Benny Bushwhacker: Exclusive Interview with Ben Voss and John Van De Ruit

Benny Bushwacker - conservationist, environmental campaigner, and the only man to have walked the length of Africa barefoot, reveals all about what it takes to survive the African bush… and for the African bush to survive. Ben Voss stars as Benny Bushwacker, bringing to life the story written by John Van De Ruit (author of Spud) and directed by the one and only Janice Honeyman. With its 5-star production team, this is a hilarious look at life on the wild side.

Plug In Theatre had the privilege of interviewing two of South Africa's most talented theatre-makers, writers, and comedians - Ben Voss and John Van De Ruit.

How was the character of Benny Bushwhacker born?

Ben: "Over a beer or two looking out at the African Bush. John and I have spent a lot of time in the bush together and we were brainstorming our next project when Bushwhacker struck us. We had not considered it until we were out under those stars contemplating the extreme beauty of our natural planet. Conceptually the idea was Johns and on this occasion, the location led to the idea."

We understand that a big part of this project is to raise funds for the Lebombo Leopard – Human Conflict Survey. Please tell us more about this initiative?

Ben: "I have teamed with the Lebombo Leopard- Human conflict survey who are monitoring leopard outside reserves that get into communities and kill livestock and sometimes children. Communities are losing patience with the reserves and setting traps to kill the cats so my vision is to save the communities and the leopard by raising money to monitor the movement of these beautiful creatures. I care about nature, I care about humans and if the leopard is to survive we are going to have to create more green spaces, and keep communities healthy and happy. The theme of the show is even based around saving the leopard and there are donation boxes for the project at every show. Every single cent in those boxes goes towards the initiative."

John, last year you completed a Birding Big Year. How did this influence the writing of the show?

John: "Last year was a real eyeopener to me. I was lucky enough to have a father who grew up in the wildest Eastern Cape in the 1950’s and instilled that knowledge into me with a loving diligence. Sadly, he passed away in 2011, but last year began as a homage to him and soon became the most wonderful odyssey across the length and breadth of the country. The amazing richness of our country’s birding aside, I came across extraordinary places that fly under the radar, wild creatures of all varieties and a new appreciation for the country in which we live. All this I attempted to distil into Benny Bushwhacker."

How did you balance the seriousness of the shows subject matter with the comic style of the piece?

John: "You know what, the seriousness comes with the topic. Preserving our resources and our natural environment and our green spaces and our water and our planet’s future is a serious thing. The challenge is to make that funny or interesting and engaging and not preachy or didactic or condescending. That’s why I settled around the theme of humans in the bush or what we call, ‘human nature.’ That led us on to some very interesting and hilarious characters based on people that we had engaged within the conservation complex."

Ben, how many characters do you portray in the show, and which one is your favourite?

Ben: "I play about 12 to 14 and would say Riley, the phone-bound, acronym using, socially inept, entitled, teenage millennial is my favourite."

Please tell us more about your experience working with Janice?

Ben: "Janice is a leading South African director but wears the title with a grace and humility that is so surprising. She has a very good eye for script and text and makes you feel very capable as a performer but never gushes or allows arrogance. She is pragmatic, warm, clear and dedicated to the craft of direction. If you don’t entertain her she can get distracted!"

John: "I greatly enjoyed the experience of working with Janice, mainly through Ben who became the conduit between words, action, character and direction. You never fail to learn from people who have excelled in their craft and Janice was a great example to me of that mantra. Salute."

Ben, how did John and you meet and how did you start working together?

Ben: "We performed in a version of Oedipus the King that I produced while working as an engineer at the age of 23. It’s crazy. John was a student (3rd year) and I was an engineer who wanted to be a 3rd-year student! We got on incredibly well. Against the backdrop of this Greek tragedy, we would spend our backstage time reciting our favourite sketch shows and laughing like hyenas then head on to stage and “get serious”. We have had multiple creative endeavours together since those breakthrough days. What a journey it has been."

John, what has been your favourite moment of working with Ben?

John: "The initial moment when we kind of conceptualised Benny Bushwhacker and the journey that he and we were going to take forward. When Benny and I decide to do something there’s no buggering around. For one thing, Benny wouldn’t allow it. He may look mad, but he’s driven, like a wildebeest."

Lastly, why should audiences come and watch the show?

John: "Because it’s a great, funny show about the bush that’s going to make you look at nature and human nature in a completely different way."

Ben: "Because it is hilarious. And as a little cream on the top of the fantastic humour, the show has the lightest touch of a conservation message that surprises audiences."

Benny Bushwhacker is showing at the Pieter Toerien Studio Theatre until the 20th of October.

Upcoming Tour Dates: The Savoy Theatre, Port Elizabeth, 22 – 26 October Hexagon Theatre, Pietermaritzburg, 4 – 9 November Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria, 13 November Somerset West Playhouse, 15 – 16 November Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, 10 December – 18 January 2020

To find out more about the show and book your tickets, CLICK HERE

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