Actress and clown
Thanks to Klara van Wyk’s on-stage character, Pretina de Jager — a colourfully dressed, troubled teenager with an exaggerated Afrikaans accent — clowns have a new look.
Born in 1991, Van Wyk is an actress, writer and academic who recently completed her Masters degree in theatre making at the University of Cape Town after completing her undergraduate years at Witswaterand university.
With mentorship from famous French theatre practitioner and clown, Philippe Gaulier, and creative director at Hillbrow Theatre Project, Gerard Bester, Van Wyk has an unlimited perception of the meaning and reach that clowning can have. This has allowed her to define the art of clowning to suit her unique character, without having to follow the constraints that govern stereotypical clowning. It is for this reason that at first glance, Pretina de Jager may not strike an audience as a clown figure.
For her first solo performance, You Suck (and Other Inescapable Truths), which was showcased in Cape Town and Johannesburg, she was nominated for the Fleur du Cap best actress award. After creating the production in 2015, it was evident that while her content can be enjoyed by people of all ages, the primary effect was on teenagers.
Work and meaning
Once Van Wyk realised the effect that her work could have on teenagers, the production was sent to schools as an alternative to school-based anti-bullying campaigns.
“I’m looking to touch teenagers and to work with them especially. For the moment, You Suck, which I’m currently touring for the last year, this year, is about giving teenagers hope that it’s really suckish to be a teenager but you’re gonna get through it.
“Like everyone, no matter how you come across, can suffer from social anxiety and depression. I try to get that message in through clowning and humour. Instead of giving them a speech on bullying I try to make them laugh, I adapt the message so it can reach them. I think it’s really difficult for teenagers to have a voice that’s not old school and authoritative” said Van Wyk.
“After each show, I’d hang out and hand out stickers. I also let them follow my handle and I’ve got at least 50 really long instant messages of bullying. Although I don’t have a qualification to deal with that, I feel like there’s such a need for them to be heard.”
Apart from her work with teenagers, she hopes her career choice will draw attention to the clowning profession and encourage viewers to pursue it.
Under the inspiration of Gaulier, Van Wyk is working toward a PhD at Stellenbosch University with a focus on a form of clowning that’s less about buffoonery and tricks.
“I want to use the arts and clowning to increase access in an unexpected way.”
In addition to this, Van Wyk wants to continue to use social media as an auxiliary to her work, so she keeps in touch with her teenage audience even when she isn’t performing.
“I’m thinking about making a more solid YouTube channel this year. I want to get a director to help me do that. So I’ll have a section call ‘Ask Pertina’ where teenagers can ask questions about thing like sexuality or anything really. She’s not an expert but they’ll watch her ask somebody who does know something. So that’s what I plan to do in 2018.”
Van Wyk has also joined forces with Seboka Foundation, an nongovernmental organisation aimed at educating and informing the youth about social and environmental issues through theatre that provides practical solutions.
The foundation is working on a new theatre project that aims to bring awareness of water-related and sanitisation issues to primary and pre-primary schools throughout the drought-stricken Western Cape.