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Friday, March 6, 2020


(Caroline Smart with her Arts & Culture Trust Lifetime Achievement Award for Arts Advocacy. Image © John Hogg/Arts & Culture Trust)

A recent interview by the late Clinton Marius, and William Charlton-Perkins, with SA Arts luminary Caroline Smart

In the wake of this year’s global awards season, the announcement last month of South Africa’s 2020 Arts and Culture Trust (ACT) Awards winners, has once again shone a light on the benefits of nurturing a vibrant arts industry in our society.

We spoke to Durban-based actor-director-broadcaster-blogger-arts-champion-extraordinaire Caroline Smart, recipient of a prestigious ACT Lifetime Achievement Award in Arts Advocacy, about her career, and asked her to share her personal perspectives with artists working in today’s world.

Q:  Caroline, you are known throughout this country’s arts community, for your generosity of spirit, not least your capacity for skills-sharing, and your stance of encouragement, while offering honest assessments in reviewing colleagues’ creativity and performance.  What drives you to pursue your passion for the arts?

A: I think it is through having been introduced to theatre and ballet and an appreciation of visual arts and fine craft at an early age through my parents. I enjoyed it all so much. It was such a fulfilling experience. I would like other people to feel the same way. While my website, artSMart, does aim to review productions honestly and to point out problems or failings, the website aims to stay true to the fact that it is a promotional publication.

Q: artSMart is about to celebrate 21 years. How did it start, what was the aim, and where does it stand now?

A: artSMart started on May 24 1999. Before that, I was producing the D’ARTS Magazine for the Durban Arts Association but funding for that fell away. A friend of mine, Colin Muller from Durbanet, suggested that I create my own website as I already had all the contacts and was well-known in the arts world. So, artSMart was born as a co-production of Caroline Smart Services and Durbanet. The aim is to cover arts news in all categories in KwaZulu-Natal and carries press releases as well as reviews on theatre and film productions as well as books and classical music concerts. The popular Events List gets updated on a weekly basis. In 2008, Webpro took over hosting artSMart from Durbanet, continuing to help improve the site and increase its reach. artSMart added a blog which I can now load myself, putting out a minimum of four articles a day.

Q: How did your career in the arts start?

A: My father would say that it was when I was asked to be a Christmas Fairy at the Limuru Country Club’s Christmas function (we lived in Kenya)! I was introduced to the importance of props with the wand that he made me. He cleverly attached a battery-operated light which I could control on the handle and create lovely flashing lights! I attended ballet classes until the time came to go en pointe and was a top piano student at school. More seriously, I started doing theatre work when the family moved to Pietermaritzburg and I became a member of the Pietermaritzburg Philharmonic Society and appeared in a number of musicals, operettas, choral works, etc. I moved to Durban as I wanted to become involved in radio drama and went on to do many productions for Springbok Radio and the then English Service. I trained at the Anne Freed Theatre School with wonderful teachers like Kate King (voice production), Geoffrey Sutherland (theatre) and Andrew Gialerakis (radio presentation). That’s when I became a professional performer.

Q: In the broader context of everyday life, how do you see the role of the arts playing out?

A: The arts are incredibly important. I hang on to the old adage – “If you’re being creative, you can’t be destructive”. Also, it encourages the brain to be inventive, to explore new grounds, be focused and more articulate in your speech and writing as well as your interaction with other people. I sincerely wish that potential sponsors could understand that their funding would help create this strength.  Especially if the project is aimed at children or young people.

Q: What challenges do you see the Arts in SA facing, and do you have any thoughts on how we can move onward and upward, both as performers and audience?

A: Having been associated with the Arts & Culture Trust since D’ARTS magazine received ACT’s first award for print media in 1998 and then having served on the board of trustees, I have extreme respect for this organisation which remains the premier independent arts funding and development body in South Africa. We owe ACT a huge thank-you for the work it does, not least for the public awareness it brings about through its annual awards initiative. Internationally, the arts need funding. Thank heavens that ACT is able to support South Africa’s talent – all kudos to ACT’s sponsors.

Q: What is your vision for the performing arts in SA?

A: It is vitally important to build diverse audiences, with communities sharing each other’s cultures, especially through young people.

Q: As one of your career highlights, what was the experience like, working with artists such as Gabriel Byrne and Julie Walters on Richard E Grant’s biographical film, “Wah Wah”?

A: Certainly working on Richard E Grant’s film “Wah Wah” was definitely one of the major highlights of my life. To work closely with Julie Walters, hovering large and jolly as my character demanded, was fantastic. Richard was a lovely director, knowing exactly what he wanted. The film was shot in Swaziland and I got to wear some hectic costumes, especially in the “Camelot” scenes. The cape was so huge that on one evening, when it was really cold, I was able to shelter two of the little dancers inside it until the next scene!

Q: What is the best advice you ever received, and who was it from?

A: Kate King, many years ago: “Your voice is like an orchestra. You must just learn to play it properly.”

Q: What advice would you give to youngsters considering careers in the arts?

A: Don’t hang around waiting for sponsorship – get creative. Find alternate ways of getting paid for what you do. Eventually build up a CV that will impress funders.  Learn to communicate effectively – both in voice and in print.

Q: You have built an extraordinary legacy, what would you like people to take from it?

A: Work, work, work. Trust your talent. Be willing to give of yourself, generously. What goes around comes around. Exercise self-discipline and stay healthy. Practice your craft with diligence, drive and dedication, and you will reap the rewards.

Q: You have been a driving force in many of the country’s top radio drama productions. In today’s social media-driven environment of soundbite communication (Twitter, Instagram, etc), how do you see the traditional radio drama format surviving?

A: I wish I could say that the future looks hopeful but I don’t see it happening. I have tried on several occasions to get independent radio stations to carry radio drama but without success. This is sad because it is a wonderful medium for the imagination.

Q: What three things about you are people unlikely to know?

A: I’m acutely myopic – without my lens implants I wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a stage on my own! I really don’t like frogs! I tend to hoard things!

Q & A by Clinton Marius, and William Charlton-Perkins