A well known South African actress in the 1980s and currently the author of her own blog Ear Ear Blog, her inspirational story is one that should be shared and remembered, in order to help others facing challenges.
My parents were theatre lovers back in the 80s and as such we went to a lot of plays, in all the theatres in Johannesburg including the Alhambra, Market and Rex Garner. At these I was privileged to see many South African actors of the day including Gaynor Young – extra special to me because she is my namesake, and being a shy young girl it’s nice to know that an accomplished actress also has your name! –
Our whole family was very saddened one day in 1989 when we heard of a terrible accident Gaynor had suffered falling down a lift shaft during one of her performances. It was touch and go as to whether she would survive and we listened to the radio daily for news of her condition. Survive she did, but
she suffered brain damage and deafness.
She chats to us about her life and how she has managed to overcome adversity.
“I have a great faith, I am very stubborn, determined and extremely vain! But perhaps most importantly I loved life before my accident and I still love this incredible thing called life with all its ups and downs.”
You were known as the darling of South African theatre, I remember seeing you when I was a young girl in Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, and Deadly Embrace. Have you always lived in South Africa and how did the places you lived in influence your acting?
I was actually born in Nakuru, Kenya, but moved to South Africa when I was 18 months old. I spent two years in England when I was 5 and then returned to SA where I have been living ever since bar working in London as an pair for six months when I was 21. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and that certainly contributed to who I am.
I don’t think I have a particularly strong SA accent and I am good at mimicking foreign accents!
How did you get into acting – do you come from an acting family and do you have anyone else in the family who acts?
I don’t coming from any sort of acting background, but during my childhood, at Christmas time we all went to the yearly pantomime. I always delighted in watching the stories of Peter Pan, Aladdin, Snow White, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk unfolding before us. It was a total enchantment! I remember thinking: “One day I will be up there! I am going to become an actress!” I wanted to be part of that magical world that gave so many people pleasure. And so…..I became an actress!
You studied at Durban University – what qualification did you obtain and are there any special teachers or staff members who had an influence on your life?
I got a BA in Drama and English and then studied honours Drama and attained a cum laude. Peter and Margaret Larlham were two very special people at University. Peter was the senior drama lecturer and Margi taught movement. Margi along with Jil Hurst liberated my voice and body, so that I was free from inhibition. They taught me that ‘nothing is gained without risk’. Pieter Scholtz the Head of the drama department also played a large part in setting me on the acting pathway.
You had some roles on TV – Harry’s House and Playing with Fire to name two. Which was your favourite medium – TV or theatre?
Theatre because it is the one I did the most of. Since my accident because of my brain damage I can’t remember much about the TV work.
Were there any pivotal roles in your career – the role as Bianca in Othello perhaps?
I played Dandini in Cinderella. I guess this role was pivotal as Rex Garner saw me, and on the strength of this performance cast me in my first role in Johannesburg in The Runner Stumbles for Pieter Toerien. The first of many roles for Pieter.
I loved playing Bianca in Othello. This role in itself however was not particularly pivotal, but being directed Dame Janet Suzman certainly was. I learnt an incredible amount from Jan.
And then came the moment when you were understudying the role of Guinevere in Camelot. You fell 18 m during a blackout in the theatre, into an open lift shaft. You were in a coma for quite some time, suffered deafness and brain damage. Yet, just a few years later you were able to star in a one woman show about the accident, and write a book about it. Can you remember anything of the performance or the accident?
I actually remember nothing of this evening, in fact I now remember nothing of my acting career, but I was told afterwards that I was absolutely “Fan…..bloody…..tastic!”
Tell us about the period afterwards – what type of treatment and recovery did you undergo?
After finally leaving hospital I returned to my parents’ farm in George, and for two years had every sort of therapy invented! Occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, psychotherapy. I loved the weekends they were therapy free! At the end of two years I moved to Headway in Johannesburg, a rehabilitation centre exclusively for brain-damaged people. I stayed for a year.
Where do you find the mental strength to get up and carry on?
I have a great faith, I am very stubborn, determined and extremely vain! But perhaps most importantly I loved life before my accident and I still love this incredible thing called life with all its ups and downs.
What inspired you to write your book and your play? Did these help bring closure to you?
I have always enjoyed writing. After my accident I discovered it was something I was still able to do although I had to learn to write again with my left hand and typing became a one fingered affair! I wrote regularly to my great friend Shirley Johnston about how my recovery was progressing. She wrote encouraging replies. One day however her reply was filled with criticism. ‘ Damm cheek’ I thought, but after reading what she wrote, I realised she was right. I guess that day I decided to write my book and that I needed Shirley to be my editor. The process of writing my book gave me my ‘history’ back. So many memories were brought back to me.
As for my one woman shows: another great friend, Maralin Vanrenen, phoned me and said, ‘I know you told me that because of your accident you would never act again, but, you can perform as Gaynor Young, telling your story! You open in six weeks at The Civic Theatre!’. So I had to sit down and write My Plunge to Fame and then later my second show Gaynor Rising.
If there is anybody reading this who has suffered such an accident or is facing such a challenge, what advice would you give them?
Don’t listen to anyone telling you that you can’t do something. Deciding that you are going to try is 60% of the job done. Don’t take no for an answer. Yes, there is a point at which you have to accept. But, never accept without first trying. My friend Kate Edwards after my accident said to me that one day a cure would be found for my deafness. Since then cochlear implants have come into play in South Africa, and now after two operations I am able to hear again in both ears using my CI’s. No, my deafness is not cured but……… I can hear again! Kate was right!
What do you see the future holding?
Well, I live one day at a time, but because of my love of writing (and to be honest my need to try and earn some money), I decided to start blogging at the end of March this year. I blog about the issues in my life, my deafness, my Christianity, my brain damage, my personal perspective on the world – my complete love of life! And, it would seem people like what I am writing. I am fast becoming a major player in the SA blogging arena. Last week alone over 24k saw my blog posts via my associated FB page, and my last blog to do with Movember (http://www.earearblog.com/
Where can people follow what you are up to now and order your book?
My book, My Plunge to Fame is available via my blog ‘ear ‘ear (www.earearblog.com) which I also keep up to date.
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