Archive for the ‘Investigative articles’ Category

First published in Sunday Independent, March 2012

Elizabeth first made eye contact with Akon through the porthole of his spacecraft.  Selene, her white Arabian mare and constant companion, stood valiantly on the hill in front of the hovering ship. The propulsion forced the long dry grass down and up, like seamless waves against the soil. Elizabeth stared unflinchingly into the wide-set and magnetic eyes of the man whom she had been searching for all her life.

elizabeth klarer with the sculpted bust of Akon

When she saw him again his spacecraft was nestled in the hollow of the mountain on the family farm in Natal. Akon stood before her, his tall lean body clad in a silver suit, and his long silver grey hair caressed his strong shoulders. He stretched out his arms, and Elizabeth ran to him. “This time you are not afraid of me”, he said.

It sounds a bit like Mills and Boon meet 2001: Space Odyssey, but for Elizabeth – respected meteorologist, environmentalist, pilot, wife, and mother – it is the story of her life. Elizabeth was born in Natal in 1910 as the descendent of a long line of professionals and musicians. She wrote her non-fiction autobiography, Beyond the light barrier, which documented her love affair with the spaceman Akon, and their son Ayling which she left behind on planet Meton, where father and son lives. Her biography also contains detailed information of UFO sightings, her experience on Meton, scientific papers, and a very strong environmental message from beyond the stars.

Beyond the light barrier, has been met with scepticism and enthusiasm – depends on who you’re talking to. In 1973 her research papers were presented at the General Assembly of the United Nations. Two years later she was given a place of honour as guest speaker at the 11th International Congress of the UFO research group in Wiesbaden which included 22 leading scientists from around the world. Here she received a standing ovation.  Yet, back home it took a long time to get her autobiography printed as publishers declared it science fiction. She refused.

Elizabeth’s story has been the object of fascination for filmmaker Uga Carlini since the story first broke in the Huisgenoot. Uga was 8-years old. Today, after countless patient negotiations, Uga received the rights to Elizabeth’s story from David Klarer, Elizabeth’s son from her second husband. Production of Good planets are hard to find – the documentary is in full swing. Uga’s production company, Towerkop Creations will then start working on the full feature film Beyond the light barrier and prominent Hollywood producers are eagerly awaiting Uga’s script.

“As a kid I had big plans to visit Meton after my mom read me Elizabeth’s story,” Uga recalls. “Now, my fascination is not with the planet anymore but rather with this incredibly brave woman whose love story of interstellar romance spanned space, time and credibility. It is also a bona fide mystery story, sprinkled with verifiable facts, close associations with top brass military personnel, vanishings and claimed government protection programs.  She could even fly planes in between raising children, tending to the planet, and sharing advanced scientific knowledge from international podiums!”

The documentary focuses on Elizabeth the environmentalist, ‘and her foresight and knowledge that is alarmingly accurate and prophetic to this day’, Uga explains.

Uga, who received her degree in acting and directing at Stellenbosch University, recalls some of the sites where they have already started filming the documentary, “We shot scenes in the Peninsula and Hermanus, venturing to the Northern Cape, Johannesburg and Natal Midlands. I loved it, the people, the hospitality, and the genuine Ubuntu wherever we went.”

Uga reminisces on filming in Chernobyl, “Drinking radio-active vodka, the threat of wild wolves, tour guides with knives and guns that probably shoot vodka bullets, temperatures plummeting to minus 8 with the sun shining and certain areas still so radioactive it’s life-threatening to even drive past.”

“I loved the romantic and beautiful hills of Cortona in Italy. Here I went, rebel without her crew, due to budget constraints.

The Parlotones will be providing the documentary’s soundtrack.  How did she get this super popular group on board? “I just asked them,” Uga says. “I felt that without them realising it, many of their songs had parallels with Elizabeth’s story and journey. I am also a huge fan of their music and environmental work and felt it was a great fit.”

The promo of ‘Good Planets’ was recently one of 500 shorts chosen out of 7000 international entries for the prestigious InterFilm Berlin shorts competition in Germany.  It also screened during March at the Cape Winelands Film Festival.

Uga wanted to make movies, and be in movies, for as long as she can remember. “When I hit 14, being the last kid in my school to get a VHS player, I very quickly made up for the lost time,” She recalls. “I watched every single video available to rent at our local video store. My sister got to see classics like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Shining at the ripe old age of 8.”

Uga lives in Fish Hoek with her husband and a menagerie of pets including one cat from Australia and two from Fiji, tortoises, fish, birds, and Rocky the Boxer who is the canine inspiration behind a radio play that she recently completed.

“Towerkop is the original name of our house,” she explains. “The name can be seen hand carved into a piece of granite in the 70 year old rock wall against the foot of the beautiful Brakkloof Mountain behind us. When I researched the history of the house, I found the reason why it was called ‘Towerkop’ was because an underground river runs through it, making the soil extremely fertile. I also discovered that previous owners and oldies from the area could remember how one could often hear beautiful singing coming from under the Milkwood tree – no human anywhere in sight. Even though I haven’t heard the singing yet, my heart hasn’t stopped singing since I moved in and Towerkop Creations, my production company was born.”

Uga’s house is reminiscent of the magical Owl House in Nieu Bethesda. Large sculptured mermaids and owls live all along the walls and in her garden.  She clearly believes in the magic and the mystery of people and objects.  She is a fierce supporter of environmental and human rights. She publicly handed Cape Town Major Patricia de Lille an enormous pink envelope with testimonials from people who lost loved ones, or were injured, by reckless drivers along the dangerous Kommetjie road, which passes in front of her house.

She was voted as Extraordinary Woman of March by Xtraordinary Women, a platform that leads, inspires, supports and recognises women entrepreneurs in South Africa. Uga is just not the type to sit back and wait for opportunity to come knocking.

Uga ‘s hard work and perseverance paid off in double dividends when she received the rights to create a documentary and feature film about Alison Botha’s life story as written in her best-selling  book, I have Life.

Alison’s well-know story recounts her horrific real-life ordeal which took place in December 1994. She was abducted, raped, her throat slit 16 times, disembowelled by being stabbed over 30 times in the abdomen, and left for dead. However she cradled her intestines in a shirt and crawled 90 metres to the road where she was rescued.

Uga’s documentary on Alison is called Second Chances and its central theme considers that ‘not all second chances are created equal’. Alison used her second chance to inspire others. Her attackers, who were out on bail for rape at the time, utilised their second chance by raping again and trying to murder Alison. Seventeen years after her attack, Alison’s story has once again made headlines with news from the Department of Correctional Services that her attackers, together with 5000 other hardened and extremely dangerous criminals are suddenly being considered for parole.

Alison’s story really grabbed Uga, “For me, this is the most miraculous and inspirational story ever. And it is South African,” she explains. “Think about it, the book is still on the Penguin best seller’s list, since 1998, and has been translated into 7 different languages. This incredible lady should not be alive. Doctors still can’t believe that she is and not only is she, she’s been changing lives around her for the better ever since.”

“Alison is my sister from another mother,” Says Uga, “And a long lost friend I never knew I had. She is just such an incredible honey to work with and a match made in heaven for a business partner.”

In 2011, The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) sent Uga to The American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica where she presented both her projects which were very well received.  She is currently in negotiations with several major Oscar award-winning producers who have taken a keen interest in her work.

“As one attends film festivals and film marts world wide, one really starts getting a sense, that as filmmakers, we really are equal in some of the challenges we face,” Uga explains. “An Oscar win doesn’t necessarily guarantee the funding to come in overnight for the next project and you are only as good as your last project. The work never stops and often filmmakers forget that its movie business after all. The business side is as important as the creative side and the one cannot stand or function without the other.”

Uga’s mission is to keep making female driven heroine films that inspire and entertain. “To eat more chocolate,” she smiles, “Have lots more animals, green our house completely, raise children to whom environmentalism is not a term but a given and to make my investors so happy with their returns that they start phoning me . And to make the kind of movies for you that make you come back for more every time.

©Astrid Stark

Alison Botha & uga carlini

Cancellation of Your Child Kids Expo

First published in The Event May, 2010

The sudden cancellation of the Your Child Kids Expo early in March has left more than just a bad taste in the mouth of the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), and some exhibitors and suppliers.  The Expo, which was supposed to be held from 26 to 28 March at the CTICC,  was set to cater to families with children between the ages of 2 -12 years. It promised over one hundred interactive exhibits showcasing children’s and family products and services. Egg Marketing & Communications, who had been planning the Expo for nearly two years, says some of the larger exhibitors did not pay their deposits and that Egg had run out of cash flow to support the Expo.  Egg Marketing has since entered into voluntary liquidation.

Cape Town International Convention Centre

In an emotional e-mail to the exhibitors and suppliers, Lize de Jager, owner of Frostings Cupcake Boutique, and sister to Alda Heunis, CEO of Egg Marketing and Communications, explained why everyone received the news of Egg’s liquidation via e-mail and the reason for Heunis not taking any calls.  In the e-mail De Jager made a plea for Heunis’ case as a consummate professional in all the projects that she had undertaken thus far.   “She really explored all possible avenues and tried everything,” De Jager wrote.  She explained that Heunis’ stress coupled with a difficult pregnancy was making her very sick.  She wrote that it was under the recommendation of a gynaecologist and Heunis’ legal team that the decision was made for Heunis not to communicate any further with exhibitors and sponsors.  De Jager stresses that this was done for the safety of the unborn baby.  “Alda did not plan for it to end this way,” De Jager wrote. “It was going to be the Expo of all Expo’s.  It was going to rock the world of Expo’s.  The way it turned out was really unfortunate.”  

After the liquidation announcement, Egg Marketing approached the Kids Indaba to see if they could transfer some of their committed exhibitors.  Three City Events, who organised the SABC Education Baba Indaba, was by then about to present its first Kids Indaba in Durban from 19 to 21 March.  The companies entered into discussions.  Natalie Naude, Kids Indaba’s show director, says they met with Egg Marketing and made an offer to many of the Your Child Kids Expo exhibitors in an effort to accommodate them at their Kids Indaba.   They say this was done to contain exhibitors’ financial losses, to minimise the damaging impact on the exhibition industry, and to fast track Kids Indaba to an established and robust Expo. Tamzin Martin of Kids Indaba has since confirmed that, although not too many, there were some of the cancelled Expo’s exhibitors at the Durban Kids Indaba, and they are expecting more when the Kids Indaba moves to Pretoria from 4-6 June.

Managing Director of the CTICC, Dirk Elzinga says the last minute cancellation impacted severely on the centre as they were unable to fill the empty exhibitions halls.  “We lost an entire week at the centre,” Says Elzinga. “The financial impact of this is very big. If this had happened during a quiet season it would not have impacted so severely on us. However, with the build up to the World Cup, we were fully booked for March and April, and this means losing business hurts so much more during this period.”  Elzinga says many exhibitors had paid their deposits for the Expo and that a large amount of money is at stake.  “Liquidators have been appointed and we are awaiting the results,” He says.   Elzinga says Egg Marketing and Communications had a good reputation as a marketing company and that the cancellation came as quite a surprise.  “Nobody knew,” Says Dirk. “I have heard that the stress is adversely affecting Alda’s pregnancy and I must say that I feel sorry for her.   We don’t want to limit the opportunities for new entrepreneurs by allowing only experienced organisations to book with us. We want to see young businesses succeed.  However, we also don’t want to be part of any fly by night businesses.  Our payment terms are very lenient as we understand that many organisations have a limited cash flow.  Our payment structure allows them access to their cash for covering the necessary expenses leading up to an event. This is just very sad for the industry as a whole and we are glad to hear that Natalie Naude has offered some exhibitors a platform at the Kids Indaba.”   Elzinga says such a last minute cancellation at the CTICC is a very exceptional occurrence. “During the last seven years or so of my tenure at the centre, we have maybe had about three such cancellations, which is very fortunate.”

Astrid Stark

Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre gearing up for INDABA.

First Published in The Event (  April 2010

From 8-11 May, tourism operators, exhibitors, local and international visitors, and media from across the world will descend on balmy Durban for the annual INDABA. The INDABA, which has won the award for Africa’s best travel and tourism show for two consecutive years, will again showcase a wide variety of South Africa’s finest tourism products and services. 

At the time of going to print the exhibitor statistics were still slightly down from last year.  However the organisers say that there is traditionally a spike in applications closer to the time and they are confident that there will be a strong attendance. Last year’s overall attendance stood at 12,177.   Kagiso Exhibitions and Events has listed 1601 exhibitors to date. 

The new South African Tourism CEO, Thandiwe January-McLean, and the premier of KwaZulu Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize will officiate at the opening ceremony.

INDABA Thandiwe January-Mclean

INDABA Thandiwe January-Mclean

This year’s INDABA is highlighting cultural tourism where visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the national culture by interacting with the local people. Visitors are encouraged to spend time with locals in their homes, to eat their food, and immerse themselves in the many rich African traditions and rituals. Many of the exhibitors will be showcasing heritage routes, indigenous music, crafting, and African retreats.   Exhibitor categories include accommodation, tour operators, game lodges, transport, online travel, media publications and industry associations. Outdoor exhibitors include transport, camping and safari companies.  Exhibitors from across the country will travel to Durban to showcase their services and products.

The organisers have promised a much better media centre this year.  Media will now be hosted at a new venue in the ICC to accommodate a larger contingent of journalists than previous years.

South African Tourism started a greening program for INDABA, which was implemented during 2009.  According to organisers, last year’s INDABA showed a marginal environmental performance improvement of 3%.  Energy consumption decreased by 15%, water consumption increased by 1.5%, and the overall primary carbon impact decreased by 26 tons.

Some of the 2010 highlights will include the Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award (ETEYA), which is an initiative by South African Tourism to empower upcoming tourism entrepreneurs. It takes place 7 May and the overall winner will walk away with R100 000.

The Welcome Awards will also reward service excellence in the tourism sector and will take place 9 May. For the first time SA Tourism has introduced the Consumer Choice Award which allows the public to nominate a business which the feel offers excellent service, value for money and overall high performance standards.

Among some of the other highlights include an African Sun breakfast, a Good Safari Guide dinner function, SAA’s CEO Breakfast, a global media face-off,  a ministerial meeting with MEC’s and a Cape Town and Western Cape Media Trade Event.

The opening ceremony will celebrate a month to go to until the start of the much anticipated World Cup.  Thandiswe January-McLean says although the focus is on the World Cup, they are also paying attention to the period after all the excitement has died down. “Our global competitiveness has never been more keenly observed than it will be in the next two months,” says Thandiswe. “Our hospitality, helpfulness and service matter now more than ever. The World Cup offers us a unique and extremely valuable marketing opportunity. What we do, and how we deliver, over the next few months will determine the legacy for our industry and the reward that we will reap from this event.”

Organisers say they have invited the Durban Mayor, the Premier of KwaZulu Natal and the Minister of Tourism to speak, and they are still waiting for confirmation.  Details of the celebrations and entertainment were not available at the time of going to print.

The 2010 INDABA is owned by South African Tourism and organised by Kagiso Exhibitions and Events. It will be held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre – previously the Durban International Convention Centre – which can accommodate up to 10 000 delegates.

No ref. No rules. No cure for the common laughter.
First published in the Callsheet – April 2010

Outrageous, a no holds barred film about a gang of renegade stand-up comedians, ready to offend the sensitive viewer, will be unleashed upon South African audiences during April. The film is hosted by John Vlismas and features Barry Hilton, Riaad Moosa, Loyiso Gola, Mark Banks, Joey Rasdien and Krijay Govender, in a mocumentary styled look at the madness that takes place before, during, and after a gig. The film also offers a glimpse into the quixotic mind of the stand-up and it explores what lies beneath the façade of these giggle factories.

Bevan Cullinan, who completed his Honours in Twentieth Century clowning at Rhodes University, and then honed his stand-up comedian skills, directs the film. He is now also a prolific performance and comedy director. Bevan’s direction of the three DStv ‘Guess Who’s Been Watching?’ commercials has been applauded worldwide.

The film is produced by Anant Singh and Helena Spring, and co-produced by John Vlismas. John says Anant Singh phoned him a few years ago to say he wanted to make a movie which is ‘kind of inspired by The Kings of Comedy’.

“Anant wanted to know if we could get started immediately,” remembers John. “Well its 9 years later and I think our timing can’t be better. I looked around for a director and I decided to work with Bevan who has a solid grounding as stand-up comedian himself.”

The next step for John and Bevan, with input from Anant Singh, was to find the right comedians for the project – which proved to be challenging. “There are so many comedians who could’ve been in the movie,” Bevan recalls. “We had to look at the comedians as characters. We did not want to just make an HBO special where you have an hour and a half show with 9 cameras running. There’s a lot more happening in this movie. You get a glimpse of the madness and crazy banter that happens at the gigs. We had to get comedians with a variety of styles and who will have the right chemistry when you throw them in a room together. They had to be funny on and the stage. Bevan explains the importance of demographics. “Take Loyiso Gola, a black man in his 20’s, and put him right up against Barry Hilton, a white dude in his 50’s, and you get comic moments that evolve naturally,” he says. “That’s what we were looking for. Throw in someone like Joey Rasdien as a clown, you always need a clown, and the laughter just flows.”

Bevan explains that the script was written in the edit. “The script started out as a 9 page document that John and I wrote,” says Bevan. “We set up a kind of a construct of how we visualised the film and how we were going to get the material out of the comedians. The film started to tell its own story. We did not want to do a remake of Kings of Comedy. What sets Outrageous apart is that we deliberately seeked out universal links between the various comedians’ work and then we started threading these similar ideas together which became a narrative. What you see of the comedians are the highlights of all their sets over the month or so.” Bevan says they also filmed the comedians telling stories on the bus and sharing jokes during interval. “We show the guys shitting themselves before the show,” says Bevan. “The guys become quite contemplative. It demystifies the process of stand-up somewhat.”

The movie is also largely about taking the comedian out of a small, intimate venue and moving him onto a massive stage such as the Big Top at Sun International’s Carnival City, where the big venue scenes were filmed. “There is a huge difference between a big and a small venue,” he explains. “It’s like Mark Banks always says, ‘It is the difference between playing table tennis and lawn tennis.’ People not only get to see the funny stuff but they can also see how the style changes between the venues.” The small venue, where some of the scenes were shot, is the Comedy Underground in Melville, which started in April 2001; and the club which had a surprise visit from Chris Rock who wanted to test his material there.

Bevin says the movie soundtrack is filled with Hispanic rap, electronic beats, big beat, drum n bass and rap. “We used the music to score the film,” he explains. “It’s not really like you can go and buy the sound track. The music is a support. Earlier on we’d spoken to Goldfish. They were very keen, but they already had a commitment overseas. It worked out fine anyway because the way we started cutting the music would not have worked with extended music pieces.

Outrageous premiers 20 March and will be released Nationwide on 9 April. It is a Videovision Entertainment production in association with Distant Horizon and Successful Film Production Company (Pty) Ltd.

Visit for more info.

Astrid Stark

The End

 The serious business of bartending.

First published in The Event December ’09

Gone are the days of barman Larry leaning his elbows across a greasy bar to serve you a murky cocktail in a thick lipped glass decorated with pink sugar and a flimsy turquoise umbrella.  Bartenders now have sexy names like; mixologists and flairtenders, and not unlike top chefs, they come with their own arsenal of mixing, slicing and pouring tools.   Mixology is best described as the art of combining various ingredients to create cocktails, whereas flairtending is all about entertaining guests with tricks such as juggling, and even a bit of fire and magic, whilst mixing drinks.  

Ryan in Berlin 1

Master of mixology, Ryan Duvenage, has recently scooped 7th place at the annual International Bartenders Association conference and World Cocktail Competition (IBA), in Berlin.  It is the highest ever ranking for a South African cocktail bartender.

Ryan has always preferred stylistic minimalism to extravagance. His winning cocktail, in the Classic Category, was a simple twist on a classic sour; which had one judge comment that his cocktail was, ‘one of the few to achieve an impression of balance’.  The cocktails were judged on aroma, taste, appearance and overall impression. The bartenders were also judged on their technical skill in the preparation of the drinks. “Berlin 2009 was the experience of a lifetime,” says the 25-year old Ryan, “To get the opportunity, not only to represent South Africa, but also to be treated like a VIP for doing something I love is a dream come true.”

Ryan’s journey to IBA started in 2008 when he won the Classic Category in the South African National Cocktail Competition.  This earned him the right to represent South Africa in Berlin.  In August, along with fellow worker at Barcode and flair representative – Travis Kuhn, and South African Bartenders Association (SABA) representatives; Etienne Schlechter and Marius Basson, Ryan hopped the plane to Germany.  At the airport he nervously awaited the arrival of his arsenal of tools.  “I do have a very extensive personal equipment collection that I travel with,” Explains Ryan, “The equipment I pack will vary according to what I’m doing.  But it generally includes a set of high quality knives with cutting board, mixing glasses, measuring spoons, strainers, peelers, graters, and several different bar spoons.  My favourite is a solid silver Italian spoon that is twisted and weighted.”

The guys then went through a week of conferencing at the Maritim Hotel, and various Liquor company sponsors used the opportunity to introduce and promote their new products.  “The flair competitors practised constantly throughout the week leading up to the main event,” says Ryan, “And to be in the practice room with a dozen of the world’s best flairtenders, all trying to out-do each other, is definitely a sight to remember!”

The competition was divided into Flair and Classic Categories, and took place over the final two days of the conference.   “I was lucky enough to be selected as a world finalist in the Classic Category and joined competitors from as far afield as Malta, Brazil and Slovakia for the final round of the competition,” says Ryan, “During the finals we had to mix 9 drinks in 15 minutes.  This is pretty fast when you are under the watchful eyes of all those judges.”  The Classic Category may not have all the thrills of flairtending- for which Travis Kuhn was rewarded 12th place.  “Its success lies in the careful use of quality ingredients and attention to technique,” Explains Ryan.

Ryan started working as a bartender at Joe Kools Bar in Durban. “I have a natural inclination to become fairly obsessive about things that interest me,” He smiles, “I’ve been bartending since about 2003, but only really began to look at it seriously around four years ago when I began to realise the extent to which bartenders overseas were taking their profession.”

In 2006 as head bartender of Society in Durban, he won his first cocktail competition; the regional round of the Bombay Sapphire National Cocktail competition.  In 2007 Ryan travelled to Mexico as part of an all expenses paid Tequila education program with Pernod Ricard and Olmeca Tequila.  After this he joined Barcode as full-time mixologist and events manager. 

The Barcode Bar Academy launched in Durban in 2008 as part of the Barcode family.  The Academy offers a range of services which include training of bartenders, developing cocktail menus tailored to specific events, and acting as a consultancy to the hospitality industry.  When he is not mixing it up in Europe, Ryan, as one of the chief facilitators at the Academy, oversees the development and implementation of training courses for aspiring bartenders, as well as the consultancy services.   

We noticed a lack of quality training in the industry,” Says Ryan, “Our students are a mix of individuals wanting to either learn, or improve on, their existing bartending skills, and companies or Restaurants that send their staff in for training.  Our approach at the Academy is on getting measureable results.  We do pre-and post- assessments, and are fully NQF (National Qualifications Framework) aligned.”  Ryan explains that the Barcode’s mobile units make it possible for them to do training all across the country, “The units are fully equipped.  This means we can even do training in remote areas where there are minimum facilities.

The development of the drinks industry in recent years, as well as what we refer to as the, ‘cocktail renaissance’, have allowed bartenders to move into consultancy and training roles, “He explains, “This  gives us the opportunity to develop a solid career while staying involved in the industry that we love.” 

Just two weeks ago Ryan scooped his second win at the SA National Championships, which means he will be representing South Africa in at the IBA in Singapore in 2010.  “I cannot wait,” says Ryan, “To see bartending elevated to this level is fantastic, and for the IBA to have grown from a tiny meeting of seven countries over fifty years ago to a spectacle of this scale is a testament to the dedication and commitment of the members, bartenders, sponsors and friends of the International Bartenders Association.”

Astrid Stark

The End

First Published in The Event newspaper:  December ’09

A long standing battle over the commemorative concert, which was to be held for one of greatest musical legends, Miriam Makeba, continues to rage between The Department of Arts and Culture, and Morris Roda Productions.  Makeba passed away on 9 November 2008 after she collapsed whilst performing on stage in Castel Volturno in Southern Italy.

The Miriam Makebe tribute concert, which was set to take place from 7 to 9 November, was cancelled by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) just days before it was set to take place.   Themba Wasaka, director general of DAC, says it was a very difficult decision for them to take, but they were not satisfied that all the logistics were in place to host a successful event.

This would then lay the blame at the feet of promoter Morris Roda to whom the DAC had already given R3m to produce the event.  The DAC instituted legal action against Morris Roda Productions, and despite both parties filing urgent applications to the High Court in Pretoria, they managed to reach a temporary compromise.  The DAF was instructed by the judge to not interfere in the event and Morris Roda was directed to not distribute any material that would name the DAF as sponsor.  The two parties were then given 30 days in which to institute legal action against each other. The DAF threatened to sue Morris Roda Productions for the R3m, and Morris in turn threatened the DAF with legal recourse if they did not stick to their agreement. 
However the dispute really started as far back as July when Graeme Gilfillan, a trustee of the Makeba legacy, accused Morris Roda of not asking permission to produce the event.  For a while it seemed as if the concert would be cancelled, yet Morris persevered with, what he said was, the support of the Makeba grandchildren.

Vanessa Perumal of JT Communications, who handled the publicity for the event on behalf of Morris Roda, says she is very dismayed by what she calls Morris’ unethical behaviour in handling the event.   “Our business is always above board and we take care to work with only legitimate clients,” Says Vanessa, “Especially when it comes to the taxpayers’ money.”  Vanessa says that she has been dealing with Morris Roda since last year and that she decided to take him on as a client despite being warned otherwise. “I had my suspicions but I checked with the Department of Arts and Culture and they confirmed that an agreement was in place,” Explains Vanessa. “I then also checked with the National Heritage Council who confirmed that they are supporting the event.” 

Vanessa says what finally convinced her that the event was legitimate was when Morris paid her the requested 40% deposit. “This is something which is rumoured that he not usually does,” Says Vanessa. 

In a public statement Vanessa expressed her distress at the turn of events. “We were assured that the line-up of African and South African artists and venues had all been confirmed,” reads part of Vanessa’s statement.  She also says that despite her disappointment at the cancellation, she respects the decision taken by the DAC. Vanessa says that to date, 60% of Morris Roda Production’s invoice is still outstanding. 

The Department of Arts and Culture’s director for legal services, Anil Singh, says the matter is now resting in the hands of the department’s attorneys.  “They have already served Morris Roda with a letter of demand for the return of the R3m,” Says Anil, “And it’s envisaged that Morris will not pay. The summons has been prepared and after the expiration of the 10 day period for the letter of demand, the summons will be served on him. If he defends the matter the normal litigation process will follow.”

In November, Morris Roda said that the free concert, which will include overseas artists such as Manu Dibango, Angelique Kidjo and Salif Keita, will take place in December, however he could not be reached to confirm the date or for further comment.

Miriam Makeba’s grandchildren initially supported the event saying that it would serve as an important reminder of her great legacy. They have since expressed their sadness at the turn of events.

 Footnote:  Morris Roda has since confirmed that the event will take place on Human Rights day march 21st 2010, at the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown Johannesburg.

The End

Astrid Stark

Preparations for the FIFA 2010 Final Draw reach fever pitch.
First published in The Event – October ‘09
Astrid Stark

A little more than 200 days remain before the first FIFA World Cup on the African continent kicks off. The FIFA Final Draw, which determines the group stages of the tournament, will take place on 4 December at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).   A mayoral welcome at the Noon Gun on 2 December will mark the beginning of nearly a week of activities and celebrations in the Mother City.

Joey Pather, General Manager of Commercial and Business Development at the CTICC, says they are delighted to be hosting the draw, “The fact that CTICC was chosen as the preferred venue is further testament to the centre’s world class capabilities as a leading convention centre,” Says Joey, “For the past 18 months, we have been hard at work putting the measures in place to successfully execute an event of this nature. We believe that it provides an ideal opportunity for the CTICC and Cape Town to significantly raise its profile as a competitive international business and leisure destination.”

Combined Artists Productions, Carte Blanche’s production company, will produce the show during which the final draw will take place.   According to the Local Organising Committee    (LOC), the stage and set have been designed and they are more than satisfied with Combined Artists, who they say, has already proven its ability to put on productions that are world class. Combined Artists produced two FIFA related shows to date; the Preliminary Draw in November 2007 in Durban, and the FIFA Confederations Cup Draw which took place during November 2008.  George Mazarakis, director and part owner of Combined Artists, says they have produced 6 Miss World and 12 Miss South Africa shows over the last few years. “Ours is a very well established company with more than 23 years experience,” says George, “A lot of our production work over the last 21 years has been for Carte Blanche, however we’ve also promoted artists such as Billy Connolly, UB40, Wet Wet Wet and Mike and the Mechanics.”  George describes how Louis Möller, who created the Barnyard Theatre Group, started the company and ran it with Bill Faure.  “I arrived as Executive Producer of Carte Blanche and later joined Jon Sparkes as director,” says George, “We then got Zanusi Social Investments involved as our BEE partners.”

Frikkie Odendaal of Afrikom Strategic Communications, who is assisting the City of Cape Town with the publicity around the Final Draw and its events, confirmed that the City’s Christmas lights will be turned on at 8pm on the 29th as part of the 2010 celebrations.  FIFA’s Sepp Blatter will officially launch the Fan Fest on 4 December at the Grand Parade, and a street party will carry on long after the draw has finished.  The Grand Parade is being renovated for the event and should be complete by the end of the year. Frikkie says during the Fan Fest there will be plenty of Cape Town flavoured music and entertainment, as well as food, arts and crafts stalls.Greenpoint stadium, with Table Mountain in background

The organisers expect the final draw to be broadcast in over 130 countries and to be attended by around 2 000 guests. More than 1 000 journalists and broadcasters will be witness to this spectacular.   FIFA Media Officer, Delia Fischer, says the final draw show is taking shape. “We will be able to announce more details on the performing artists shortly,” says Delia, “However, I can already tell you it will be an African show with international appeal around the eagerly anticipated,  ‘who’s pitted against whom – and where.”  

Although Delia is reluctant to divulge any more details at this stage, she has confirmed that, apart from the Mayoral welcome on 2 December, there will be a media conference following the meeting of the Organising Committee at the media centre in the CTICC.

On day two the FIFA Executive Committee will meet on Robben Island.  According to the LOC, the significance of this venue lies in the secret hobbies of political prisoners that were locked away on Robben Island.  The inmates often played football in their cells with balls made of pieces of paper, cardboard, and rags, held together with string.  Only in 1965 did the authorities finally allow inmates the right to play football openly. The prisoners soon formed their own teams and held matches on Saturdays.  The Makana Football Association was founded on Robben Island in 1969 and, according to the LOC, it adhered strictly to the FIFA Laws of the Game. On 18 July 2007 Makana became the first FIFA honorary member association. 

The final draw will take place at 19h00 local time, (18h00 CET), and it will last for around 90 minutes.   Delia Fischer explains that the ‘mixed-zone’ following the draw is only for journalists, “It is an area where media representatives may conduct brief interviews with the 32 coaches following the draw,” Says Delia.

On 5 September the First Football for Hope Centre will be opened in Khayelitsha, followed by a First World Press Day at the CTICC that will provide media with first-hand information on the preparations for the World Cup.  At 19h00 on the same day a World Press Day Media Beach party will be thrown.  Delia is keeping mum on any further details about the beach party.

The Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre is part of the, 20 Centres for 2010 Campaign.  It is the 2010 FIFA World Cup SA’s aim to build 20 centres of education, public health and football across Africa; the first of these being constructed in Khayelitsha. 

FIFA has also organised a media event in which the 10 bidders for the 2018 and/or 2022 FIFA World Cup (Australia, Belgium-Netherlands, England, Indonesia, Japan, Korea Republic, Qatar, Spain-Portugal, Russia and the USA) will be able to present their bids.  This event will take place at Leeuwenhof 9 to 12 am on 4 December.

The End.

Astrid Stark

First Published in The Event – September ‘09

By:  Astrid Stark 

Holographs, a musical dual, time travel, opera singers and a death match all featured in the experiential exhibitions created by the 2009 Loerie Live Events finalists.   Campaigns were hosted as far away as London, Las Vegas, Paris, New York and Rome.  Strategies used by the nominees included finding innovative ways to use social media networks, and rallying communities around a brand, rather than imposing the brand on the consumer.

Draftfcb, who scooped silver last year for its Savanna “wedge-off” campaign for Distell, has acquired no less 25 Loerie Awards for previous campaigns. This year they have been nominated for creating Santam’s Great Umbrella Ball, celebrating Santam’s 90th birthday.  The agency’s challenge was to create an original event concept that communicated ‘thinking big’, and to carry this through into every element, from décor to entertainment; creating touch-points along the way.  The concept devised was, ‘Think. Dream. Imagine.’ The thinking behind this was that all great innovations begin in the subconscious mind; a place where dreams happen and anything is possible.  The idea was developed by the creative team of Schalk van der Merwe, Marius van Rensburg and strategist Jeremy Bouwer. It includes television, print and radio advertising as well broker and staff communication and events.  The team created a wonderland that stimulated creative thought and enjoyment. The live event featured massive image walls that guests stepped through and dream cards with creative thinking exercises on them. There were also clocks that doubled as place-names and menus, carousels and opera singers.

New kid on the block, Hello World, has been nominated for two different campaigns, the first being its own launch.  The agency created an interactive exhibition where guests viewed Hello World art and photography, listened to music specifically created for Hello World as well as a short story about the agency.   Live wall art was created and people could buy limited prints and bags.  Hello World’s Chief Executive Creative Director, Theo Ferreira, says they integrated a variety of mediums to tease the exhibition. “These mediums,” says Ferreira, “Range from the traditional – such as posters, PR, website and postcards – through to new media conversations like Facebook and Twitter. We are especially excited about our use of unique ambient mediums where messages were communicated through lights on buildings and cups in fences, to a massive guerrilla sticker campaign on boxes, windows, venues, phone booths, bus stops and buildings.”  Artworks displayed during the launch were created by leading photographers and artists, and they also approached their own staff, media and clients to participate in exploring the concept of an organic brand identity.

Hello World’s second campaign involved creating a series of fake online personalities for PLuGG, a new IS broadband provider.  The personalities started a debate as to who are the better gamers – boys or girls.  The campaign called, An Argument that launched an ISP, targeted the gaming community as a core niche of PLuGG’s customer base.  They infiltrated some of the top gaming sites in South Africa such as MyBroadband, Prophecy and Systemshock, and appointed a number of independent seeders who created discussions on social networking sites such as Facebook, and posted videos on YouTube.  The campaign ended with a ‘death match’ between the world champion female gamers, the PMS Clan, and the local ruling guy champs, the Bravado Clan. It was hosted at the Turbine Hall in Johannesburg. The girls put up a good fight but the boys were victorious in the end. DJ Sibot and Evolver entertained at the after party.  Theo Ferriera comments, “The fact that PLuGG is aimed at such a techno-savvy target market gave us the opportunity to develop an effective viral online marketing campaign using various forms of new digital media and below the line activities.  The success of the campaign was based on understanding the target market, speaking to them via digital mediums that they use and like, and finally packaging the concepts in an exciting manner so that they shared it with their peers.”

Another newcomer, NINETY9CENTS, effectively ended the decade and a half relationship between Checkers and Berry Bush/BBDO.  No small feat. The Checkers brand has an annual above-the-line ad spend of R200 million. NINETY9CENTS’s campaign, Checkers Wine Route KKNK, used the traditional festival mediums such as T-shirts and posters.  What set them apart is the use of a live ad preformed on stage at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK).  Derick Muller wrote and performed an off-the-wall Afrikaans song about a guy who’s in love, and down on his luck.  He decides that Checkers will actually suit him better as a love interest. Agency Art Director Marius van Rensburg says the song also communicated some strategic messages about Checkers as a whole, while entertaining the audience. Marius’ personal philosophy on festival branding and communication; “If they’re not wearing you’re T-shirts and stealing your posters, you’ve wasted your money.”

A speed painter, Jean Francois Detaille, flown in from Las Vegas, was the highlight of Launch Factory’s experiential campaign for Samsung’s range of office printers.  The agency’s aim was to highlight the printers as super-fast, hassle-free and superior in quality.   Detaille who has performed his art at events such as the Olympics, Emmy’s and Cannes, used bold colours in painting speed portraits of Nelson Mandela and Albert Einstein – each of which took no more than five minutes to complete –  illustrating speed, colour and quality. The campaign called Office Automation Launch, included other ‘colour parties’ that were held in South Africa where crayon inspired décor and brightly coloured boxing and interactive paintball zones were on display.

Through-the-line agency, Mick&Nick’s campaign for Hansa consisted of launching the Hansa Board of Approval (HBA). HBA, which is also the campaign name, is a group of dedicated beer lovers who search the world for ‘refreshingly different styles of beer’.   The agency offered a position on the board, with a salary for 1 year totalling R600 000.  An interactive interview for this coveted position on the board travelled to consumers in the form of 5 custom built booths to over 250 taverns and shebeens across South Africa. More than 5000 people being were interviewed over a 3-month period.  The interview featured real time filmed interactions with the HBA board member conducting the interview and an HBA scout in the field. 4 global destinations, including Prague, Dublin and Cape Town could be selected from after which each interviewee played 3 fun games that tested how well they knew their pilsner from their lager. Interviewees would also receive random spot prizes from the HBA and became part of the organisation’s core database.  This campaign rustled up no less than one million sms’s. Mick&Nick’s Dunks launch for Nike took bronze at last year’s Loeries.

 Mick&Nick, Hansa Board of Approval

Mick&Nick, Hansa Board of Approval

O’MAGE’s approach to introducing the new BMW X6 to the South African market was to focus on the car’s contradictions.  The BMW X6 is the world’s first sports activity coupe, which means it combines off-road performance with the stylish elegance. BMW invited an exclusive group of 200 guests per event to the premiere.  BMW then made history by hosting the first event in South Africa to use photorealistic holographic technology. BMW’s head of sales and marketing, Wilhelm Schmid, kicked off the evening by interacting with a holographic image of himself to demonstrate the contradiction that we are exposed to in our modern world.  His speech was followed by entertainment choreographed by internationally renowned choreographer Tyrone Watkins. The show included a UV Fashion display, a tango performed in the middle of a musical duel fought between a cello and electric guitar, and a mime performance featuring a man trying to outwit his own shadow.  The grand finale was the unveiling of the new BMW X6 which through the fusion of video footage and holographs. Graphic lines flowed across the stage, drawing the coupe shape of the vehicle.  The graphics rotated in a 3D space before docking and disappearing to reveal a real BMW X6.

VWV has won 9 Loerie awards in the past, and this year two of their campaigns have made it to the live events nominees list. The first, their video to open the 2009 MillerCoors distributor conference in Las Vegas used a 175 foot long continuously curved screen.  The video images shot by VWV in the USA were sent back to South Africa where the audio track and final mix was done. The 2009 conference was held at the Rio Hotel and Convention centre in Las Vegas.  VWV produced all the video and presentation work in conjunction with individual presenters. They also supervised the construction of all set and decor elements and managed presenter rehearsals in Milwaukee and Colorado two weeks ahead of the event; finally bringing everything together over a five day period. 10 VWV heads of departments worked on the event over a four month period and went across to Las Vegas to manage local sub-contractors and suppliers. 

VWV’s other nominated campaign is for the MINI convertible launch.  VWV figured that since MINI is an urban brand, Jo’burg CBD would be an ideal venue for a series of open air events that will give guests an authentic experience of the new MINI convertible’s ‘Always Open’ positioning.  Then VWV decided to go global.  Working across four city blocks VWV created a series of street parties in London, Paris New York and Rome.  The evening started off in MINI’s birthplace, London.  VWV featured a MINI that was produced in 1959, one of only a hundred left in the world today. To bring each city’s street party to life authentic foods were served – fish and chips in London – and eight performers that enacted a slice of life from that decade were used. Paris 1979 featured an amateur movie crew – who elicited the help of unsuspecting guests. New York 1989 included an altercation between a cabby and his passenger. Street performers, roasted chestnuts and a bag lady added authenticity.

Rome 1999 was the dessert and coffee moment of the culinary experience, with a taste of Italian opera, and a fashion shoot with where guests posed with models on a black MINI.  The time travel whirl around the world ended back in the city of Jo’burg in 2009 with a party in an underground club.

The End

By Astrid Stark

First published in The Event , September 2009

The 31st Annual Loerie Awards weekend is upon us and it is not without a flurry of controversy over the choice of venue.   It is the first time in more than two decades that the event will be held in a major city.  The awards evening and party locations will be spread out between the Good Hope Centre, Long Street, and Camps Bay. Cynics are saying the small village intimacy of Margate will be lost. The Good Hope Centre, where the two main award ceremonies will be held, has been in the news because of structural damages in need of repair.  Some say it will be too cold in Cape Town in September, and others – that it will be too windy.

The South African Cheerleading Squad at the 2008 Loeries

The South African Cheerleading Squad at the 2008 Loeries

Andrew Human, CEO of the Loerie Awards, explains that there are very logical and practical reasons behind their choice of location.  “The Loerie weekend has grown substantially,” Says Human, “In 2004, when it was held at Sun City, we had 400 guests at the first night’s ceremony. During the last few Loerie weekends, the Margate ceremonial nights which can host 2100 guests per night, were always sold out.”

To accommodate such a large audience Human and his team used the Tensile 1 tent from Gearhouse, which is the largest portable event venue of its kind in the world.  However, Human says the Tensile 1 has been sold and it is therefore no longer available to them. “Technically we also could not fit more seats into the temporary venue,” Says Human.  He goes on to say that since the new Durban airport will be situated farther north, Margate will be more difficult to get to.   With all these factors in mind, the organisers decided to put the pitch for a suitable location and venue out to Cape Town, Margate, Johannesburg and Sun City.

Where others find flaws; Human and his team see opportunity.  “Few people look at the Good Hope Centre from a technical viewpoint,” Says Human, “The Good Hope has been built with staging in mind, it has an enormous drive-in basement, so you can simply truck in all your equipment, and it has ample floor and storage areas. The auditorium is a great amphitheatre and we have gone up to 2500 seats per night, increasing seating by 20%, for the awards ceremony.”  Human confirms that the Good Hope’s roof is currently being repaired and that they are confident that repairs will be completed on time.   “The Good Hope has a lot of character,” He says, “It is the kind of venue that you can own.  We are planning on having a lot of fun with it.”

The organisers are taking full advantage of Heritage Day to extend the Loeries into a long festive weekend.  There will be a VIP reception, The Battle of the Bands, and the chairperson’s party on Thursday 24 September.  Friday night’s awards are for communication design, print media and student awards. 

The electronic awards (radio, TV, digital and online advertising), as well as live events, mixed-media and integrated campaigns will be hosted on Saturday evening; and tickets are already sold out for this event.  The Velocity Films party will be at Camps Bay on Friday. Most of the venues in Camps Bay have been booked out for the Loerie day time delegates.

After parties will be held in Long Street; of which certain areas will only be accessible to pass holders.   Human confirms that the party area will include Long Street Cafe and other venues within its close proximity. He has revealed that Goldfish will be part of the line-up of top DJ’s and bands, but he is keeping mum on the rest of the entertainment, saying only that they have a few surprises up their sleeves. 

With the venues spread out as far as Camps Bay, how will the organisers transport rowdy revellers and ensure that everyone gets around timeously and safely? “We have 24 hour shuttle services that will provide transport between the Good Hope, Long Street and Camps Bay,” Says Human, “We also have a park-and-drive facility and an agreement with Tempest that will that will offer discounted taxi fares to Loerie festival goers.” 

Human and his team have also arranged for discounted Mango flights and Long Street will be transformed into the Loerie Village where Global Conferences is assisting with accommodation in the village.   Accommodation specials will be available; from the backpackers to the Sugar Daddy Hotel suite.

Human says they are working closely with the City, Cape Town Tourism and the Cape Town Partners ship, “Policing and security are part of the event management,” He says, “There will be special inner city policing over the weekend; especially at our venues and the area blocked off in Long Street.”

Andrew Human, CEO Loeries

Andrew Human, CEO Loeries

Andrew Shelly of the event agency, H-Factor, is looking forward to the move from a temporary venue to the Good Hope Centre.   It’s the fourth year that H-Factor is handling the Loerie event management.   Shelly says it usually takes them nearly 30 days to build and set up the tent in Margate.  With the permanent venue a lot of time and money will be saved. “It is physically easier,” Says Shelly, “And there are fewer risks. It’s like the difference between camping and a hotel.”

However Shelly says that there are always challenges to coming into a new, and bigger, city. “Expectations are very high this year,” He says, “In a small, sleepy village like Margate the expectations were never very high.  It was easy to move people around in Margate. In Cape Town we will have to put signage everywhere because of the distance between locations.” He goes on to say that they will be handing out maps to the festival goers and that there will be around 40 shuttle busses available.

Shelly says that no less than 275 square meter of screen will be used during the weekend and that he is looking forward to the largest seated award show in the country. “We have done our research and we trust it will all go very well.”

Marc Lottering

Marc Lottering

First published in The Weekender 2 August.

The highly successful South African female stand-up comedian, with a long life span, is about as rare as a member of the fairer sex in Helen Zille’s cabinet.  A short list of celebrated male comedians includes Cape Town’s favourite son, Marc Lottering; everybody’s favourite Jew, Nik Rabinowitz; Riaad Moosa; and David Kau. The list goes on and on. We’re not interested in their story.  This is the story of some of the women who have made it to the top of the heap; the women strong enough to wade through thick streams of sexism, patriarchal attitudes, and prejudice; to find people laughing with them on the other side. 

Tumi Morake

Tumi Morake

Tumi Morake is rapidly establishing herself as Johannesburg’s top female stand-up.  Morake, whose career was officially launched in 2005, has a powerful stage presence and an infectious laugh.  “Acting is my lifelong dream,” says Morake, “And while studying at Wits I found that I was in my element with comical plays. Stand-up was born out of that.”

Morake was the only female stand-up at the recent Funny Festival held at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre.  Why is this so?  Morake laughs, “Look, how do you expect to get a tender without meeting the quota?  People get to enjoy a little affirmative action. BFF: black, female and funny. You think finding female comics is hard; try finding black ones! You see Helen Zille was a victim of circumstance when she picked her cabinet.”

      However it isn’t all just fun and games. Morake confesses that there have been times when she considered quitting. “I just couldn’t take the pressure,” she says. “Comedy is a male dominated arena because it’s an ego-driven profession. It’s the kind of rush that men enjoy more. It’s the same way fewer women are into extreme sports.  But we’re getting bolder and I believe there’ll be more, gutsier, women coming to the fore.”

      To add to their woes, Morake says it is always challenging delivering material that’s about the female experience without the mainly male audience switching off from the ‘would I shag her’ mode, to rather questioning whether she is funny or not. “I want to be appreciated as a comic, not just a ‘female’ comic. It’s tricky not falling into the trap of putting on male mannerisms when I’m on stage; dressing like them, commanding the stage like them.”

She still maintains that there’s plenty of space on the circuit for female stand-ups, “If they can switch off Desperate Housewives and stop ‘skinnering’ about what our three first ladies are wearing – sure”, says Morake. “Our kryptonite is the men who conspire to marry us and impregnate us before we can achieve world domination.”

Morake blames the absence of female role models on the late arrival of South African women on the comedy circuit. “Women have a history of being met with a ‘klap’ if they open their mouths – we aren’t quite used to having a podium,” says Morake, and laughs when she remembers an incident from the past. “I performed well on the evening and the guy after me was like, ‘Oh, they’re an easy audience’, as if I didn’t work for those laughs! The guy then went onstage and he did not get a great reception; I struggled to wipe the smirk off my face.”

Social psychologist Professor James Dabbs, who for many decades studied testosterone at the Georgia State University, writes; ‘Stand-up comedians who succeed or fail alone have higher testosterone levels than stage actors who work in groups with other actors’.   According to Dabbs, testosterone increases focus, ‘And focussed attention makes people more likely to take risks without noticing that others are holding back’. This, according to Dabbs, leads to women with lower testosterone wanting to play house and make babies.  Fair enough.  However can someone tell the Prof that Tumi Morake was breastfeeding in-between her performances at the Funny Festival.

Tracy Klass is another mommy turned stand-up comedian. Klass was 37 when she moved to Cape Town with her three kids. She spotted an article in the paper with a picture of Mark Sampson and Marc Lottering, and the subtitle; ‘Do you think you’re funny?’ This was the launch of the Cape Comedy Collective which spawned most of our mainstage comedians today.  Klass’ friends in Johannesburg had always told her that she was funny. “And I needed to do something for myself,” says the feisty Jewish comedian with the funky cropped hair-do and expressive eyes.  So she took herself to the workshop and her career as stand-up was launched.  “My inspiration comes from who I am; a Jewish mother with three kids.  Being Jewish makes for incredible comedy,” Says Klass. 

Tracy Klass in the foreground.

Tracy Klass in the foreground.

Her entry into the challenging world of stand-up was not exactly an easy ride. She recalls how, after doing stand up for only about 3 months, she accepted a heavyweight comedy jam with an audience of around 3000 people.  “I had absolutely no right to accept the gig,” Tracy recalls, “I walked onto stage. There was silence, and a voice shouted from the audience; ‘Show us your tits’.  Everyone erupted.  Unfortunately, that was the funniest part of my set.”

Tracy goes on to say that she learnt a wonderful lesson from Mel Miller that night who told her; ‘You are funny. Don’t let a good one go to your head – and a bad one go to your heart’.

What do their male counterparts think of the minority role still being played by the female stand-up?  The instantly love-able Nik Rabinowitz sums it up, “We have the advantage that we are judged mainly on how funny we are,” Says Rabinowitz. “Women have it harder. They’re automatically assessed on a number of other criteria; like how well they cook, sew, and parallel park.”

He gets serious for a moment, “I sense that audiences now want women to appear and succeed on stage. So perhaps it’s not so much that the female comic is instantly judged, but more their perception that they are being judged, which is their stumbling block,” He explains. “Either way, the time is ripe for women to step into their power and find their voice in the stand-up domain. The presence of female comics is not just nice to have; it’s a necessity. We need a balance of views and opinions, and women are often far less up their own arses than men.”

Marianne Thamm, respected journalist, author and editor, stumbled into comedy by accident.  She was doing research for a piece on South African comedy in 1999, and ended up at a few of the Cape Comedy Collective workshops. She recalls that Tracy Klass was the only other woman there.  Thamm soon found herself on the stand-up comedy circuit, “It got too big, too fast for my liking,” Says Thamm. “I found it very demanding and scary. It’s just you and the audience – it’s very raw.”

Thamm says she did not enjoy performing rehearsed material every night. “I wanted to do a sort of comedy jazz but that is just foolish because you have to work on a routine. You have to anchor your work.  She elaborates, “You must have stuff you can pull out when what you are doing is clearly not working. I wanted to bungee jump without the cord. It was terribly exhausting.”  After about a year on the circuit Thamm packed up her brief but successful stand-up career and continued writing.

Thamm speculates that part of the reason for stand-up comedy being a largely male dominated profession is that men are encouraged to find their own voices at a younger age. She elaborates, “Women take time to locate their own unique world view. Everything we subject our daughters to attempts to make them conform; comedy is the most subversive, anti-conformist thing a woman can do. You need to be loud, confident, and sometimes rude; all things women are taught to negate. So only a few women end up still hearing that voice – that own voice – and believe it is funny enough for others to hear.”

However Thamm feels it is exactly this under-exploitation of an audience by female stand-ups which give them a leading edge, “Audiences are not used to women on stage which makes it a potentially explosive space; a situation that should be used and abused by women but we don’t. South African audiences are very patriarchal and they do project lots of stuff onto female comedians which is why you can have such fun with them; the audiences.”

Thamm wonders about the fact that most female stand-ups, particularly abroad, end up getting their own shows or working in ensembles. An example is that of Joan Rivers, who is considered one of the pioneers of female stand-up.  Rivers started doing stand-up in clubs and bars before acquiring her own show.  Today she is the 2009 winner of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice and she frantically blogs about all her TV performances across the globe.   “Maybe we just thrive better in a collective space. I am not sure,” ponders Thamm.

Veteran comedian, Marc Lottering adds his two cents, “A misconception on the stand-up circuit is that you need to talk about ‘dicks and whores’ says Lottering. “This is not true. “Many comics have proven that you can tell a funny story about a visit to the traffic department.  Audiences respond enthusiastically to a really funny story whether you’re male or female, gay or straight.”   Does Marc Lottering secretly suspect that women are actually funnier than men? “Marianne Thamm is funnier than any man I’ve ever met,” confesses Lottering, “And I have met many men.”

Tracy Klass agrees, “Woman can easily come across as rude, crass and filthy,” Says Klass.  “The same material that comes out of a man’s mouth is met with an eye role from woman and a guffaw from boys.  So there is a definite degree of sexism from the audience as well.” 

Johannesburg stand-up, David Kau, has his own take on the situation, “Helen Zille does the line-up for most of the comedy shows in the country; especially in the Western Cape, Says Kau. “I think things will get better this year since we now have a Minister of women-, kids- , youth- and disabled people. She should look at increasing the number of women in stand-up comedy otherwise her job is on the line.”


It would appear then that the stage is set for South African female stand-ups to make their mark and find their unique voice.  As with many of the other creative career paths, the ultimate successful candidate is the one who can – and wants to – get up after tripping on stage; to do it all again the next evening.  The final word goes to Tumi Morake, “When I was a little girl, I named everyone I liked Tumi.  I should have known then I had enough ego to brave the comedy industry!”   Perhaps Professor Dabbs should rather have specialised in the ego than waste all those precious years on the testosterone.

The End
Astrid Stark