Sonja looks at the various stages she’s tread in her life
STAGES – Sonja Ruppersberg
After watching Birdman, an interesting (Oscar winning) flick that literally provides one with a point of view of the stage and backstage in a Broad Way theatre setting, it made me think of all the stages I have been on since my childhood child. They each have their own little allure. They are magical spaces – almost sacred.
My fist memory of a stage is one that everyone can relate to, the school concert. This annual event illustrated how the stage in the school hall can transcend from the dreary Monday assembly stage, to a magical place of performance and glamour. I remember around 1987, playing the part of Bon Jovi’s keyboard player in grade 7 (Std 5), along with some of my other friends in a lip sync rendition of Living On A Prayer.
I was quite a shy child, so my parents enrolled me into a modern dancing studio when I was seven years old, to try to get me out of my shell. The Playhouse theatre in Somerset West was the epicenter for most aspiring dancers in the Helderberg basin – a beautiful little theatre with all the bells and whistles. I danced there for the first time when I was seven. The stage was incredible and for me, at that age, it felt like it was the size of a football field. It had an amazing labyrinth of little hallways and ladders backstage and always smelled of La Pebra hair gel and hairspray. The bathroom had a poster on the door of a chimpanzee on a commode with rolls of toilet paper and the caption at the bottom of the poster read, “The job is not finished until the paperwork is done”. I have so many fond memories and just seeing the building always gives me little butterfly’s in my stomach.
My next serious stage was The Sea Point Civic Centre where the annual International Dance Teachers Association Eisteddfod was held. It was an unfriendly, harsh stage, scary, intimidating and judgmental. Standing in the wings of that stage felt like torture, I hated every second and it never gave me any joy.
One of my favourite stages is in fact a prominent one that I can’t remember whether it was a dance recital at Artscape (formerly Nico Malan) or the Baxter Theatre(!). I once had the privilege of dancing on that stage, it was magical and really felt like a stage for “grownups”.
I love the Stellenbosch Town Hall where we had the annual school eisteddfod. I sang in the school choir until high school. The building is old and smells of many decades of wood and brass polish. It is also haunted and the backstage area was an incredible place, dark and old but great in a creepy sort of way.
Since performing in a band, my connection and perception of stages has changed somewhat. They have become less magical and more practical. Different places have different stages, some are small and rickety with no backstage area, and some are gorgeous and comfortable with beautiful backstage dressing rooms. Some are boards stacked on beer crates… Some professional stages are rigged by the sound and lighting company and can be fantastic, like Carfax in Newtown, Johannesburg, where we opened for Ministry – but the place ‘aint got no heart…
I am also remembering Witchfest at the Bassline (also in Newtown) that felt so massive, I had the feeling I was going to be swallowed. And then you get places like my favourites, like the Klein Libertas with its luxurious dressing rooms and The Mercury in Cape Town, not only for its stage and its little backstage area but more so for all the love and support from staff and management. I always felt welcome there, it was home turf. They always made me comfortable and Lux was always there with water and beers backstage. (Sadly the Klein Libertas burnt to the ground recently and in the same month the Mercury also shut its doors – the former is being rebuilt and the latter is said to have been bought over to open its doors again, under what name and whether they will continue its former vibe, we don’t know).
Another great stage is ROAR in Observatory. They have the one great element lacking in all the other venues, a curtain. The value of the curtain is massively underestimated in live music venues. A curtain allows for anticipation from the audience, it makes the artist feel protected and is just plain professional in my opinion.
Other stages with Terminatryx have ranged from Back2Basix and its foot high restaurant / live venue stage in Joburg, and a meter high solid stage of Zeplin’s in Pretoria (R.I.P), to a large hall stage for the Goth / Industrial Gathering (Cape Town) and a huge outdoor stage at Ramfest (Wellington).
Unconventional stages include the Labia Theatre (Cape Town) beneath the main cinema’s movie screen where our Makabra Ensemble perform new soundtracks for classic silent films at our film festivals like the Horrorfest, Celludroid and Sound On Screen, compared to the large permanent ones we did two of these movie soundtracks at the big OppiKoppi music festival (in Northam) – all the way down to the intimate, crammed “front-room” poetry night get-together at A Touch Of Madness, where my dark-folk project A Murder made its debut this week.
For an artist, the stage is home, and in my life I have performed from a club in Berlin to beer crates in Gordons Bay. While one can argue that a stage is merely a platform, and elevation, a soap box, it really is so much more than that. A stage comes with people, passion, sometimes an irritated stage manager, a long suffering sound guy, expectations from the performers and the audience, lovers and haters. It comes with hours and hours of rehearsals and loads of pressure. All leading up to that moment of performance, be it dancing, singing, acting. All of this takes place on that magical space we call the stage.