Lockdown with Tina le Roux - A Womxn's Month Interview

To end Womxn's month with a bang, we had the privilege of chatting to Tina le Roux about being a womxn in the performing arts industry.

Tina is an award-winning South African lighting designer. She has worked on many productions including 'Chicago', 'Annie', 'Cabaret' and 'Sweeney Todd.: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'

Tina is currently nominated for a Naledi Award for her work in 'Into The Woods.'

For Tina, choosing to become a survivor is a daily fight towards light and away from darkness, and working as a theatre lighting designer means she doesn't have a choice. When she really thinks she can’t anymore, the show must go on and so theatre forces her up a ladder to literally switch on light and paint in colour.

Tina tells her story as one of hope and encouragement for other womxn in the industry and also for other survivors of gender-based violence. "I want to continue to make theatre that matters and bring child survivors to see shows so that, for a moment, they too can have a childhood of imagination" says Tina.

It is important for Tina to focus on showing her strength here, so others will not feel the need to wrap her up in cotton wool and think of her as a victim. Tina says, "my eulogy is not written on my body in the scars left behind. I have stories to tell and theatres to paint in".

ONE What is something interesting about yourself that you would like our readers to know?

My nickname ‘lighting girl’ comes from one of this country’s biggest producers. I’m a survivor, a dreamer, but mainly just a girl who has reclaimed her heart light inside of a theatre.

TWO What are you most looking forward to when theatres reopen?

Just creating theatre again. I want to sit in the wings, in the auditorium and feel the electricity of that space again. I want the air to crackle with anticipation when the house lights start to dim. I don’t care if I’m the stage sweeper or ballet mat layer, I just want to be back in that space! I just want the opportunity to dream again and imagine that my craft still has a place. Getting behind a lighting desk or up a ladder into a rig is the stuff of my dreams!

THREE You do a lot of work for the Jes Foord Foundation, please can you tell us about it. Why is this cause so close to your heart and how can our readers get involved?

The Jes Foord Foundation helped me when I was gang-raped 6 years ago. I was a freelancer at the time and I did not have medical aid. This remarkable organization allowed me a safe space to heal in a private hospital and started me on my journey to becoming a survivor. A huge part of my journey has been a personal decision to help The Jes Foord Foundation make the same difference for the next survivor. Knowing that I was not alone and that someone was there for me, helped me get through the darkest part of my life and I have taken that to heart. I help where I can with their projects and fundraising drives, but also lately by speaking about my journey. It's important that survivors hear other survivors talk about this in public and without any shame or guilt. It helps to break the silence around this horrific crime. Silence only perpetuates the hatred and darkness. I refuse for any more of my life to be taken up by that crime and the men who perpetrated it. Healing is about speaking and paying it forward for the next person so that she is not alone.

If anyone wants to help me please get in touch – I always have a project with JFF on the go! If you would like to help out or donate directly, you can check out their website www.jff.org.za or send them an email at admin@jff.org.za Lockdown has been extremely hard because it has seen a huge increase in gender-based violence and there is always space for people to get involved, help me and help JFF #makeadifference.

FOUR What have you learned about yourself during lockdown?

Golly, so many lessons! This has been a waiting game of epic proportions and a rollercoaster of note! Knowing that I am not the only person going through this has helped a lot! Because of my PTSD, I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Lockdown has really taught me to focus on small things and to see them as victories. I am learning that 30 min of sunshine and some exercise with my dog, Poppy, can help calm my anxiety. I have definitely learnt that I need a project to keep my anxiety levels down, so I’ve been working with JFF on a project to get their awareness program online, writing book reviews, doing online lighting courses and walking my dog a lot to keep sane.

FIVE Even though womxn have gotten as far as they have in all industries, there are still inequalities. In the performing arts industry, what challenges have you personally had to overcome? What can you recommend to young womxn entering the industry today in order to avoid them facing the same challenges you have had?

I think our industry is largely very supportive of womxn working in technical fields. I started off as a crew member and worked my way up into stage management before I went into the lighting side. I don’t regret that journey for a moment, but I would tell younger womxn who want to get straight into lighting that it is definitely doable and to take the leap!

Lighting is particularly physically demanding so there have been times where I have just had to learn to ask for help. When I started off, I was determined to do it all by myself and that is just crazy. If I could go back, I would definitely be less afraid to ask for help sooner.

My advice would be to keep a paper trail of your requests/needs/tech specs/plans and don’t back down because a production manager/producer is suddenly changing the masterplan during the get-in week. Also, when it gets too overwhelming (and it will) – make sure you always have a director and set designer you trust, who will always back you up. If you can be on the same page as the rest of your creative team, they will never let you down!

SIX What musical soundtrack always makes you happy whenever you hear it?

'Being Alive' from Company. I’m a Sondheim fan and this is definitely my soundtrack for the last six years. Being alive means I can create, I can love, I can light, and I can make a difference. It means I am not what happened to me.

SEVEN What draws you to the Durban theatre scene and how have you seen it grow and change over the last few years?

Durban is home. It has always been. I’m not sure I’ll ever change that either. The theatre scene, although vibrant, is small in comparison to Johannesburg and Cape Town. People here are quite literally my family. Having KickstArt here also means I get to work with two of this country’s best. It’s been a 12-year journey so far with KickstArt and in many ways, I’ve grown up with Steven Stead and Greg King. My heart is also at home in the Sneddon Theatre where I now work full time. It is the theatre I grew up in, having completed my degree at the University of Natal. We are a small core team at the Sneddon, but we get to do diverse and beautiful work every year. I am eternally grateful for the theatre’s ability to offer me a healing and supportive space over the past few years. I think the core of the Durban Theatre scene remains the same – a city with a big heart and talent to boot. More and more I’ve watched our guys and girls go on to bigger careers nationally and also internationally.

EIGHT You have worked on many different musicals, including Shrek, Little Shop of Horrors and Sweeney Todd, which has had the most complicated lighting design?

My biggest design was for Shrek at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City (because of the number of moving lights), but the most complicated design was for Neil Coppen’s Standard Bank Young Artist production Abnormal Loads. I worked relentlessly for many months to bring that show to life and to tour it to the Market Theatre. It remains a career highlight along with KickstArt Theatre’s shows: WiT, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. Sometimes, the hardest design work is in creating theatre in the smallest of places or only with a fraction of light. This is where I am the happiest – helping stories emerge from the darkness.

Abnormal Loads Photos by: Val Adamson

NINE Since you are always working behind-the-scenes, do you feel like audiences don’t appreciate the hard work that you do?

I’ve always felt appreciated. Every time there is a standing ovation for the cast I know that my work is done. It's an ovation for every one of us, who are not seen in the limelight, but without whom none of that magic would be possible. I make a point of telling everyone on comms that there is a standing ovation and to take a bow backstage for their work is complete. Nothing makes me happier.

TEN What inspired you to go into this field?

To be honest, it was watching the work of Durban designer and theatre-maker Michael Taylor-Broderick. I watched him create magical illusions with light. His passion was igniting. Michael is an amazing storyteller with lighting. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and learn more. His work is what inspired me out of the prompt corner to learn about lighting. I also need to mention Brandon Bunyan here because he never doubted that I could do this. He was such a willing teacher and inspiring friend.

ELEVEN How do you evaluate success as a lighting designer?

Success is telling the story. It is as simple and complicated as that. Painting a supportive environment that helps the bigger picture and hopefully something that leaves people genuinely moved. Success after the nightmare of COVID however, will be the day I can unlock the Sneddon and make magic again!

Animal Farm Photos by: Val Adamson

TWELVE What is the funniest thing to happen to you whilst working in theatre?

Funny is difficult to answer because somehow it is only funny because of the stress in theatre. I’d prefer to tell you about one of the little funny habits that I have developed. I have a core female tech team that I use regularly to run KickstArt shows, whom I trust with my life. As the stage manager I always start my show with what they call the ‘Tina speech’ which goes like this over comms: “Right Ladies: we have clearance. But before we start, here is your daily reminder to pull your ovaries towards yourself (meaning gather all your girl power and shine) and have the best show possible. Gents, I’m sorry you don’t have ovaries, but have a good show anyhow.”

THIRTEEN What is your favourite quote?

From Jes Foord, a fellow survivor and my friend: “You have taken my body, but you will never take ME.”

So, I want to take a moment to end and say that if life feels like a rollercoaster at the moment or you are feeling overwhelmed right now, I want you to just try - it is enough. Sometimes, we sparkle the most in the midst of our messy, oh-so-human realness. Unlike my theatre family, you don't need a costume and you don't need to perform or rehearse any lines. Be awkward. Be weird. Be imperfect. Be brilliant. Be big. Be fierce. Be you. And if you stumble a little, that's okay. If you say the wrong thing, it's okay. Stand tall in your heart. Speak. It’s the antidote to immense struggle. Nothing can take this away from us. The light will shine again. This is not the end.


INTERVIEW BY: Michaela Tobias (Plug In Theatre Intern)

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