ENGLAND and SOUTH AFRICA | Lara Foot — the South African theatre director, writer and producer – is noted for her creative spirit. As one of her country’s most promising directors, she has been recognized nationally for her hard-hitting work.
Although she has already made great strides, Foot regards becoming the protégée of Sir Peter Hall as “the opportunity of a lifetime.” “This gave me the chance to extend my skill as a director,” she said. “The theatre industry in South Africa is struggling, and it desperately needs to be nurtured.”
Apparently, she and Hall started with dialogue and observation of his work. “Then we went on to dialogue and observation of my work,” she said. “After that we went further. He came to South Africa and saw the whole environment I work in. We spoke about the direction for specific projects of mine, including plays he has directed as well as a new play of my own.”
Their relationship lasted one year from 2004 to 2005.
A passion for storytelling
Storytelling has been Foot’s passion since her days at the University of Witwatersrand where, in 1989, she earned an honors degree in drama and received an award for outstanding achievement in directing. She was inspired early on by Barney Simon, the South African director who co-founded Johannesburg’s non-racial Market Theatre. After winning the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award in 1995, Foot held senior directing posts at the Market Theatre from 1996 to 2000, implementing visionary programs.
“Sir Peter has seen my work at The Gate Theatre in London. This was one of the most fantastic experiences I have ever had,” Foot recalled. “He was very encouraging about my writing, which is inspiring. After he saw my work, our dialogue progressed into new dimensions.”
What was her first impression of your mentor? “I found Sir Peter Hall warm, kind,” she replied. “Our first conversation was fascinating, challenging, vigorous as well as exciting. He is undoubtedly a giant of the theatre.”
How does she think her work is similar to or different from your mentor’s?
“Sir Peter Hall deals more with text than with image. He looks for meaning between words, and I’m interested more in space. We both are fascinated by the way a story unfolds, and have respect for good writing. And we both really like actors, and are fascinated by them.”
Does she think that Peter Hall’s guidance will change her approach to theatre? “It already has,” she continued. “He has confirmed in me the need for form in the presentation of great works. The desire to explore colloquial dialogue has finally been banished from my thoughts, and I will now look towards form and poetry.”
Was the similarity or difference a stimulus or a barrier to your relationship? She said, “I felt like an artist who has only worked in watercolor who finds out you can also work with oil or with clay. You add more to what you know. You gain more skills than you’ve already acquired. The bottom line for me is that I’ve primarily worked with image and with the relationship between images and bodies onstage. Peter taught me to look at the relationships in words — to focus a lot more on that. Now I can concentrate on both at the same time.
Has your approach to theatre changed or developed during the mentoring experience?
Yes, it really has. Basically I’ve become much more responsive to form. And again, my expectations for myself have gotten higher. It’s given me more of a drive towards excellence.
A wealth of experience
By 2004, Foot had directed more than 30 productions, 23 of which have been new South African works, including a staging of Zakes Mda’s novel, Ways of Dying (2000), and her own creation, Tshepang (2003) a devastating portrayal of child abuse and infant-child rape in South Africa. Among the contemporary classics she has directed are Waiting for Godot (2001) and A Streetcar Named Desire (2002).
Foot said that the crime depicted in Tshepang, which is barely acknowledged in South Africa and virtually unknown outside of the country, is staggering, topping 20,000 such cases a year.
What was the single most important lesson or piece of advice her mentor gave you? “You must write more!” she replied. — in the culture of one world