Actress Anja Akstin answers a few questions for us about her experience playing Isabel in The Heather's recent production of My Children! My Africa!
1. How were you impacted personally from the story that this play, My Children! My Africa!, written by Athol Fugard, portrays?
A.A. - The story in this play affected me in unpredictable ways and in ways I had anticipated. For one, and perhaps most unfortunately, I ended up encountering a significant number of race related issues while undergoing the creative process for this production. The work I was already doing had altered my perception of these events, and I found
that the Isabel Dyson dwelling within was greatly affected by them. It was enlightening to say the least, as a character, an actor, and a person.
This play also brought out some pretty intense personal realities for me. The themes of education and the power of the word have always been a part of my life, and I've lost some of the people that were part of those themes, sometimes in a way similar to the way Isabel did. It was hard at times to push through that, but it was important work.
2. What aspect of the character if any, did you find most challenging to work on?
A.A. - The most challenging aspect for me was probably the part of Isabel that had led a sheltered life in the safety of her town. While I didn't exactly grow up impoverished, my family was pretty poor for many years. It was quite the leap to play a young, almost aristocratic female.
3. What resonating thoughts do you hope that the audience took home with them?
A.A. - I honestly hope the audience took home a sense of openness. Throughout the course of this play, I found the Isabel in me having conversations with many of my friends, and these conversations revolved around a similar theme, "You are a fool to judge a man you don't know." I remember saying to one person, "You don't know what his life was like twenty years ago, and you don't know where you'll be twenty years from now." Give people a chance. I'm not saying don't utilize your faculty of judgment, but give people a chance. Judge them by their deeds and the content of their character. I hope people took that home.
4. If you had to sum up your experience of working on this play, what word would you use?
A.A. - I'm torn between two words: invigorating and exhausting. Working with Betty and Darren was such a privilege, but talk about making me step up my game! You're killing me over here, guys! I guess if I had to pick one word, it would be exciting.
5. What was the funniest moment, that you can remember off the top of your head, that happened either in rehearsal or performance?
A.A. - Now now, there are rules in this theatre, and one of them happens to be, "What happens in the theatre stays in the theatre." Okay, I'll give you one. When we were in waiting backstage before shows during tech week and during the run of the show, we would make up new lyrics to the African songs. They were vulgar, but they were hilarious.
Oh, there was also the one show where the table fell apart during a scene with me and Thami. Almost broke character on that one. "It doesn't work that way with us, Isabel!" *THUD* "... You cannot just..." Heh heh heh...