. And you can chat to Isabella Pingle from Kensington Heritage. It’s an interesting story. I don’t know if you’ve been exposed to that story at all.
Well, my grandfather was there. He was a boy at the time. There was a lot of information going around, there was a police cordon around this area. People were shot, one was Delarey. He and his brothers went down to the cave while the police were there. They lived in Malvern. So he wrote something about it.
I’m sure Isabella would like that if she hasn’t got it already. She really is the one to chat to, she is so connected.
I was at the Kensington Club for the opening of the Jozi Film Festival. And I was starting to create a documentary about trees, because people suggest that the forest we have in Joburg is one of the biggest we have in the Southern hemisphere. I don’t know if it’s completely true. It’s a manmade forest. And specially in Kensington there were 66 miles of trees planted from a nursery in the south in Turffontein and I found the brief story about that but it would be very nice to follow up those stories.
You can follow his latest activities on Twitter @AshleyDowds