Conversations with The Dabbler

By Leah Solomon

It was the perfect day for an interview. I sat at the Provost coffee shop sipping on my cappuccino and smoking a cigarette,
waiting for Sam Pennington. I didn’t mind that the Honours Drama student was late; I was happy to soak in the long overdue sunny day.

He walked up to me with purpose; his stride was strong. “I’m so sorry I’m late. I was just in another interview,” he huffed, sitting down on the rickety picnic table seat, which lifted my side up like a see-saw.

Sam is a fidgety guy. He played with two hair-ties around his wrist the whole time, twisting them so tightly around his fingers that the tips turned purple. When he wasn’t cutting off his blood supply, he was carefully observing his surroundings or wiping his hands over the table in front of him.

This was a perfect introduction to him: restless and needing more, needing to do more. This is Sam. He is a dabbler.

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At the moment, his “beats” of choice are directing and devising plays and mask work. With the Young Directors Season coming up, Sam has been working on his latest production.

He is in the throes of devising a physical theatre piece using masks, with help from his cast, called Two. “It started as an idea that was inspired by a production I watched by Sylvaine Strike called The Butcher Brothers,” he explained

Sam first realised that he wanted to experiment with devising theatre when he devised an Afrikaans piece into an isiXhosa piece in his third year. He emphasised that it requires a more particular and specific element from everyone involved.

“You reach a connection with the piece that is personal. It’s not just us trying to be characters from different towns, who spoke different languages, with different upbringings,” he explained. “We put ourselves into it. We bring our own experiences to it.”

Devising a piece is no small feat. It is mostly up to the director, the cast and the writer to bring fresh and scintillating ideas to the stage. Although it may be scary and a lot of pressure, Sam welcomes this challenge with optimism.

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“I find devising theatre and the whole process of making something unique that relates to yourself and the cast is a lot more interesting. To take a text and just tweak it and see what comes out is really fascinating,” he said. He banged his hands on the wood as he grew more excited. “It allows you to challenge yourself and the people you work with a lot more than if you were to work from a standard text.”

Devising a theatre production allows those involved to really put themselves into it and treat it as a personal exploration of the subject matter. Each actor takes what is relevant to them from it and invests as much as they gain.

“You live with this concept in your head and you constantly put it under pressure, trying to delve deeper into it and not resting with what you have, but rather seeing how you can make it more authentic and true.”

IMG_6240Alongside playing with devising, Sam is also trying his hand at mask work, a style of theatre he has never done before. With Rob Murray, director of Waterline, in the Drama department, Sam has a fantastic mentor to guide him.

“The combination of interest and the opportunity of having Rob there gave me the courage to do a mask production,” he confessed. “I’m taking it as an opportunity to really learn a lot about a new kind of direction style.”

Although it’s very different from conventional directing, Sam sees it as a refreshing way to extend his directorial range and experience. Toying with this form of theatre will add to the drama tool belt that he is currently stocking.

“I want to be a jack of all trades: writing, directing, designing, acting, producing, sound-technicianing, fly-swatting, Kung-Fu mastering, veggie garden growing. At the end of the day I just want to produce good theatre in South Africa. Theatre is essentially storytelling, and South Africa is rich with stories.”

Q&A

If you had to be stranded with three South African performers, who would they be?

Firstly, Ninja from Die Antwoord. I’d love to pick his brain and find out what the fuck he’s on. Secondly, probably Sylvaine Strike. Then Andrew Buckland.

What are you listening to at the moment?

A lot of deep house, a lot of drum n bass, a lot of techno. Mainly electronic music. Especially Tom Misch. He’s the fricken heat.

Favourite drink?

Definitely Black Label or craft beer.

Word of the day?

Definitely pontificate.

Have you read the Harry Potter books?

All of them. My mom used to read the books to us when we were too young to read, then we listened to all the audiotapes, then we read all the books ourselves and then we watched the movies.

Who is your favourite Harry Potter character?

I’ve always like the Weasleys, I think they’re a bunch of gangsters. But out of them all I’d have to say Ron. I like his style: bumbling but gold-hearted.

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