We had the incredible honour of interviewing actress, performer, singer, boss woman and entrepreneur Carmen Pretorius during Lockdown, and we were blown away by the incredible women she is.
Carmen Pretorius is a multi-award winning musical theatre actress who has performed in multiple musicals since she was 17 years old. She started her career as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical and has gone on to perform around the world as notable characters such as Sophie Sheridan in Mamma Mia!, Lorraine in Jersey Boys, Maria Rainer & Liezl von Trapp in The Sound Of Music, and Roxie Hart in Chicago.
But wait...there's more...Carmen is also a qualified makeup artist, presenter, and non-stop entrepreneur. We had to find out what she has been up to since theatres closed in March.
ONE You are a very successful actress, so what made you branch out into entrepreneurship?
From very early on in my career I realized that being a performer was not going to make me wealthy and I also realize that I wanted a little bit more stability. Contrarily, being somewhat entrepreneurial and starting a business is probably not the best way to go for stability, but I really wanted to diversify my income streams so that I could create something of my own - that I controlled. I wanted to work for myself so that I had the freedom to work on my performing career as well. I just want to be able to have a measure of financial & creative freedom.
TWO You have recently started a new business called Tick That Box, what inspired you to start this personal concierge and assistant service?
Many people often say, "I wish I had more time." So I want to give it to them. TickThatBox.co.za is a little brain child that I have been mulling over for about 5 years. I had the idea to do it when I realised that friends & family would ask me to organise stuff for them or, you know, my mom owns a business and when she needed somebody really detail-oriented and reliable to do odd jobs for her or admin work, she would call on me. I also DESPERATELY wanted to create something that would help other performers during times out of work. That is why I hope that TTB grows to a point where I have numerous "tickers" working for me, simultaneously.
Coupled with my passion for organising and admin etc, I realised that this is something that so many people need. The amount of admin that comes with being a mother/father or running a small business or both, and juggling a couple of balls at the same time. It can become overwhelming and we don’t realise how much time it takes to do all the little things. People who do have disposable income might really actually want to BUY MORE TIME and that is essentially what TickThatBox.co.za does - it allows the client to buy more time - be that time for family, time to invest in your business etc. TickThatBox.co.za will take away all of the extraneous "to-do list" tasks that are just keeping you from doing the things that you love to do in your life.
THREE What has been the biggest challenge starting Tick That Box during lockdown?
The biggest challenge with TickThatBox.co.za is definitely getting the word out there, to my ideal clients. Many people (especially after COVID and lockdown) don’t necessarily require my services and/or don't have disposable income to spend on something like TTB. It's a new venture and so it takes a while to build a client base. It's also challenging for people to trust you, especially when it comes to things that are important to them. Obviously, the hygiene and fear factor of COVID is a challenge too. People don’t necessarily want to be in touch with newbies or strangers.
I also found it very challenging to actually get my head around putting the website up and putting the word out there. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable in that way and to communicate that you’re committing to something. Once you put it out there into the world, it feels like you’re going to be judged. It feels like people are going to laugh at you. As you go along, you also obviously come across competitors in the field and that can be scary. Businesses that are already established that are making money and you think, Oh my gosh! Why would people use me." I really struggle with imposter syndrome so it's all of those kinds of mental hurdles that's been a challenge. Feeling a little bit isolated in COVID and trying to find ways to overcome that isolation in terms of business marketing and in terms of mental health is obviously challenging, too. Many challenges but, with them, many opportunities.
FOUR What other business or side hustles have you started?
So I started The Voice Lab, which is my voice teaching studio and I also recently completed my teacher training through New York Vocal Coaching so that has really set me up to understanding vocal pedagogy and the technicalities of the instrument.
The technique is a VERY important cornerstone of The Voice Lab. I noticed a lack of proper CCM training in SA and wanted to help to bring that here. Teaching voice has been something I wanted to do since I started singing at eight years old. I am very passionate about quality education in voice in this country as I feel like it is something that is often overlooked in favour of the other performing disciplines.
I have also started a mental health and wellness chat show, called Soul Sister, with my dearest friend Samantha Peo. We wanted to create something that would put interesting, introspective conversations about mental wellbeing in the performing industries, as well as about strategies to cope etc.
The idea for Soul Sister was born whilst we were on tour for Chicago. We really found ourselves often going down the rabbit hole of 'how to keep ourselves mentally fit and strong the industry'. The nature of what we do is always focused on the craft but we realised that, often, people don’t get opportunities because they don’t have a strong enough mind or they do get opportunities but they fail because their people skills aren’t great or they don’t know how to handle certain difficult situations. We wanted to start a discourse about this. It then branched out into a general health and wellness kind of mental psychology narrative as well as Welcome Wednesdays on Soul Sister, which welcomes an intriguing guest every week whom we admire and who we want to get to know a little bit better.
FIVE What has been the best piece advice that somebody has given you about starting a business?
The best piece of advice is to take it day by day and not to get too hung up on the "how". Just achieve one goal at a time because sometimes we are not sure where exactly something is going to go (in which direction OR how it’s going to morph and change in shape.) Building anything from scratch is an organic process and if you overthink and over plan too much it can become super overwhelming so you want to make it POSSIBLE for yourself. For me, that is done by setting incremental goals and learning as I go. Also, don't be afraid to take chances and to make mistakes. Stay in the action and out of the results & focus on the possibilities and your goals, and not your fear.
SIX You have been very busy during lockdown with your teaching, studying and Soul Sisters show on &Scene, do you have any tips for staying organized, motivated and keeping everything on schedule?
Taking time to plan is the number one power tool that I utilise every day. They say 20 minutes planning is 60 minutes saved. I’ve got one diary that’s tiny that I write down tasks that I need to complete in a day and then I have another little book that has time blocks and I will literally allocate time to those tasks. I also block things together, for example, all the things that I need to do online I do at once, and then all the things I need to do on my phone at once, and then all the errands I need to run at once. That way the time is utilised efficiently Work smarter, not harder. That helps me to stay focused on one task at a time so if I know I have an hour to do x, I dedicate that hour wholeheartedly to that task. That also helps me not to get bored.
I find that if I plan my time out in advance, it really helps me to stay productive during the day and to stay focused, especially with all the working from home that we are all doing. I’m sure that everyone’s experienced a lot of ADD and stress with one’s attention being drawn in 1 million different directions because you’re at home. I'm the kind of person that when I work, I work and when I play, I play. I get really cranky if I can’t stick to my schedule. That is also a negative sometimes but I am aware of that so I try and stay balanced between on days and off days, where I don't plan a thing and I just go with the flow. Self-care is also really important and I’ve learnt that a powerful 20 minutes of something wonderful for yourself is all it takes to 'fill the jar' as they say. I’m not very good at being a fart in the wind and not having a direction so I like incremental tiny goals that I can achieve so my to do list’s and my planning helps me feel an incredible sense of achievement once I’ve ticked that box. S'cuse the pun.
SEVEN What advice would you give to other young women who want to start their own companies or want to go into performing?
I would definitely say that it’s important to maintain a healthy balance so that you can really focus on the things that you want to achieve when you are working and you have time to recharge your batteries when you’re not working. My venture is so small and I really hope that one day I can call that a company but for now I would say just put your goals into action. Get going! Stop thinking and start doing! Take one tiny step today towards your goal. If you want to be a performer you’re going to have to work really hard and you’re going to have to be versatile. That’s the key ingredient in the South African entertainment industry. We don’t have the luxury of getting into a show that runs 20 years so ground yourself in technique in singing, dancing and acting.
Above all, remember to have fun. I really live by the four "Ps" of creative expression (this goes for business and for performance). Patience, perseverance, play and practice. I would also say that you shouldn’t get too bogged down in other people's opinions of what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Stay passionate in your heart and find what you believe in. That is the only thing that’s going to stand the test of time for you to actually achieve things, in life. What drives you has to be from the heart.
EIGHT Before COVID-19 how did you manage to balance performing and being an entrepreneur? After lockdown has ended, will you continue to balance performing and being a boss woman?
Thank you for saying I’m a boss woman! That's rad! I’ve always been looking for ways to earn money on the side. I’m a makeup artist and I had a styling business before. Sometimes ventures serve their purpose - they bring in a little bit of income, serve as a creative outlet to play and then they reach their sell-by date and they just fizzle out or they lie dormant for a while. It helps me to stay sane when I’m working towards something that is not dictated by anybody else.
I was really pushed into starting my ventures during lockdown because I didn’t really have any other options and sometimes that’s what it takes - the hardest times need to strike in order for you to get off your ass and to get doing stuff. Then, after that first step has been taken, remember that perseverance is key. You can’t just expect to earn money out of a new venture in a month or two or even six months. I really hope to keep my ventures going after lockdown so that I can eventually build sustainable businesses that I can grow and that can run whilst I step away to perform. That will allow me the creative and professional freedom to be in two worlds at the same time.
It’s very daunting, as an artist, to have to rely on somebody else’s approval of you in order to earn money and that is what we do as entertainers so it is really vital for me to feel free from that and that takes the pressure off of the performing so that I can actually just create my best performing work and enjoy my performance. When the pressure is on and you’re trying to earn money sometimes that sucks the life out one's art.
NINE What is the hardest part about balancing performing and being an entrepreneur?
I would say definitely the exhaustion. I do often feel pulled into a billion directions and it is hard to feel like you’re achieving something when, in one particular day, you are busy working on 1 million different projects. That can definitely be a hindrance to any growth, too. Jack of all trades, master of none. I do agree with that statement but I think, once again, the time management comes in handy there. I am a firm believer in having multiple income streams so I know that it is possible. I am an avid supporter of that mindset.
Another thing that gets me down sometimes is the fact that people can be very judgemental and it’s hard to trust in yourself when you get the sense that other people don’t. Granted, much of that struggle is often just in one’s own mind and it’s hard not to look for reasons to give up and not to be a victim of confirmation bias- to try and look for reasons that you’re going to fail. If you look for reasons you’re going to fail, you will find them. I must say that a solid support system (family and friends and the performing arts community) has been a major blessing in my new ventures.
TEN How have your entrepreneurship skills expanded during the COVID-19 lockdown?
I would like to call myself an entrepreneur although I don’t feel like I am. I have always associated that word with these mythical creatures, these beings who take risks & have loads of money to invest in something or have the charm to get money to be invested in. I’ve never seen myself as having the flair of that label. As for the skills it takes to start something - to run a business, I would say I have definitely expanded my social media skills, I’ve learnt a lot about certain aspects of marketing my businesses, I’ve learnt a lot about relationships with people (personal and interpersonal skills). The other thing that has become apparent to me is the need to streamline processes and to think about strategy. Those are all things I never really considered before. I didn’t really have to. This is a whole new world that has opened up to me and it feels very daunting but very exciting
ELEVEN You will be teaching at the Hope School of The Arts next year, what inspired you to go into teaching?.
I have always felt passionate about the voice and have always known that if I ever went into teaching something it would be voice. I am absolutely a vocal pedagogy nerd and obsessed with technique and the magical factor that it takes to create a performer. I am also driven to teach health and to deliver well rounded, intelligent and versatile performers. I can’t lie - I needed to earn money and it was a kind of a colliding of all the motivating factors that got me to actually start up The Voice Lab and to getting my first client and that then obviously has grown into more clients and more learning.
I am also completely a student of life and believe in lifelong learning. When I teach, I learn and I wanted to share what I’ve experienced (whether it helps or not). There is a wonderful feeling when you’re able to pass on something that has benefited you. There is a feeling of having gone through things for a reason. I’ve had so many incredible teachers in my life - most notably my voice teacher since I was eight years old Des van der Walt. She literally changed my life and her support and her warmth gave me a safe space in which to create and explore my voice and that has been my lifelong solace, my first point of creation. If I can be anything like her and pass that on to one person, I’ve succeeded.
TWELVE What have you learnt about yourself, you craft and your entrepreneurial skills during lockdown?
It's more like 'what haven’t I learnt.' Hahaha. I’ve learnt that I really need to plan otherwise I will spend the whole day on the couch watching Netflix and agonising over how lazy I am. I’ve learnt that it really is possible to get up an hour earlier. I’ve learnt that I am not good at handling stress and that I often catastrophize small thing. I’ve learnt that I am way more logical and way more practical than I ever wanted to believe. I’ve had to learn to embrace certain parts of myself that I didn’t want to acknowledge - my need for perfectionism, my need for security, my need for tea and Netflix. Hahaha.
I’ve also learnt how important relationships are. I used to think that I was incredibly independent and I was kind of like a "lone soul" and I could do things alone and I could spend a lot of time alone. I liked things that way. Now, I’ve realised that I actually really do need my circle and that they give me energy and that I need the energy of others to infuse and to revitalise me. I’ve also been able to revisit part of my voice that I haven't used years. I have really missed just singing for the fun of it and just creating my own sounds and sitting in my house and singing nonsense and skatting. I forgot that I am brave and I recently remembered this. Most importantly, I have learnt about the incredible power in uplifting others and how, when we uplift those around us, we all benefit. It's about the collective.
THIRTEEN How have you stayed creative during this lockdown period?
I have just had to kind of roll with the punches (like we have all had to) and, as I say, we have all had to find creative solutions to income, to keeping in touch and to staying relevant. I've been able to keep the creative juices flowing by creating content for Soul Sister & producing the show, which I’ve never done before, as well as by social media creation and strategy and just letting myself be creatively singing and just exploring my own voice during this time and being inspired by my students that’s been a creative outlet for me.
FOURTEEN What can your fans look forward to from you in the future?
I really hope that I will have two successful business ventures that keep growing - The Voice Lab and TickThatBox.co.za, so that I can keep sharing joy and passion through voice and the latter so that I will be able to create some work for myself and other artists. I also hope to do more television and film work in the near future as well as a lot more singing!
Check out Carmen's various business ventures here:
TICK THAT BOX
THE VOICE LAB
Click the links below to follow Carmen Pretorius:
Interview by: Alyssa Harrison and Michaela Tobias (Plug In Theatre Intern)