Gould Still Awakening Minds with Theater
Dorothy Ann Gould’s illustrious career transforms and extends from so many words learnt and performed, into so many lessons to teach.
Her career of over 50 years has included working in South Africa, America, Europe, and the United Kingdom.
From the age of 7 months old, Gould’s proud parents mounted her up on a table, where she began to use her voice and recited rhymes that gushed out of her.
“At 10 years old, my parents decided that I gabbled, and they sent me to elocution classes, and I loved it so much.”
Gould started doing radio at the SABC at the age of fifteen. Given the injustices in the country, Gould say’s “I didn’t think I would be an actress: I wanted to be a social worker.”
However, she went to the University of Natal and studied Drama and English literature. At the end of both her second and third year, she was offered a contract with the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal (PACT), but she was determined to finish her degree and went on to do a B.A. Honours (cum laude), before joining PACT.
She has vivid memories of driving up to Joburg in her little red beetle and rescuing two puppies along the way, before settling down in Berea, Johannesburg.
Gould left PACT in 1978 and was fortunate enough to get a lot of work in the then burgeoning television industry. In 1979 she was a part of the Baxter company in Cape Town. At 25 years old, she tried her luck in London, and shortly after in the USA, but despite her many accolades in South Africa, she feels that she was too young and not yet resilient enough.
While she was in America, she was offered a teaching post at Durban University. Once back, she did not thrive in the environment and says, “That is why I have been freelance my whole life. I like to be my own boss.”
During that period, she remembers saying to the South African playwright Barney Simon, “Barney, I audition for you all the time, and you never use me, and he said, “you’re not strong enough yet.” He was quite right. I did not really want to sit on benches in Joubert Park and pretend to be a homeless person. I was not his kind of actress, but the odd thing is between the ages of 28 and 35, I won eighteen awards.”
Despite all these accolades, acknowledging how actors have a weird mix of confidence coupled with absolutely no confidence, Gould took the decision at the age of thirty-six to go overseas and start from nothing.
Her colleagues thought that it was too late in her career to make it overseas. During this time in the UK, never one to give up on herself, Gould who was flailing went to an audition for Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge at the Crucible Theatre, in Sheffield, although they had told her they did not want to see her.
She walked seven miles up Charing Cross Road. When she announced herself, they reiterated that they did not want to see her. “I said, I will take two minutes of your time. I sat there for five hours until they had seen everyone and then they came and said are you still here? Again, I said, just two minutes of your time. I got the lead and I remember them running down the road after me imploring me not to accept any other parts.” From there, her career took off in the UK.
Gould once again returned to South Africa and was happy to be immersed in South African work that mirrored her own roots. She played roles like Hallo and Goodbye (Athol Fugard) and directors that had once shied away from her, were now keen to collaborate with her.
“I always hated the curtain calls and I felt like a complete fool standing there. I loved it when I was inside the story and I decided now I put back into the community, so I started the Actors Centre at the Joburg theatre.”
Her aim was to help people who could not afford to go to Wits University. They did 125 productions in the seven years that she ran the centre. Gould took the decision to close the Actors Centre due to a mismanagement of funds, and from there went on to teach in Mpumalanga and the North West under the auspices of SANCTA, (South African National Community Theatre Association) whilst continuing her career.
Some of Gould’s favourite theatre roles include Stevie, about the playwright Stevie Smith, Athol Fugard’s The Birdwatchers, and Molora, an adaptation of the ancient Oresteia trilogy created and directed by Yael Farber.
“Molora was undoubtedly an incredible 10-year experience. It did so well wherever we went, and the last place I think was Alvin Ailey in NY.
“I went to the village last year to visit the members of The Ngqoko Cultural Group, who are traditional Xhosa musicians and throat singers. I am so glad I went because there are few of them left.
“When I went to the village, they screamed, saying they never thought they would see me again in their lives. They had all built houses from Molora; some of them had built two houses. So, as well as the travel involved in touring the production, it was an incredible upliftment for them.”
In 2018, Gould undertook her first one-woman play, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, directed by Mark Graham Wilson. It took Gould three months to learn the dense sixty-five pages.
She goes on to say: “And then the intolerable happened. I forgot my words one night during a full house at the Baxter, in Cape Town. I thought I was going to die. I said, I do apologise, but I am completely lost. Can I pay for you all to come another night?” She laughs uproariously as she relates this.
“Having let the steam off, I found it, and it was able to continue. You must use all your resources, your physical body, your mind to remember sixty-five pages, your heart for the emotions, your spirit…
Continuing, she says: “I always give my all and I say to my students there is no point in not giving your 100%. I am quite spiritual about the way I work. Before I go on stage or on set for a movie, because I have also worked in lots of international movies in the last decade, I always dedicate my work to my mom or dad who passed away, so that I am not doing it for myself.”
During this time, Gould has also had on-going international film work.
Of her abundant accolades in the industry, Gould is emphatic that the one that has meant the most to her was the 2018 Naledi award for Innovation in Theatre. She and the actors that she trained at Johannesburg Awakening Minds (JAM) received the award.
“I cannot tell you how much it uplifted those homeless guys to perform in front of 1300 people at the Naledi Awards, doing Shakespeare in Isizulu. They are still proud about that.”
She is quick to add that her advice to those starting out in the industry is the advice her matric teacher gave her: “Recognition is the consequence, never the object of a great mind.”
Gould says: “When I met these guys in 2012, they were on drugs, carrying knives and sleeping on the street in Hillbrow. There have been forty-five all together. Now, we are twelve. Michael Mazibuko has just come back from doing a one-man Kafka show in America for William Kentridge. From the streets to that. That is all I want to say.”
Gould is preparing these people for a show at 3pm on the 30 April, at Pizza e Vino in Auckland Park.
“We are rehearsing for that now and they have written their first play about the people who drag the plastic, called The Special Dirt box. I am always saying to people, ‘There will always be someone out there who’s listening to your story.’ Honour them.”