By Vanessa Levenstein
Dancing down the yellow brick road, in her first lead role on Artscape’s stage, is twenty-one year old Martine Kawalsky as Dorothy Gale.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow endures as one of the greatest movie songs of all time and remains synonymous with Judy Garland. The popularity of this 1938 musical has meant that many actresses since have slipped into Dorothy’s ruby slippers reassuring audiences that ‘there’s no place like home’.
The Wizard of Oz’s message of optimism in bleak times make it a fortuitous choice for this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan musical.
Growing up with Gilbert and Sullivan
Her road to Oz has taken some interesting turns and started when Martine was in nursery school. “I remember watching musicals and thinking ‘I could do that’, so I’d make my class sit down while I sang to them.”
Martine laughs at the story, in fact she laughs a lot at herself and has a refreshing down-to-earth approach to her talent. She also has a captivating energy that clearly caught the eye of director Kyla Thorburn. “My first audition was in 2005 and I was cast to play Annie in a skit for the Cape Town Comedy Festival”. The bug bit and the following year she appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The King and I, followed by the musical Annie at Artscape.
Hitting the High School Notes
In her first year at Milnerton High School Martine starred as one of the female leads in District Six. “Up until then, musical theatre had been this Broadway, West End experience, and District Six taught me to appreciate just how much South Africa had to offer”.
In 2012 she was rehearsing for two shows simultaneously. Shout! The Mod Musical, with Pinelands Players, for which she won two Cape Amateur Theatre Awards, as well as the lead in her school production of Hairspray. Martine climbed into a fat suit and got under the skin of Tracy. Supporting her on stage was her character’s best friend Penny, played by none other than Martine’s sister Jamie.
Martine’s family are a big part of who she is. Her parents have always supported and encouraged her. As the eldest of three sisters she’s never short of an audience to listen to her practise.
And practise she does! For the call-back to Wizard she practised each song fifty times in different keys. Yet the true preparation for this role started long before that. Musical theatre requires acting, singing and dancing prowess, known as the triple threat.
Even though she claims she isn’t a dancer, Martine attended ballet classes with the renowned Natalie Swanepoel from when she was three years old until matric. She also credits both her high school singing teacher Lente Louw and her current teacher Keenan Oliphant for her vocal training.
The ABC of Music
It’s not only her love of musical theatre that is a driving force, but also youth development. After she matriculated she wanted the flexibility to continue performing so enrolled with UNISA for a Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood Development. “I wanted to find a way to combine my two passions for theatre and education. From the first semester it became clear to me how important music is in both cognitive and emotional development. Even for babies the experience of music serves as an emotional outlet”.
No I in Theatre
Whether Martine’s musical outlet is in the chorus, as she was last year in My Fair Lady or as a lead, it is one she credits with equal significance. “Chorus work teaches one a discipline, you learn to work with other people and put your ego aside. When I heard that G&S was staging The Wizard of Oz I thought, I don’t care if I’m the eighth Munchkin in the back I want to be part of it”.
Wizards and Women
Yet it was the iconic lead that she landed instead, “Dorothy was one of the first strong independent female musical leads and together with Glinda and The Wicked Witch make up a strong female trio”.
The production is under the direction of Roché Haupt-Buckle who Martine has always admired. “Gilbert and Sullivan have been part of my life for so long, and to be directed by Roché in this role really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance!” Haupt-Buckle is confident of their choice “We have watched Martine grow as a performer, developing her skills and technique. Her energy and enthusiasm brings a fresh approach to the role of Dorothy”.
Martine is equally excited about working alongside Jennifer Human, Dorothy from the alternate cast. “I have performed with Jen for years. Not only is she incredibly talented, she has also been so encouraging and gracious about sharing this role with me.”
It’s a role Martine has been waiting and is ready for. “My challenge is to stay true to the character but make it my own.” There is little doubt that this feisty young performer will do just that.
The Wizard of Oz is on at Artscape Theatre from 16 September — 8 October 2017.
There are two casts, Ruby and Emerald. Martine performs in the Ruby cast