Bianca Amato is currently in Cape Town rehearsing ‘LUNGS’ ahead of its run at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre On The Bay from 7 – 24 February, 2024.
‘LUNGS’ is a funny, off-kilter love story, that explores the debate around the environmental impact of having children in today’s world, a world that is becoming more and more focussed on sustainable living.
30 January, 2024.
DR: You last appeared on our stages in Pieter Toerien’s 2001 production of ‘Proof’, starring Michael Atkinson. Since then you have worked extensively overseas – how does it feel to be home again?
BA: Shew! Such a wild mix of emotions! I returned for family life and that has been very special. The process of building up a similar work life to the one I experienced in the US has begun and I feel very excited by it. It hasn’t come easy, what with having a baby and then COVID in the middle of it all. But the challenges that I’ve had make it all the sweeter now, as it gains momentum.
DR: A performing highlight that you wish to share?
BA: Do I have to pick just one? Working with Jack O’ Brien and Tom Stoppard in the Coast of Utopia trilogy at Lincoln Centre. All the Shakespeare I got to do in NYC. The Importance of Being Earnest directed by Sir Peter Hall.
Playing Amanda in Private Lives directed by Maria Aitken. Playing Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion at the wonderful Guthrie Theatre. Playing opposite Bill Irwin, sharing a stage with Billy Crudup, Ethan Hawke, Martha Plimpton, David Harbour, Lynn Redgrave, Miriam Margolyes. Being directed by Athol Fugard in NYC. I have been beyond lucky.
DR: A production that posed unique challenges, and how you overcame them?
BA: Ha! I had to play a ballerina in Mr.Fox: a Rumination. A play by Bill Irwin about a famous clown in 19th century New York City. I played the clown’s wife and I had to learn ballet in 3 weeks. Faking it obviously, not on pointe at all. I had to work VERY HARD to become a little bit graceful.
DR: South African audiences will of course remember you as Philippa De Villiers in Isidingo, which do you prefer stage or screen?
BA: Stage. I won’t say no to screen, but ja, Stage.
DR: Can you tell me about ‘LUNGS’, and how you came across the play?
BA: ‘LUNGS’ is really a peek into a private conversation that spans 40 years. It is both a love story and a searing look at where we are now, us little humans. It is brave, probing, funny, and achingly poignant. It is a play that has come into its time a decade after it was written – it’s actually quite unsettling to see how much more relevant it is now, given the current climate crisis. I read it in 2018. It spoke to me. I could hear it. Duncan Macmillan writes in a very particular way and I feel very connected to it.
DR: What attracts you to this project?
BA: The style of it – it’s vital and smart and potent and demands virtuosity from its performers. The humanity of it. The humor. The joy of it! It’s a rollercoaster ride, and it’s such a great piece for two young actors to revel in. Jazzara and Sanda are just extraordinary – I cannot wait for people to fall in love with them.
DR: How do you approach casting a play – this play in particular?
BA: Very carefully! I saw many people, many lovely performers, but I was looking for two people who have an instinct about the essence of the characters, as well as an understanding of what is needed from them stylistically. And most importantly, they need to have chemistry with each other. The piece is very intimate and asks for vulnerability and connection.
DR: How do you collaborate with actors, to bring about their best performances?
BA: Every actor is unique, and their process is too. Respecting this is very important to me. But the most important thing, especially when you have a good play on your hands, is to honor the text. To really investigate together, to be exacting and specific. If we can do that together, find each other in the investigation, put the text first, and play, play, play, while always staying true to the intentions of the writer, we’ll be on our way.
DR: What do you wish the audiences to take away from this experience?
BA: I hope they feel that they have been given a gift, that they have been allowed to eavesdrop on two people’s lives, and that they feel richer for it. I want them to have a good laugh and a good cry. And perhaps, who knows, maybe they will feel galvanised to help tackle the climate crisis in some personal way? At the very least, recycle!
DR: You have formed your new production company, The Quickening Theatre Company. How did this come about, and what sort of projects are you looking at producing in future?
BA: In South Africa you can’t just wait for the phone to ring. We as artists have to forge ahead and make our own work. I have been circling around the idea of creating my own theatre company for a few years now, but the thought of doing it alone was daunting. I met Kensiwe Tshabalala last year, and we quickly realized we could make a really great team. The Quickening is dedicated to producing contemporary plays that excite South African audiences, and to revitalizing Shakespeare and other classical playwrights in productions that resonate with us all and reflect the here and now. We are hugely excited to see what lies ahead!
DR: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a theatre director?
BA: Getting to craft stories. To help birth something. Getting to work with others to weave magic from words. I love language and I love people and I love moments.
DR: What do you believe are the key qualities of a successful theatre director?
BA: I’m learning as I go, but I would think listening, being patient, trusting the process, trusting your instincts, and not taking yourself too seriously. Knowing when to speak and when to shut up (still very much learning!) Having vision, but being flexible. Leaning into the humor in the room. Not being too precious. Letting people breathe. Having fun. But always looking to honor the work, to be exacting, to not settle for surface choices, to keep digging, keep honing, keep divining the truth. Also, inspiring and motivating people! Making them feel energised and lucky to be doing this work. My favorite director and role model, Jack O’Brien, would give such gorgeous, rousing speeches about the work that we would feel like we would do anything for him. I can only dream of capturing a casts heart and imagination the way he does.
Presented by The Quickening Theatre company and Gloucester Productions, ‘LUNGS’ by Duncan MacMillan runs at Theatre On The Bay from 7 – 24 February, 2024.
Performances from Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7:30pm, with Saturday matinees at 3pm.
Tickets available from Webtickets, or the Theatre On The Bay box-office on (021) 438-3301.
Age restriction: 13
For more information on Bianca Amato, visit http://www.biancaamato.com/.