In the limelight: SA actor Bjorn Steinbach talks about the invaluable theatre experience has gained, working with Cape Town’s independent theatre company, Sugar-daddy

Cape Town’s Sugar-daddy Theatre Company, celebrated its 10th birthday in 2020. Marlisa Doubell, who founded the independent theatre company with other creatives, is spotlighting some of the artists who have been part of Sugar-daddy’s journey. Actor Bjorn Steinbach has performed in three shows for Sugar-daddy. In lockdown, Steinbach pivoted towards his other passion- fitness. Steinbach salutes Sugar-daddy for the invaluable opportunities to work on stage and learn from his peers, directors and creatives. With considerable success in international TV shows, it was live on stage with Sugar-daddy, where he honed his acting smarts.  Steinbach looks forward to the future when Sugar-daddy can once again raise the curtain on new productions.

TheCapeRobyn: You have performed in three plays with Sugar-daddy?

Bjorn Steinbach: I have been blessed to be part of three shows for Sugar-daddy: Relationshit! (2010), Line (2012) and Lady Luck (2013). Marlisa has been a powerhouse at getting people together no matter what, never taking ‘no’ for an answer and keeping the process light hearted and crazy fun; always.

TheCapeRobyn: Around about February, Sugar-daddy stages a V-Day show – as part of Eve Ensler’s global campaign to raise money for worthy causes. Sadly, with the pandemic, there cannot be a V-Day show this year [2021]. Have you performed in any Sugar-daddy V-Day shows?

Bjorn Steinbach: I unfortunately was not part of any of the V-Day performances but I was sure there to support this wonderful initiative. It is difficult to comprehend that there will not be a V-Day show, in February, as it was keenly anticipated by all. Last year [2020], the shows sold out. [Funds raised from Sugar-daddy’s V-Day shows, go to Rape Crisis, Cape Town. The recording of last year’s V-Day show- 2020- The Vagina Monologues – is up on SugarTube- Sugar-daddy’s YouTube channel. There is no charge to watch but donations are appreciated and will go to Rape Crisis. Link: Read the review on TheCapeRobyn. The recording of the stage show is a powerful piece of theatre and comes across exceptionally well on the digital stage – due to the superb characterisation and accents. The piece has a dash of South African lingo and humour woven into Eve Ensler’s iconic text. Watch it. Link]

TheCapeRobyn: What led to your involvement with Sugar-daddy?

Bjorn Steinbach: Marlisa Doubell and I met through a collaborative workshop held by a mutual friend of ours, Riaz Solker. I had done some work with him and she wanted to get a group together in Cape Town to collaborate on a play. She had just come in from London and was passionate about creating work for actors to work on stage – in theatre.  

TheCapeRobyn: The first Sugar-daddy play that you did was Relationshit?

Bjorn Steinbach: Yes it was, it was such a great experience getting together with a bunch of like minded people to create something special and fun. Marlisa had done it in London and wanted to adapt it for SA.  It was a fun show with so much heart-except for when I had to eat ginger pudding every night for three weeks. By the end I had to ‘act’ more and more about loving it [the pudding] so much. I remember going selling tickets outside the SEXPO in Cape Town [see photo]. There was never a dull moment with Sugar-daddy. A lot of hard work and focus but fun as well.

TheCapeRobyn: Can you talk about Line – which is about five people waiting in line, desperate to get first place in line but they don’t know what they are lining up for. That play could be re-booted for Covid times – people lining up with masks. Can you reflect on being in that play? Sugar-daddy nabbed the rights to important plays which we have been lucky to see.

Bjorn Steinbach: Line, written by Israel Horovitz, was a great show to be part of and a huge learning curve for me. At the time it was the longest running show on off-off-Broadway and here we were, thanks to Sugar-daddy getting the rights to stage this absurdist theatre piece. It was very interesting to unpack the writing, by Israel Horwitz. I played a young man, Stephen who is obsessed with Mozart and is very fast with his words. The play revolves around human truths of what people will do to ‘win’- even when they don’t know what is at stake. It is very relevant to Covid-19 hysteria – for example- the rush to stock up with toilet paper rush- just before hard lockdown.

TheCapeRobyn: Since it was established in 2010, Sugar-daddy has staged high profile plays which have provided vital opportunities for South African actors. Your thoughts?

Bjorn Steinbach:  I think Sugar-daddy has been a blessing for all who have had the pleasure to be on its platform: To get to explore real, meaningful and fun stories. Sugar-daddy gave a voice to often overlooked talent to shine and for people to collaborate in a meaningful way, through the medium of theatre. Sugar-daddy enabled me to consistently be on stage for over three years; practicing the craft of acting and most importantly rehearsals times. I think that there is nothing more creatively lucrative for an actor than real rehearsal time. It is a sacred space where you get to trial and error your instincts. You learn to take direction. You might have creative ideas that you think are great but they don’t serve the story; only you as an actor, so they must be cut from the show . It is about not being precious with your ideas. Rehearsals is the place to streamline performance. Having sugar daddy provide a decent rehearsal period was vital to me. Learning the theory of acting is useless without getting on stage and putting it into practise. Sugar-daddy was there for me and others and it was vital to have that experience and the company gave me the opportunity, to work with my peers and learn from them.

TheCapeRobyn: Let’s talk about you. What is with the name- very exotic?

Bjorn Steinbach: My full name is Bjorn Jorg Walter Steinbach. It is a mouthful in full. My dad is German. My mom is Greek. They came to live in South Africa – separately -and met in PE. I hated my name, when I was growing up. It was too exotic. I have grown into it.

TheCapeRobyn: You were born and grew up in Port Elizabeth and then headed to Cape Town, to UCT, to study psychology?

Bjorn Steinbach: I did a full year at UCT at that time I was on a double bursary for two different sports. I realised I didn’t want leave my passion for performing in the graveyard of forgotten dreams. I enrolled AFDA for two and did my final year at City Varsity in 2006, I completed my diploma there. 

TheCapeRobyn: It sounds like everything happened very fast for you – after City Varsity- your first USA break was with  Generation Kill (2008), an HBO mini-series about the 1st Recon Marine Battalion that was sent in during the first phase of the war in Iraq?

Bjorn Steinbach: Yeah, two months out of City Varsity I landed that role for HBO. The funny story is that I actually almost threw it away.  I had booked a role in another production and they needed a confirmation by the Tuesday. Generation Kill would only give me an answer on the Thursday. I thought that I knew everything about how the industry worked. Wanting to play it safe, I told my agent that there was no chance I was going to get it and that it was better to confirm for the theatre show. Luckily my agent Patti from Artists One begged me or actually, she told me to shut up and wait. I got the role and boom that Friday I was on a plane to Namibia for the series.  It was crazy but amazing. 

TheCapeRobyn: In 2005, you appeared as a contestant on Fear Factor: South Africa. Are you a fearless person?

Bjorn Steinbach:  Fear Factor was a fun experience, I was still at ADFA we shot in JHB. I didn’t get very far due to a technicality … but I got to eat flies in sour cream and strawberries and bulls testicles -definitely one to remember. I am definitely not a fearless person but I do like to face my fears … except spiders I don’t want to face those –ever.

TheCapeRobyn: You have built up a reputation for high energy, physically charged roles in series like Generation Kill but you have put a great deal of work into your craft such as the summer programme at the Esper Studio in New York in 2008?

Bjorn Steinbach: It was a course that changed my life. It is a technique that really helped me find my own technique taught by a master instructor. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to craft meaningful behavior to support the story. Getting to see and experience Bill Esper in action was incredible. Shortly after I studied there, he stopped teaching, so I was lucky to be taught by him.

TheCapeRobyn: Theatre has been for the most part on hold since March 26, but you have been busy with film work?

Bjorn Steinbach: I was lucky enough to book a job shooting in Mauritius just before lockdown called Mari-Team, for Germany. [This TV series revolves around a distressed marine biologist – recently released from prison- who is lobbying to save  oceans and environment from corrupt governments.] It was not the hardest job in the world, shooting on a tropical island. In December [2020], I got to shoot an international commercial. I realise that I have been extremely lucky to have gotten anything during these incredibly difficult times. People’s livelihoods are being destroyed by the thousands. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any stage acting work, during lockdown- not that much has been available, live on stage. The industry is starting to open up with strict measures in place – thanks to people in this industry who are trying to find solutions to staging work during this time.

TheCapeRobyn:  Tell us about how you have pivoted to embrace your other passion – fitness – and how your theatre training has assisted you with that career?

Bjorn Steinbach: I got involved in my second passion: fitness. I am a master instructor at SWEAT1000 which has studios in SA and the USA. There is a performance and highly creative aspect of fitness that I get to tap into through SWEAT1000. During the pandemic, we have focused on building the online platform for SWEAT 1000. That kept me super busy. There are many parallels between the creative process of live performance and fitness instructing. Being in front of people on the microphone -motivating them to pay attention -you must be in touch with your audience. And with live streams, you have to be able to create the class organically. My live stage work has helped me a lot – and of course the experience that I got with Sugar-daddy.

TheCapeRobyn:  What is next for you – in theatre and film/TV – in these uncertain times- any film or TV projects happening? 

Bjorn Steinbach: So far I have a science fiction pilot on the cards but things have been a little delayed due to the industry having to adapt.

Absurdist play: Line by Israel Horovitz was staged by Sugar-daddy in 2012. In the photo, left to right: Aidan Whytock [face obscured], Marlisa Doubell, Bjorn Steinbach, Leon Clingman and Gavin Werner. Photo supplied.

Roadshow: Bjorn Steinbach [with glasses], handing out flyers for Relationshit! – the play- staged by Sugar-daddy in 2010. Supplied.
“Learning the theory of acting is useless without getting on stage and putting it into practise. Sugar-daddy was there for me and others and it was vital to have that experience and the company gave me the opportunity, to work with my peers and learn from them.” South African actor, Bjorn Steinbach, talking about the invaluable experience that he has gained working with Sugar-daddy Theatre Company, Cape Town. Supplied.