In the limelight: Sue Diepeveen talks about her work with Sugar-daddy theatre company

In addition to acting work (film, television and theatre) and teaching, Cape Town based Sue Diepeveen directs, writes and runs her own theatre, The Drama Factory (a receiving and producing house). She launched The Drama Factory on February 19, 2017, with Sugar-daddy’s Company’s The Vagina Monologues – which was part of V-Day- the global activist movement, headed up by Eve Ensler. To mark its 10th birthday in 2020, Sugar-daddy theatre company, Cape Town is celebrating the work of three theatre makers who have been part of its journey: Sue Diepeveen, Sive Gubangxa and Melissa Heiden.

The Cape Robyn: In 2017, you directed Thirst, by Eugene O’Neil for Sugar-daddy. In addition to Thirst, you also directed Blueberry Toast (2018 and 2019). Marlisa Doubell of Sugar-daddy says that you credit Sugar-daddy with giving you your ‘break’ as a director?

Sue Diepeveen:  Indeed I do.  The opportunity to direct for a professional stage was one I had always hoped for as prior to that I had only directed school plays with 50 kids which is more like herding cats than directing.  When it comes to the material I don’t think that it could have been more challenging. In Thirst, two dying characters on a raft doesn’t allow for much in terms of movement and to get the constant sway of being at sea was really challenging for the actors.  With Blueberry Toast, the content is both bright and sunny and extremely dark at the same time which I found fascinating.

The Cape Robyn: Was Thirst, your first directing gig – or had you directed other plays?

Sue Diepeveen:  As a drama teacher at Somerset House I was charged with writing and directing the Grade 7 plays which comprised 50 characters and I always wanted everyone to have something meaningful to do instead of the review type work that schools mostly produce, so when Marlisa approached me to direct Thirst I jumped at the chance. I had been watching Sugar-daddy closely and really loved the energy of the company and the work it tackled.

The Cape Robyn: How did your association with Sugar-daddy come about?

Sue Diepeveen: I am not entirely sure how I came to be on Marlisa’s radar but we both offer tutoring for LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) and one of my students got full marks on a gold medal exam so I think perhaps that peaked her interest.  Then when I opened up The Drama Factory back in February 2017 she jumped at the chance to bring The Vagina Monologues to the Boland. That was our very first show.  What a treat that was – our stage bursting with talent.

The Cape Robyn:  I loved Blueberry Toast and its first staging in a pop-up theatre. Innovative venue and an outstanding staging. Any plans to do more work with Sugar-daddy?

Sue Diepeveen: Thank you, I also loved it.  Working in a pop-up venue had its own challenges of course. It was like building a theatre space and creating a play in parallel, not having a proper lighting rig was the most challenging, these are things we take for granted in even our most basic theatre spaces.  The crafting of Blueberry Toast was a huge challenge for me as a director and the most important thing was keeping the children safe emotionally as they had to witness a lot of stuff one normally wouldn’t, so, together with their parents, we always kept checking to see that they were okay.  Our young cast were just the cream of the crop and we were so grateful to have them on board.  Blueberry Toast was really one of the highlights of my career and working with Gavin [Werner] and Marlisa was a treat. They worked so hard especially when it came to the physical stunt work and I was so grateful to have Richard Lothian around to help with that.  I don’t think any of us will forget the tidying up of the set – after the carnage at the end. It  is a good thing that we all like blueberry jam as we were all covered in the stuff.  Gavin was in charge of the eggs and I am ever grateful that egg yolk was not in the mix to clean each night. I would love to work with Sugar-daddy again of course – as soon as the opportunity arises I will be standing in line with my CV.

The Cape Robyn:  In addition to directing, you are also an actor and writer and you run your own theatre, The Drama Factory. When did you open The Drama Factory?

Sue Diepeveen: We opened The Drama Factory on 19 February 2017, with Sugar-daddy’s Vagina Monologues. I have a vivid memory of Sive Gubangxa looking at the lighting rig and then at me saying: “Girl, you need help with this.” How right she was.  Thankfully, we now have a rig that she can play with to her heart’s content.  Owning a theatre came about by accident more than design. It was originally a teaching space that I wanted to use to produce lovely theatre in.  It has quickly grown and become rather a handful not leaving me with too much time to write.  I am grateful to have had the chance to get back on to the stage and screen in the last few years, not least for A Memory. A Monologue, A Rant and a Prayer, which I said ‘no’ to doing but I don’t think anyone ever says no to Marlisa. She said:  “You are doing the Jane Fonda piece…end of!” I really enjoyed getting to know the younger girls and working with Tamryn Spiers. It turned into something so lovely for my soul not to mention all the cash we managed to raise for Rape Crisis. This amount continues to rise. 

The Cape Robyn:  It has not been a fun year – 2020- but The Drama Factory pivoted quickly and was a venue for filming of theatre for the VNAF?

Sue Diepeveen: Well it started in a fun way as we moved into our new building and our very first production (Two To Tango) was set to do its third run when the Covid-19 wheels fell off.  We quickly jumped at the chance to film before the big lockdown with Blythe Linger as he started his SATOD (South African Theatre on Demand) journey.  We were lucky enough to be able to film during level 4 and managed to get some content up on the vFringe on the NAF (National Arts Festival).  It was trying to say the least -rehearsing via zoom.  The most important thing that it did was cement what I already knew – the minute we could go and watch theatre, we would. Our audiences has relished being back and have been so good at adhering to the protocols we have in place.

The Cape Robyn:  Various productions were filmed at The Drama Factory including your play, So You Want to Be a Trophy Wife?

Sue Diepeveen: Trophy Wife is an old project that people have been asking me about so I decided to get it into shape for NAF and was extremely lucky to snag director Wynne Bredenkamp for the project.  Of course the filming of it was not on the cards and we learned a lot about this process and that fact that most plays really need the audience in the mix – especially a solo show; also that trying to rehearse remotely is not ideal.  We have just done the first live run. It took some time to knock off some of the edges and refine bits that didn’t seem to work. We have been thrilled at the reaction from the live audiences.  I must credit Marlisa for encouraging me to do this project – what I learned from her and my various work with Sugar Daddy -both on stage and off- is that some people may criticise but if no one takes the risk to produce work then the world will be a bland and boring place. It is better to take the plunge and feel alive. Marlisa is completely fearless when it comes to theatre, she is a doer.

The Cape Robyn: In addition to running a theatre, directing and performing, you are a mother of three. How have you managed to do it all?

Sue Diepeveen: Oh my – well, my kids are all grown up now and I chose not to be a performer while they were still young – a 15 year break in a career is another long story but safe to say that coming into the profession as an older woman has been quite a journey.  Now, I can focus on my career and I plan to give it horns as long as I possibly can.

The Cape Robyn: What is next for Sue Diepeveen and The Drama Factory?

Sue Diepeveen: Well, in addition to doing some filming for a local series I am busy with some upcoming projects that I am hoping to start in the New Year, I definitely want to produce more, as The Drama Factory has been more of a receiving house.  There are some projects that I am working on for 2021 and praying for a vaccine so that we can get back to living large again.  Personally I am hoping to take Trophy Wife up to JHB for a run too in 2021. While I feel that the online stuff helped us, I know in my bones that live will survive.

The Cape Robyn: Anything else to add regarding your Sugar-daddy journey?

Sue Diepeveen: Marlisa has an amazing positive energy and what she has embarked on with Sugar-Daddy has been remarkable, she has offered so many opportunities for actors in Cape Town.  I pushed her hard in rehearsals for Thirst and Blueberry Toast and she always came up smiling, “Ahh Sue, Sue ok, I will try!”  this attitude pervades all that Sugar-Daddy stands for.  We also did a LOT of belly laughing in rehearsals, for instance, in Thirst, we couldn’t afford the third character of the Sailor, so I came up with the stupid notion to have a cut-out. There was some symbolism involved I promise you. Marlisa brought what turned out to be a gigantic cut out which had us in fits and which resulted in the most unproductive rehearsal ever.  Our ‘cut out’ dwarfed Pope and he is not a short man. I know that the company will continue to go from strength to strength. Marlisa is organised and meticulous and makes a plan – even when Eskom fails us, she brings candles and borrows battery operated lights to make sure that the show goes on. I know that Sugar-daddy is also a team not a one-woman show and that this team has some of the finest creatives in Cape Town at the helm, so I know that we will see brilliant theatre being brought to the stage soon. In the meantime the company continues to innovate with initiatives like The Monologue Slam Competition, run during lockdown, which shows that this company will never be left wanting when it comes to putting on a show.

Sue Diepeveen, outside the pop-up theatre at The Foundry, Green Point, December 2018, where Sugar-daddy staged Blueberry Toast by American writer, Mary Laws. Diepeveen is pictured with a packet of blueberry chocs- a fun addition to the staging of the darky-comedic play- in which copious amounts of blue berry toast was consumed. The production was staged again in 2019, at Artscape. Photo: ©TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

Sue Diepeveen (director) with Gavin Werner and Marlisa Doubell (performers), The Foundry, Green Point, December 2018, after a performance of Blueberry Toast by Mary Laws. Photo: ©TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

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