F is for Frank N Furter!!

Two weeks ago my friend Chris Avant Smith who presents Rant and Rave on Radio Today Johannesburg casually asked me if I’d like to interview Brendan van Rhyn aka Cathy Specific aka Frank N Furter in the current production at at Montecasino on my site. WOULD I??? Like to interview Frank N Furter???? The answer was yes, and I collected my thoughts when Chris gave me Brendan’s number to contact him. I had to gather my nerves for that alone, but when I did get Brendan on the phone he was gracious and friendly to say the least. I’d have been happy with an emailed questionnaire, but he asked me to meet him at his favourite cafe – Riverside Caffe and Bistro. He explained it was in Bryanston and when I put the phone down and slowly floated back down to earth, I thought to myself “I should be able to find that.”… and I’ll take a friend with, too! And I like the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. It’s a whole different flavour of life to where I live. The northern suburbs are a bit like my idea of New York in the 1970s – which probably means New York in the 1970s was nothing like Joburg North at all, but in my mind it lives and it’s a good place to be. 

Brendan and I in the gorgeous Riverside Caffe in Bryanston

I was sure I had it down pat. I’d looked up directions on Google Maps, printed them out, put them on the passenger seat.. and realised at 5 to 12 that something had gone wrong and I most certainly wasn’t going to be ON TIME for my appointment with Brendan!! I wished I could have done a tiew warp right there. Long story short, I called him up and he explained how I should go.. and I did eventually arrive there and it’s testimony to the man and his patience that he was so gracious. 

How did you get started in the theatre?

I’ve always been in the arts, I started playing the piano at the age of five! But there was a stage when I wanted to be a doctor. I thought I had a good bedside manner and could have been a good paediatrician – I thought mothers would bring their kids to me.  I spent a year in London where I did a production via the school, and that was when I began to think there was a career for me in arts. I did three years at tech, and got involved with productions with Janice Honeyman and Pieter Toerien – at the Alhambra for Pieter and I was in the Pantomime for that year with Janice

Brendan with Dino and Ismini of Riverside Caffe and Bistro

Tell us about Cathy Specific

Cathy Specific happened after my 6 years at SAA. I really was a flight attendant. She’s been in Madam Zingara and in Mile High. She’s pure escapism. She’s my alter ego. And right now while Brendan’s come out to play Frank, she’s away being remodelled. To have a bit of a nip and tuck. She allows me to combine my love of flying with my love of acting. I wanted to find out how I could do both. And the blonde bombshell was born. She is my first love, she really is. There’s always a place for her at Madam Zingara. I always joke and say I’m at my best in lipstick and lashes. I think Brendan the boy is quite shy, but once I’m Cathy, there’s no fear at all. And how often doesnt fear keep us back. I suppose conquering the fear just comes from self belief, belief in yourself, which is also sometimes lacking. But in a  part like this you just think to yourself well I got the part. They’re not taking a gamble, they want me and they only want to see me succeed. And I have a good support team, I surround myself with people who want to see me succeed

This is the second time you’ve played Frank. Are there fundamental differences between the two, and have you changed as a performer?

Now in Cape Town and I did it in 2008 in the Victory Theatre. I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to play him twice. To be able to play him twice is just amazing. It’s not the same production at all. We have a new director, a new set. New minds, new creative director and new energies and I guess I am playing him differently this time as well according to different people’s interpretations. Just coming to the party, I knew the words, but  literally starting on a clean slate. And one crit said to me I am not a clone of Tim Curry which is nice because when you get a role like this, a huge role, don’t come along every day.  I always have it at the back of my mind that Tim Curry played this role – it’s daunting, you have big shoes to fill – but the producers of the show give great guidance as to how they want it and make sure that we’re on the right track. I always think there’s a bit of Frank in all of us, but there’s just a bit more of him in me. There is one definitive role that comes along in your life – and I think this is it for me. I was born to play him. In my own way I think I have made him my own. I think a lot of it comes from attention to detail. I am very specific about attention to detail. It puts you in a different league. think a lot of it comes from doing your own make up and things like that. The left side’s got to look like the right side. Stockings have to be the same height on every side. 

What would you say to youngsters trying to break into the field? You are very tall – 7 ft. Sometimes tall kids battle to embrace that about themselves, but you have embraced it. 

You’ve got to have balls of steel. It’s cutthroat. It’s not a kind business. There’s disappointment and rejection around every corner. It’s not like every door was open to me. I myself found many closed doors, but when you find a closed door, you’ll find an open window. You can be born with gifts, but you’ve also got to have a good work ethic. There’s nothing more beautiful than a tall man. Embrace it. And you’ve got to be 100% sure that this is something you want to do. And you’ve also got to be realistic about it. If you’re going to make a career in a musical theatre and you’re not a singer at all… I’m not going to go and fiddle with numbers and become an actuary. It’s not my thing. But you know boy can I wear a pair of heels like nobody’s business. People always say isn’t that the most difficult part of the role and I say no, it’s the easiest. I joke and say I was born in heels. I just need to remain on them, because it’s a hell of a long way down. 

Where do you think your talent came from?

I always think I must be the milkman’s son! I suppose some of us are born with gifts. It depends what you do with that gift, if you decide to take it further. And my mom gave me a good dose of charm. Those things go a long way. And my dad is very open with his emotions, still. He can’t even watch a soapie without shedding a tear. 

Something that makes this show so phenomenal is the amazing audience interaction

Yes it is quite something. We’re in a smallish theatre which also makes it work – it couldn’t work so well in a less intimate theatre. We have 8 shows a week and some of those are dress up shows where people are told to come in costume. It allows for escapism. Nobody’s going to judge you if you come to Rocky Horror dressed in fishnet stockings if you’re a man, or whatever. It’s escapism and I think it’s so needed. And as Frank I’ve been given free rein with the audience, I can give as good as I get which I think adds to it and makes it all very real. I think that’s the main reason it’s so popular. For that time we are allowing you to be whoever you ever wanted to be. YOu can put on a facade and nobody’s going to judge you. They’re not going to say oh my goodness he’s gay because he wore fish net stockings to Rocky Horror. Whatever happens it’s the Rocky Horror show. We’ve even got participation packs with things you can interact with. The show almost has an educational message at the end of the day. We all have a heart, we all have flowing blood. Remove those blinkers for a moment, open yourself up.

Is Frank gay, straight or bi? I have always wondered that about him.
I would say that he is bi from the interactions with both Brad and Janet. He needs to have both men and women lust after him, and he gets that! 

The movie first came out in about 1980. How have audience responses changed, are people still shocked, are we as open minded as we think we are.

People are still shocked. I still hear gasps from people in the audience who I suppose didn’t think we would say things that we do. The show is something that removes blinkers and allows open mindedness and we even get Rocky Horror virgins, people who are new to it all,  who are quite shocked sometimes. 

Well I think Rocky Horror is still going to run for a long time, you’re going back to The Fugard in Cape Town after Johannesburg, but what’s after this for you?

It’s such a huge success at the moment, a world class production. Well I think they are going to run with this as long as they can, which is great. But Cathy is always there. I’ve got a lot of great ideas for Cathy still. I’d love to take her back into theatre, like when she first appeared in her show called Mile High.  And then we formed a drag troupe. We all sing and dance, they are called ‘Cathy and the Trolley Dollies’. We are all 7 foot boys. So I wouldn’t mind that going a bit further.  I’ve make the tallness work in my favour. My mom is tall, but my sister is very short, and also 12 years older than me. I sort of grew up an only child. I didn’t have any rivalry. There’s something quite adult about realising what your strengths are. And have dreams. I’m living proof that you don’t give up on a dream. 

The show runs in Johannesburg until March 30 and then moves to Cape Town in July. Book tickets now – they are running out fast. Book tickets and tell them I sent you. You can also follow them on Facebook

You should also go and check out Riverside Caffe and Bistro in Bryanston. It’s a very quaint, cute Bistro with flair and I will definitely be back. 

Brendan’s  interview with Chris Avant-Smith of Rant and Rave – Radio Today Johannesburg – can be found here. Rant and Rave is hosted by Chris Avant-Smith Wednesdays from 9.30 to 10.30am on Radio Today. Radio Today (@Radio2Day) broadcasts on 1485 AM in Johannesburg and country-wide on DStv audio channel 869.  Stream: www.1485.org.za and 1485.mobi. Radio Today! Radio that delivers! 

Thank you so much to Brendan for the fabulous opportunity and to you for stopping by to read. I would love for you to comment on this post, share it and follow Popspeaking either at @Popspeaking or using Google Friend Connect. 

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Writer, transcriber, proofreader, editor, lover of the arts.

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