My absent-minded journey to Fargo

Did you see me on Fargo last night? Here’s the long path I took to get there.

My first serious acting gig was when I was eight or nine years old. I was to play the absent-minded professor, a major character in one of those end-of-year school productions where every grade had to put on a play.

Usually, school plays were a series of songs and badly arranged set pieces, with the goal of participation, as opposed to individual performances.

Shortly before it opened (a term I use loosely, since it was a one night only affair), I was kicked off the cast. I couldn’t remember my lines.

Ironically, over 30 years later, I still remember one of them, where I say, “And that’s why I always talk like this”.

During one of the dress rehearsals in front of the school, where I sat unceremoniously in the audience, I remember being able to talk along with my understudy enough lines to feel wronged by the teacher’s decision to kick me out.

As time went on, I really enjoyed the acting part, but not the dancing, and definitely not the learning of lines. In sixth grade (which we called Standard Four), my parents contributed a significant percentage of the script for my school play. A series of limericks would form the foundation of our production, with songs stuck in between. It was glorious. Since it was “my” play, I was given the opening limerick:

An intrepid inspector Hall Green
Could catch any man most mean
By ten to nine
He could stand in line
Several peaches and a dollop of cream

This isn’t particularly funny, and if the audience doesn’t know what to expect, it won’t get a big laugh. We used to have, on South African television, a crime watch show called Police File, presented by David Hall Green. It generally followed the 8pm news. Associated with the show was a captain of the South African Police, Fred Peach, whose most quoted line was “keep ’em peeled”.

Like I said, not that funny. I’d look at it now and say it was too clever for a primary school play.

After my opening limerick, Gary Jack, star cricketer even at our young age, would follow with:

And then there’s the epic called Dallas
With J.R., ever so callous
The bulk of his weight
Plus ten percent hate
Could treble the meaning of malice

Now that’s funny. Gary always got a bigger laugh. Even back then I wanted the laugh. I craved that attention.

I switched from theatre to music in high school. I joined the choir and was a tenor. We had some minor success. Then I left boarding school during my second year there and turned my back on performance for 14 years.

In what must have been tenth grade, my English teacher tried to get me to audition for the school production. It was a much bigger affair in high school, and they would bus in some girls from the local schools to perform with us.
I literally laughed in his face when he suggested I should audition.

Sorry, Mr van Niekerk, but I was worried I would get bullied even more, for doing gay stuff like acting and singing.

I finished school at the end of 1994, six months after my father died, and drifted for many years, always attracted to the limelight by that thrill that comes from people laughing at what I said.

One of the boys in my grade twelve class wrote about me in the school yearbook “[But] Potter was weird anyway”, as if this was a good way to be remembered. Weird. Different. Years later I was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which explained everything.

There was a brief moment in 1996, in the six months I attended Rhodes University, when I thought I might get back into dramatic arts. What I didn’t expect was the suicidal depression I experienced, mostly a delayed reaction to my father’s death, but also because I realized I was queer, which alienated me from a lot of friends. So I left.

I drifted, always attending plays, musicals, concerts, picturing myself up there on stage. Picturing myself on television.

My friend Gereth introduced me to Little Shop of Horrors, which is my second favourite musical behind Chicago. My mother introduced me to Rocky Horror. I discovered Chicago all on my own with the wonderful film adaptation starring Renée Zellweger. All the time that feeling that I could sing Richard Gere’s part. That could be me up there.

In 2005, I was living with Housemate Chris. We had lived for a few years in a commune previously, when I was still living with my first boyfriend, along with Dylan (a friend I met at Rhodes). At one stage I think there were five of us in the house and cottage, and only two were actually sleeping together.

Dylan and Chris were involved in a community theatre called Franklin Players, and I still don’t know why I felt compelled to audition for a show, but I did. Perhaps it was Chris, perhaps it was Dylan, but I ended up auditioning, and of course landed the lead role in a one-act play called Mac The Knife, a spoof of Shakespeare, centred around Act 3 of Macbeth, with bells on.

I say “of course”, not to sound flippant, but to say how unexpected this was. I was hoping for a small piece in one of the sketches, perhaps reading for the narrator, I just wanted to be involved at some level.

It turns out that I was still bad at learning lines. But Shakespeare is equally unforgiving and unforgettable. We changed one line of mine from the original script (yes, William Shakespeare’s script), and I wore leather pants and spoke with a lisp in my most flamboyant role ever. It was beyond words, and the audience laughed every time I made my entrance.

It has been twelve years since I rediscovered my love for theatre. In that time, before leaving for Canada, I stayed with the Franklin Players for four more years, coming back in early 2010 to help Chris co-direct a one act play.

In those four years I won some awards, but more importantly, I made friends, I created art, and I entertained audiences. I loved the work and loved the scene and realized that next to teaching, theatre is my favourite thing to do.

Canada was an interesting move. We ended up first in Lloydminster, and I joined the Vic Juba Community Players. In the first year, I played the Bishop of Lax in See How They Run, and then Ally in Hands Across The Sea.

When we moved to Calgary, I started going by Randolph West professionally, because I hate my legal surname. However, I had to wait to do anything in front of an audience, because I broke my foot just before the summer in 2013, so I missed out on the first year of acting opportunities.

Then in 2014 I auditioned for and got the lead in Move Over, Mrs. Markham, with Morpheus Theatre. Glorious. My co-star in that, Steve Gomori, had been in a few on-camera roles, so I asked him about the industry, agents, and all the rest of it.

In early 2015, I attended a weekend workshop called Audition Hell, with Peter Skagen, on the advice of another Mrs. Markham fellow cast member, Christopher Heatherington. There I met a number of people with whom I am still in contact, including Anna Mae, my associate in a small production company we have founded.

In 2015, through sheer grit and determination, we shot four episodes of a web series. What I didn’t realise then is that someone needs to edit them, and we’ve been busy. You know how you read about development hell? Postproduction is hell too, especially if you don’t have money.

Before the web series, though, before anything, Anna Mae invited me to take part in the Calgary 48-Hour Underground Film Festival. Her friend Shaun Pulsifer was spearheading their entry, and I had my on-camera debut in a supporting role in Unhappy Endings, a short film about a really bad cult.

Still in 2015, a Facebook audition notice caught my eye, and I acted (in a small role) in my first independent feature film, called Imitative Magic.

Before 2015 ended, though, Christopher Heatherington invited me to work with him on what turned into two short films about an Arizona radio station (I acted in the first one and directed the second), which has had some success on YouTube. The first, The Winner, was about a lottery winner, and the second, Sancha’s Cause (Is Coming To Town) was about a Mexican public relations guru who was running Donald Trump’s election campaign.

In between all of this, I had been part of the Calgary Men’s Chorus with my husband. In December 2013, I was invited to join because they were one performer down for a January concert, and I had booked my ticket to go with them and watch anyway. So that’s how two South Africans ended up singing in Carnegie Hall, with over 200 male voices, about the American Civil War.

The Calgary Men’s Chorus had a phenomenal artistic director, JL Bleau, but he stepped down in 2015 (the current artistic director is equally gifted), and I was getting tired and needed a rest from it. I decided to stick it out with them until they went to Denver in 2016 for the big GALA Festival, but left at the end of the season and haven’t returned.

The fact is, there was no way I could do as much theatre and on-camera work if I was also in the choir and doing voice acting.

Voice acting? I’ve been with the Voice Acting Power Squad for almost two years now, doing noises for independent video games. I’ve even been paid for some of them. I love voice acting so much. Growing up I had been a huge fan of the Looney Tunes and other cartoons, and discovered Rob Paulsen‘s podcast in 2010. He made me realise that I could be a voice actor, that I had the experience from my theatre days, and that acting is acting.

2016 was mostly preparation for Denver, though I did shoot a teaser for an independent film, where my character Malley is killed in the opening scene (Day Job), and then in the summer I landed a supporting role in another Morpheus Theatre production, as Detective Troughton in Run For Your Wife.

Despite being a supporting role, I still had 200 lines in that play, so when the creator of Imitative Magic, Blaise Kolodychuk, invited me to work with him again in 2016 on what turned into my second feature film, Night of the Shadow People, I admittedly was reading some of my film lines off cue cards.

If that’s not channelling Marlon Brando, I don’t know what is!

2017 got off to a slow start. I wasn’t in choir, I wasn’t in any theatre productions, so I helped produce a Morpheus play called Skin Flick, directed by Alice Nelson. It was a great little play and I am happy with how it turned out. My co-producer and I got on very well together and we may co-produce in future.

I did have to turn down a directing gig for Morpheus in 2018, because my husband and I are travelling at the same time, which is unfortunate, but those are the breaks.

Then something weird happened. My agent (I have an agent!) kept sending me audition notices and I was travelling a lot, so I couldn’t make them. I went up for a commercial in late 2016, but nothing came of it. There was another commercial early this year that fell through too, but because work has me busy right now, I wasn’t too bothered.

My husband and I were supposed to attend the new Star Trek exhibit in Calgary, where the Enterprise bridge from the original series has been reproduced and you can interact with it. And on the Sunday before the week of this event, my agent texted me and said there was a non-speaking role for Fargo Season 3 (in other words, a dead body), and would I be interested?

I said that I had plans for the Thursday when it was shooting, so I would have to decline. I texted my husband and let him know that I’d turned it down, and that was that. Family first.

On Monday, he texted me back and said I could do the show if it was still available, and after some back and forth, I suggested I might still be able to make the Star Trek event. I texted my agent and asked if she was still prepared to submit me. She said yes, and five minutes later I had sent her my serious-face headshot (I have three headshots that I choose from).

Later that evening, she said it was between me and one other person. Because it was a non-speaking role, I was being auditioned from my headshot. On Tuesday she let me know that I’d been selected. That meant that Wednesday would be the wardrobe fitting, and Thursday was the shoot. All my meetings for work had to be moved around, and off I went.

Working on my little slice of a major television series was an experience that may one day get its own blog post, but for now I’m just letting it all sink in.

On my Twitter account in January, I wrote:

I left South Africa and moved to Canada in 2010. Every day I’m grateful for the opportunities given to me in this great country.

All of that is true. My life leading up to emigrating was valuable. I am who I am today because of the experiences I went through, even though some of them really sucked. I am extremely grateful for where I am now, and I always tell people I’m the luckiest person I know.

Even if my career in the dramatic arts ends after last night’s short scene in Fargo, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m a queer autistic immigrant who made it on to international television with a million people watching, and how many people can say that?

What Would You Do?

Many years ago, my family was on holiday at a cottage owned by an uncle. It was a seaside cottage, with no electricity. Light was provided by paraffin lamps, and cooking was done with bottled gas plugged into a gas oven.

One evening, my brother and I, both recovering from chicken pox, were comparing our shadow sizes in front of a paraffin lamp placed at our bedroom door. I was demonstrating, and he was fascinated by, how proximity to a light source could influence the size of a shadow on the wall.

For whatever reason, the lamp was knocked over and landed on the floor, and the glass, paraffin and flames spread quickly.

My father was there almost immediately, but as it all happened so fast, I noticed before he did that the base of the lamp was right next to the door of another bedroom, and the flames were already licking at the wood.

I pulled the lamp away from the door by its handle, taking care not to cut myself, and my mother appeared with a large blue blanket, which she used to smother the flames. It all must have taken less than a minute. There was yelling involved, obviously, but I do recall an exchange, though not word for word, between my father and I, explaining that I was trying to move the lamp to avoid burning the cottage down.

We were all terrified. Needless to say, I didn’t know how I would have reacted until the actual incident. For many years afterwards, I relived the moment where I saw the fire spread to that door. I still remember what I was thinking at the time: fire eats wood. I was ten, my brother was six, and my sister was two. My only thought was to get the fuel source away from the door. I didn’t even think about the consequences of burning my hand or getting cut by the broken glass.

Six years ago, shortly after moving to Canada, I watched and fell in love with a show on Discovery called Canada’s Worst Driver. In that show, a driving instructor called Philippe Létourneau demonstrated a defensive driving manoeuvre where if you are driving in icy conditions and you can’t stop in time, you can make a lane-change manoeuvre to drive around the obstacle, without applying brakes, which slows the vehicle enough so that the brakes work.

During an Edmonton blizzard, I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t stop my vehicle in time. I called on that memory and was able to change lanes (blind spot, mirror, indicator) and bring the car to a stop, almost level with the car we almost hit. It took about four or five seconds for that entire manoeuvre.

Adrenaline makes you do interesting things. I’d love to hear your stories.

14 August

Two vastly different reasons for remembering the date today, and both have resonance.

14 August 1989:

The resignation of PW Botha
The resignation of PW Botha

(Picture credit: Alex Jay on Twitter, but I’m not sure where he got it from, because it’s a photo of a frame from a public television broadcast.)

State President PW Botha, the second-last apartheid-era leader of South Africa, the cause of economic sanctions against the country due to his defiance of majority rule (South Africans of European descent only counted around 11% of the population), and a pretty scummy dude, but less scummy than the previous ones. His successor, FW de Klerk, dismantled apartheid and made way for majority rule, in a bloodless transition of power, with the help of Nelson Mandela.

Anyone longing for the old days need only remember that this guy here was a fascist. His actions caused the torture and death of many innocent people in the name of white supremacy. He never apologised for what he did.


14 August 2005:

I met my future husband on this day after a play rehearsal. I wrote this on Facebook:

A love story.

Eleven years ago today, I was deep into rehearsals for my debut as Macbeth, in a one-act comedy called Mac The Knife. All my lines were straight (!) from the original Shakespearean script, and I still remember them. Originally directed by Dylan, John took over from him. Leather pants were involved, as was a highland dance-off against my arch-nemesis Macduff, played by Julia. After the rehearsal on Sunday 14 August, I went on a date. My last one ever, because the ones following were just making sure. I knew that night, and Chris will vouch for it, that Marinus was the one. We will be celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary in two weeks. Marinus is going to be a theatre widow for the next two months again as I play Officer Troughton in Run For Your Wife (Morpheus Theatre), but I won’t be wearing leather pants.

Thank you, Marinus, for helping me become a better person, and supporting my habit of pretending to be other people. I love you. Happy first date anniversary.


Every day holds good and bad memories. It’s on us to remember things for the right reasons, no matter where they fall on the goodness scale.

Professionalism doesn’t mean a collared shirt and tie

(Originally published on my SQL Server blog.)

Working from home, consulting with companies all over the world, has changed how I interact with customers. The last time I was physically on site was seven months ago.

We deal almost exclusively with each other via conference call and video using Skype, LogMeIn or GoToMeeting, juggling webcams, headphones, microphones, email, text messages, phone calls, instant messaging, and so on and so forth …

Scott Hanselman wrote on Twitter recently about spending more than 20 minutes of a one-hour meeting getting microphones working for all meeting attendees, and this is in 2016!

 

Being professional means treating your customers and colleagues with the respect you think you deserve in return.

Put another way, if you treat other people with contempt, you can’t expect to be taken seriously.

Missing meetings, not having your equipment set up correctly, not wearing camera-friendly clothing (or any clothing at all!), having an inappropriate backdrop, or having an inappropriate desktop background if you’re sharing your screen, all amount to contempt.

Take the time to set up your work space correctly by keeping the webcam-visible area behind you friendly to anyone watching you on video.

Learn how to use your webcam or microphone or headphones correctly. If you have to share your computer screen, make sure you have turned off notifications. Even better, try to keep to one virtual desktop away from email, web browsers and social media.

Do you use a Mac? Did you know that there’s a way for you to set up your microphone to send clear and crisp audio through Skype or other tools? It’s called Loopback.

All that money you’re saving on gas? Buy a decent condenser microphone, over-ear headphones, and a high-definition webcam. Don’t rely on your laptop’s built-in speakers. You know what microphone feedback sounds like, and wearing headphones is a great way to avoid it.

Don’t pick your nose. Don’t get too close to the camera. Someone might have you on a giant television screen with lots of people in the room. Because you’re not physically in the room, perception is everything. Even I make some of these mistakes, which means I’m also guilty of behaving in an unprofessional manner.

This post is not only to let you know how to behave, but to remind me how I should behave. We’re in this together.

Classical Music Attribution

Today I have been listening (via Apple Music) to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, most famous for its choral section in Part IV.

And I realised that I attributed this piece to “Beethoven”, as opposed to (in this case, a very good performance by) the London Symphony Orchestra with Wyn Morris, and the singing talents of Alison Hargan, David Rendall, Della Jones and Gwynne Howell.

Curious then, with modern music, that the performer gets all the credit, even if a team of twenty writers composed the music.

And because I’m silly, I have to wonder if Ludwig ever played the violin? I find it mind-boggling that composers of this type of music can write music for each section, and even more astounding that (for example) Handel wrote The Messiah in a very short period of time.

Little wonder then that this music continues to remain in the public consciousness for centuries.

Fifteen years …

[Originally written in 2010. I’ve been sitting on this post for over five years. I’m not sure why.]

This is a long post. I’m pre-empting your tl;dr comments by making this note here. I may migrate it to my website under “articles” later.

I had a lightbulb moment earlier today, reminding me that I’ve been “on the Internet” for fifteen years, as of May 2010. This commentary is very subjective, so don’t expect a technical article or timeline. What I want to talk about is how the Internet has changed my life, in every way possible. And how a part of my life long forgotten, never went away at all.
Continue reading Fifteen years …

On male rape

Eusebius McKaiser wrote this essay on Facebook earlier today, and with his permission, I am reposting it here.

On male rape, and the taboo around it:

Earlier today I was interviewed for a news channel by one of my favourite television journalists. I had told her I would share some of my reflections of how the interview was set up, because this issue matters. When she called me to request an interview, she asked whether I would be prepared to share my experiences of being bullied, which I had written about in my first book, A Bantu In My Bathroom. She said that she was requesting this interview, kindly, in light of the reported incident of bullying, involving the school boy who was assaulted. I agreed, and it was an important interview for me, not just as a commentator, but as someone who has been violated. She asked excellent questions, and it was, subject matter aside, a satisfying dialogue, on camera.
Continue reading On male rape

Change of heart

Site theme change. I really liked Scott’s Decode theme, but the menus, oh, the menus. WordPress 4.1 launched two weeks ago, and Twenty Fifteen is pretty much what I was looking for.

Now I’ve got a custom menu structure along the left of the screen, which expands to show the items more clearly.

If you see any broken links, please let me know.