Wilhelm Disbergen on lighting, set and theatre design

Quite obviously, theatre cannot happen without the magic that goes on behind the scenes. The writers, directors, costume designers, make up artists, set designers. These are people who often go without credit and yet without them there’d be no theatre.

I’ve long been fascinated by theatre lighting and when I got the opportunity (through Bronwen from B Sharp Entertainment) to chat to Wilhelm Disbergen, the Managing Director of Yellow Bunny Productions NPC, ahead of Impact No 1 on at Joburg Theatre from 18 – 21 August, I keenly grabbed the chance. As per his website, Wilhelm Disbergen is a theatre set, costume, audiovisual, and lighting designer.  He has designed more than a hundred productions locally and internationally, mostly at the Market Theatre and South African State Theatre. Video clips posted on here are taken from Wilhelm’s website and there are more available there. 

Artscape Theatre Cape Town

As I understand it, (from http://work.chron.com/duties-lighting-designer-16573.html) lighting designers create the light plot or outline for a show. They create a lighting design that will properly showcase the performers
and the setting, varying the design throughout the production to meet the action on stage. Firstly, do you agree with this assessment?

Yes, every production is different. The story is different and things happen in different places. The mood is different. The production might be abstract movements or a story ballet.

How do you come up with the effects you are looking for / feelings you are trying to create?

The production dictates what I will be doing. Is it a realistic approach with an actual set, or is it a theme or mood or colour? Some productions are very literal, and some more about the body in space, line and movement.

Describe, if you can, the intricacies of obtaining a balance between working with entertainers and other theatre staff to achieve the effects you are looking for.

The crew is a team of people with skills that help in their particular way to assist in creating the production. Some are highly skilled artists while others are more technically abled. Some drive heavy stage lifts or fly bars and make sure no one gets injures by these machines. Each one brings experience and knowledge to any production and without them, big productions and design would be impossible.

Artscape Theatre Cape Town I’m fascinated by the way lighting interacts with the audience – reflections off jewelry, pans the crowd, etc. It can make an audience feel like part of the show. Is this something designers take into account?

It again depends on the production: Do we need to Razzle Dazzle them or do we want them to be quietly pondering whatever is being presented? Are they watching through a ‘fourth wall’ or do we want them to actively feel part and engage in the event?

Could you describe the different approach one might take to theatre design dependent on the various different genres? For example, I’m thinking that if you were doing something like Spamalot, for example, or the Queen It’s a Kind of Magic Show, you might take a completely different approach.

Dance and drama and opera and farce all have their own specific requirements and work best using particular codes and conventions. The interesting thing is breaking these conventions or using one set of conventions particular to a certain genre and applying them in another.

Do certain colours / effects / patterns invoke feeling and help convey a message?

Circular shapes, symmetry and soft pastels are great for even moods. Angular / linear shapes, assymetry and strong colours evoke similarly strong emotional responses

The Mandela at Joburg Theatre is an amazing venue and I’ve spoken to international acts who have said that the lighting and technology there is world class. Are you looking forward to working there for this event? Are you working on both lighting and set design for the event?

It is an amazing venue. Probably one of the best in the country. Yes I am doing both set and lighting. I usually do both.

You’ve worked a lot of theatres around the country. Do you have a favourite theatre to work?

Artscape is very nice but the Joburg Theatre is just the best.

What would a typical day as a lighting designer for Impact No-1 look like? How big is the team that you’d be working with and what roles would they play?

I probably will have a team of about 20 technicians and crew. Many of them have to lay ballet mats, reshuffle enormous and heavy curtains. Others will be preoccupied with lighting – getting the right light in the right place plugged in and working before focussing it in a particular way with colour being added last. Along with several assistants, the lighting cues can then be created, programming with a dedicated programmer, one light to the next…. One light at a time.

This is a collaboration between three dance companies, doing different works. Do you face any particular challenges working with three different companies?

I have worked with all three companies and it was my suggestion that these different companies that almost always work all by themselves, in a joint program. To break the barriers that have traditionally existed between competing companies, and unify them, without any agenda, in one evening of dance. This joint performance is a complete novelty and it is really nice that we are the ones bringing everyone together for the first time.

What would you advise any youngsters wishing to get into the industry?

Go and study. Whether at Technicon on at university or at a local drama school. There you will encounter things like lights and paint and wood and artists you may not have encountered elsewhere. Perhaps you like one thing more than another. Great. Focus on that and learn all you can about it. See as many productions as you can and learn from other’s mistakes and successes.



Book now for Impact No. 1 at the Joburg Theatre. 



A chat with Tracey-Lee Oliver of Supreme Divas

I love going along to the Bluberry Entertainment Studios (where Kurt Herman and Tima Reece have their base). It’s a place of calm and of discipline, and you just know magic is happening there, including the wonderful Lions anthem which Kurt wrote and performs in.  Magic was happening there on the day I went through too, as it was the first day of rehearsal for SUPREME DIVAS! If anyone can produce an event with big songs, these guys can.

Taking centre stage will be the insanely talented vocalists Tia Herman, Lelo Ramasimong, Tracey-Lee Oliver and Elizca Coetzer, with Marianthe Panas.

It’s another incredible collaboration between Joburg Theatre and The Colab Network and there are just four performances from 11 Aug 2016 to Sun 14 Aug 2016, so make your booking now by visiting Joburg Theatre or calling 0861 670 670.

Tracey-Lee Oliver, born and bred in Grabouw, has been on stage for many years as a session singer, the lead in musicals and as a casino singer. Recently, she ventured into musical comedy with the assistance of well-known stand-up comedian Jason Goliath. She’s also recently performed in The Voice in which she auditioned with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, one of her father’s (who passed away four years ago)  favourite songs. It was also played at her parents’ wedding.

Please give me a background – you’re in singing and comedy and TV. What would you say is your background?

Definitely the singing. I started with singing in church and in school. When I was 25 I came up to Joburg. I’ve been here for like 10 years. I think I had a real hunger to kind of just explore what was outside of Grabouw (where I was born and raised) because I knew that wasn’t just it. I wanted to see the rest of the world. Cape Town have more independent plays and things than what we do up here. I feel like it’s a bit more commercial up here.

Would you say Afrikaans Idol was your introduction into the industry?

No, I did a reality show before that – in 2004 I did a reality show called Project Fame and it was on M-Net. There was only one season of it and it was a cross between Idol and Big Brother, because they had this concept of putting contestants in a house and putting 24 hour cameras on them. I actually made the top 5 in that one and did Afrikaans Idol in 2006. I think at the time I wasn’t actually as sure as I am now what it is that I want to contribute to the industry and to music, so I think it was just another opportunity to have exposure and reintroduce the people to who I was at the time. 


Do you prefer TV or live?

I’ve been very blessed to be able to get into the television scene. I’ve always been curious about TV, but definitely live performance, because it’s a bit more dangerous and risky but the payoff is immediate so you get an immediate response from the audience. And since doing my comedy, I think that has just taken me to another level based on my observation of how to read a crowd. It’s gotten me a bit better, because with comedy if they don’t laugh then that’s it. It’s over and then you have to deal with embarrassment.  Comedy is way more terrifying than singing.  Jason Goliath was the one that got me into comedy. We met and basically got along very well and he told me you’re actually a funny girl and you sing really well. I think you should do musical comedy and it worked for me because. I’d always done impressions and been the kind of kid who had entertained herself in her room. I didn’t really have any friends growing up. I think that was a choice that I made. Playing with kids wasn’t as stimulating as me sitting in the room and entertaining myself. I had one brother and a sister who are way older than me and I’m the baby of the family. Comedy is brutal but it’s the best pay off. When you hear that laughter from a joke that you came up with that’s the best.

Do you have a favourite out of the three things you’re doing?

Singing is the easiest, but I don’t know if I want to go with the easiest. I think I’m really finding my niche with the comedy. I get to do both – make people laugh and sing. It’s comedy and singing. I get the best of both.  My favourite comedian is from Durban – Celeste Ntuli. She is A-MAZING. She has this very heavy Zulu English accent which you really have to concentrate but she is my favourite female comedian.

It must be quite a demanding lifestyle. How do you stay disciplined and balanced, and fit?

Fit wise, I got it from my mom. My mom was very slim when she was my age. But not talking is one thing that I’ve been doing that I didn’t even realise was a discipline but whenever I’m not doing shows I stay at home and don’t talk the whole day. I’ll pick when I go out and hang out with friends.  Not singing or talking on the phone. Nothing. I’ll tell people to Whatsapp me. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years and I just thought I was being grumpy to be honest. But I realised it was my body saying to me shut up for two days so that you can preserve your voice. Our industry is very demanding in the sense of socialising. It’s also networking in a sense, and I know how taxing that can be on artists. Sometimes you can say no – sorry I have to chill or I won’t be able to make it. You don’t have to tell them more.  Rest is so important.  I call it spiritual management and intellectual management. It’s like you need to give your psyche a rest sometimes. As good as it is to be together and hang out together it’s also important to get your privacy and just recharge. People don’t do that any more.

What can we expect from Supreme Divas?

You can expect five very talented South African ladies who are going to blow your socks off and show you that we are absolutely and utterly on par with international acts. (or better than – PS) People are going to come out and hear and jam to their favourite tunes. And get up and dance. It’s going to be an awesome show and it’s great working with a very old friend of mine Llewellyn George who is the musical director. I’ve known him for ten years and now is the first time we get a chance to work together.

How did you become involved in the Supreme Divas show?

This is when you have great friends in the industry. I’ve known Collett Dawson for five years now since we did Knights of Music. She’s just the greatest warmest person and always the same. We just hit it off when we met and always liked each other. She sent me a message saying I need to meet with you urgently, and I was like ‘what’s going on?’ So I met with her and she asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t even think twice about it. I know the quality shows that she puts on.

Is there anything else you’d like to get across in the interview?

You get four chances to come and watch the show and it’s going to be great value for money.

Catch Tracey-Lee in Supreme Divas 11 Aug 2016 to Sun 14 Aug 2016.  Make your booking now by visiting Joburg Theatre or calling 0861 670 670. For group bookings of 10 or more, please contact the theatre directly on (011) 877 6853/6815.



Catching up with Zak Hendrikz!

On a warm summer’s day I headed out to Joburg’s northern suburbs to catch up with a versatile, exciting South African talent who is well on his way to becoming a household name – Zak Hendrikz. I last chatted to him in September 2014 and since then he has been in Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling, Little Shop of Horrors, the Alison Botha film (forthcoming), Leon van Nierop’s “Hartebreker,” “Eintlik Nogal Baie”, has received numerous awards and nominations, and is running his own company – Pit Productions.

He is down to earth, friendly and an EXCELLENT entertainer, but I think it’s his work ethic and positive attitude that will see him achieve even more, and which makes Zak Hendrikz one of my favourite people in the world to interview.

The last time we spoke you had just played rapist Frans du Toit in the Alison: I Have Life play (please click to find out more about the Alison Botha story).

Ja. Now I’ve done the film version as well. It’s being released this year in August. They’re calling it a hybrid documentary – it blurs the line between traditional documentary and crosses over into fiction. And it’s got a big screen release, which is brilliant because it’s not specifically a feature film.

I think it should be released at the time the rapists are coming up for parole again. They never seem to go away, do they?

No, they can stand for parole every single year. But the movie is happening and I’m really excited about it. It was done by Towerkop Productions and the director is Uga Carlini who was brilliant with all of us during the process specially during the disembowelment and raping scenes. I’m also excited about what Uga is doing with it – in post production she’s giving a whole fairy tale approach to it. I think people will find it fascinating, interesting and different.

Handsome South African actors Ballade vir 'n Enkeling
Dressed by Diaan Daniels Couture

The Alison journey has been with me for a very long time now and when I was doing it in theatre I always imagined the situation taking place. You have to create the picture, because you’re on stage in a black box. Then when I physically did the shoot and we got the right car, a Renault, we were in front of a church in the middle of the street and when I was standing there with the knife in my hand and interpreting the scenario I had this euphoric experience. It was the weirdest thing because for weeks I was playing this role, imagining the situation and then I was doing it in real life in a real environment and it was a very surreal experience for me. It felt wrong but it felt right.

Was it more intense than doing it in the theatre?

No, the theatre is more intense. You’re in one rhythm so you keep on doing it and there’s no ending, whereas with film you stop and cut and have to change angles, so you keep on repeating the same scene. In theatre you can’t do that. It was less intense although we were in the surroundings. In film there are so many sections that come into play. When you’re dong a movie like that with a hectic subject matter the message is the important thing but when you are physically doing it, to make it a little bit more relaxed for the actors is also quite important.

Zak Hendrikz's business Pit ProductionsYou have your own business now, Pit Productions?

Yes. Pit Productions is a production company focussing on educational theatre. It has existed for the past 16 years, and last year the former owner said she’s moving to London and would I think about buying the company. So the company’s mine now.  and what we do is the prescribed works for 2nd language Afrikaans learners in Grade 12 in IEB schools. This year we’re doing Hoopvol by Derick van der Walt and we’re also doing 8 of the 10 poems. We travel to schools and we do a 1.5 hour show doing the whole book or a section of the book. The teachers have seen the improvement it makes on the marks of the learners. If a teacher tells you something but you don’t understand the language, how can you get it? But as soon as you visualise something you can put the pictures in your head.

I need to prove to all the teachers that I’m also capable of running the company. You need to think of creative ways of interpreting the text, but also staying true to it. So it’s quite an awesome challenge as a director to approach something like this, and also it’s great material for the actors because it’s not children’s theatre or motivational theatre – it’s actually characters with bodies. We’ve got good bookings and it’s looking really good. And we are getting ready to go on a national tour in May and June.

How does that impact on all your other work?

It’s tricky. At this moment in time I’m doing everything including the administration which I can always do over weekends and evenings. I gave the script writing to another actor who has been with Pit Productions for two years and he knows my style of directing. I was going to be in the production itself but other stuff came up and I put a good team together for it. I’m surrounding myself with people I trust and who believe in the project in order to make the product be the best it possibly can if I’m not there. They love the company for what it is and what it’s done for them so I know they’ve got my back.

If people want to get hold of me they can go to the Facebook page, or email me at pitproductions101@gmail.com

Hartebreker Zak Hendrikz with Rolanda Marais
Hartebreker – with Rolanda Marais

I also like the sound of your radio play, Leon van Nierop’s (who wrote Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling) “Hartebreker”.

It’s every day from a Monday to a Friday at 09:50 on RSG. You can download all the episodes on the website. I play the role of Zirk Vermeulen. It was supposed to be six months but the response from the public was so great, they’ve now extended it indefinitely. We have so much fun and I think it comes across how we enjoy working with each other. I’d never done radio before. If you do radio and TV and theatre and all different genres – everyone thinks it all falls into the same category, but it’s not. So the first time we came into the studio and there was a big glass window and Leon van Nierop was sitting on the other side with the two sound engineers. I was in the other room and looking around and thinking this room is really messy. What’s all this junk doing here? Not knowing that all of that stuff that was there was actually props that they use to make every day sounds. When you want to scribble on something, you can’t just scribble so you’ve got to revert to other things. What I didn’t realise was that as we two actors were recording, the third actor would be doing the sound effects using those props, like if my character was turning a page the third person would be making the sound effect. And one of my favourite bits is the end of a radio drama episode because you have a little bit more leeway to interpret stuff with your voice. You need to deliver that last line almost as a drum roll, in a way to keep the audience hanging.

Zak Hendrikz Dentist Little Shop of HorrorsI loved you as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors.

It was a bucket list role. When you go for the audition you can see who your competition is, and you respect those performers. And you don’t always get the role because you were necessarily the best out of the lot. There could have been three people that could have been equally as good as you but everybody brings something else to the table. The last time I think I freaked out about getting a role was with Ballade, because I knew that from a career perspective a role like that was going to be important. But with Little Shop of Horrors it was a personal victory. It was really fun playing that role, but I must admit it was also hard. It’s so over the top but you need to deal with it with real emotions, where do you strike the balance?

You have got quite a lot of awards.

I got a Naledi award nomination last year for best supporting actor in a play or a musical for my role as Frans du Toit in I Have Life. And recently I got the BroadwayWorld.com award for best supporting actor in a musical for my role as the dentist in LSOH and I was also awarded one of the Best Actors of 2015 by DieReviewer.com for the same role. Then I was nominated for a Twitter Toekenning Hashtag award for Gavin Greeff in Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling. And I’m hoping for a Fleur du Cap nomination (which he got the day after we did the interview!)

Zak Hendrikz Fleur du Cap Nomination
How Zak announced his Fleur du Cap Nomination

What advice have you got for others?

I believe firmly if you put it out there and say, “I’m not going to be a desperate actor, I will put the right energies into the universe,” it will be given to you. Be focussed and know what you want and put it out there, it will come to you tenfold.

Zak Hendrikz as Dewald van der Walt Eintlik Nogal baie

Zak as Dewald van der Walt in Eintlik Nogal Baie



What’s up next for you?

We shot a movie now with Andre Lotter and Marissa Drummond called Eintlik Nogal Baie and that’s being released at the end of October. It’s a romantic drama – not your normal romantic comedy and that’s also something people can look forward to.

I can’t say which one because it still needs to be aired, but I’m starting to shoot an Afrikaans soapie in a week’s time which is really cool because if you tell people an actor they always ask you which soapie you’ve been in.

I’m also doing Droomkind again at the Teatro in September. The musical was done at the State Theatre two years ago but they’ve now changed a bit of the script and we’re going to have a live band and they’re lifting the production up a level. It’s such a beautiful story. It’s the story of Joseph but it’s playing off in the Karoo and it’s going to be absolutely brilliant.

Related article: Zak Hendrikz plays a bad guy but he’s actually really nice

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