From TV to musical theatre, SA actor Devonecia Swartz on making her 'Broadway dreams' come true

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Devonecia Swartz
Devonecia Swartz
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INTERVIEW | Devonecia Swartz

"Calling Us Home is a story of hope. Everyone is constantly hoping for a better life, for a better future," Devonecia Swartz says of her next adventure.

The South African actor was cast as leading lady Grace, an African Princess who flees a devastating war in her homeland, in the epic musical by South African composer Alice Gillham.

"It is also a story of love and how home, the definition of home, shifts from it being a place to us finding our home in people."

Calling Us Home – The Musical was born from a song Gillham wrote titled Tomorrow. In 2017, after writing the rest of the musical, Gillham and South African director, Magdalene Minnaar, sought out a team of local creatives and an African cast.

"We worked, danced, sang, built, created and reworked and then staged our development runs in South Africa," reads a statement on the Calling Us Home website

Unfortunately, production was halted when the Covid-19 pandemic struck until American director Peter Flynn showed interest.

Flynn has since taken the creative reins and will lead the multinational collaboration out into the world in 2023, along with a new cast that includes Swartz.

In an interview with News24, the Arendsvlei actor shares more about how she manifested being chosen for the role, how she is preparing for it, and its challenges.

Swartz started acting in 2018 when she landed a role in the local TV series, Arendsvlei – which airs on kykNet & Kie (DStv 145) Monday to Thursday at 19:30 – but theatre has always been her first love.

"I have always wanted to be in musical theatre," Swartz says excitedly.

"I've always known I wanted to be an actor. I became a singer first. I was in choirs for many years. But I remember in high school; it clicked for the first time when I watched The Phantom of the Opera at the Artscape Theatre."

Although she had multiple TV gigs lined up, Swartz says something told her to prepare for a musical theatre role after the pandemic halted all stage productions and the national lockdown forced theatres to close.

"When the pandemic happened, I said, 'I feel like somewhere in my bones it's telling me, what the Lord's telling me, that when theatres open again, there will be a musical. Prepare for it.'"

Unbeknownst that the role would be Grace in Calling Us Home, Swartz spent all of 2021 preparing by taking music, singing, and dance classes.

Swartz adds that when the casting call for the musical came up, and she saw Flynn was directing it, she knew this was what she had been preparing for.

"I was like, 'Oh, my Broadway dreams have become a little bit more true. It's coming to me; Broadway is coming to me'. And just knowing that it's a South African grown musical, it's incredible to be a part of something like that."

Opening up about manifesting something she had no idea would happen, Swartz says, "I think it's something important for actors to do, to prepare for the role that you really want."

As for what she found most challenging, Swartz says her dance classes were the most intimidating.

"The dance classes were amazing, but I remember in the beginning it scared me," the actor explains. "It started badly. It really did. But I told myself, 'Just book ten classes, make sure that you spend your money first so that you go; you can't just ditch.'"

The Tali's Joburg Diary actor adds that preparing for a stage production that includes continuous singing over a long period is also challenging.

"Well, firstly, I'm not a soprano, I'm more of a trained mezzo, so it is a little bit more of a stretch for me." Swartz continues, "But I do daily exercises, and I have a vocal coach who I go to. So, it's about keeping your voice and your body healthy."

Swartz adds that through it all, she is very grateful that the production team have created a safe space for all the cast and crew.

"I also have my accountability partners. I know people in the ensemble, and we check in with each other in terms of having a community that ensures you're okay."

After the festive season, the Calling Us Home cast and crew will go into a 6-week rehearsal period before their first show takes place at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town from 15 to 19 February 2023.

From there, the entire production will embark on an international tour – something Swartz says she can't wait for.

"I'm an absolute romantic when it comes to a cast. And I always fall in love with my cast completely," Swartz says of what she is looking forward to most. "So, I pray that happens with the new experience."

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