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Zen Entertainment presents: Pieter-Dirk Uys aka Evita Bezuidenhout

Zen Entertainment had the enormous honour and pleasure to interview Pieter-Dirk Uys a few days ago to tell us more about him, his legendary Character Evita Bezuidenhout, his views on politics and also meeting former President Mr. Nelson Mandela.

– Zenja Collins, Zen Entertainment, 29 November 2015

 

–You were born in Cape Town on September 1945, growing up during the apartheid era with a NG church upbringing. Tell us more about your childhood living in South Africa in those years?

 

It was a very happy time growing up under the pine trees of Pinelands. My parents were musicians so Mozart was my best friend. I didn’t like school that much, not very good at homework, but loved playing with Dinky Toys in the garden, listening to Springbok Radio and reading as many books possible. There was no politics in our house. Huisgodsdiens every evening after supper which sometimes clashed with my radio seriel ‘Mark Saxon’. My sister Tessa and I fought like small cat and tiny dog. Apartheid never featured as an issue because there was no TV, all radio and news was controlled and my pa just said: ‘Ons praat nie oor die politiek nie; dis ‘n vuil ding.’ How right he was.

 

–You come from a very musical family whereby your mother was a Concert pianist in Germany; your Father was a musician and organist in his local church. Tell us more about this and also are you also musically trained as your sister?

 

Our house was always full of people, morning, noon and night: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Scarlatti, Schumann, Schubert … I was very lazy and never practised. Tried to play everything in C major because that didn’t involve the black notes (was that typically South African?) My mother left Berlin in 1937. She was Jewish and came to Cape Town with her piano. The first job she was given was playing in the City Hall in a Mozart double piano concerto with a local pianist called Hannes Uys. My father. So Mozart (and Adolf Hitler) must be thanked for me being here! My sister Tessa was the genius and started playing from the age of 5 — and has never stopped.

 

–You received a B.A. at the University of Cape Town where you began your dramatic career. What made you decide to take up drama as a profession especially with South Africa at that time not showing any promise for this profession as aboard?

 

I was inspired by a teacher at school, Miss Nel — and so went to UCT to become a teacher. In my second year I was ‘high jacked’ by theatre. I saw a drama student in the canteen wearing a beret, sunglasses and holding a long cigarette holder and I thought: Jissis, I also want to look that like that! So I joined the drama school — where they decided that I didn’t really have the talent to act. I happily trained as a stage manager — and I am grateful because today I can do everything, not just perform. Maybe it was also studying theatre and plays that exposed the lies of my life – living in a world of separate development. And sex helped. It was a criminal act twice over: to be gay and to sleep with someone who was not white. I did both many times — and God didn’t strike me dead or make me go blind!

 

–You later studied at the London Film School in the early 1970s. Tell us more about this experience?

 

It was a logical step in order to study theatre and become an actor to go ‘overseas’ — so I did in 1969 — but knew there that I couldn’t compete with the English spoken on stage. So I got into the London Film School. Studied for 2 years, graduated and then taught there for another 2 years. I had by then seen BBC documentaries about what white Afrikaans boys my age in uniform were doing to young black men my age. I decided never to go back to SA. I even changed my name to Peter Ace .. less complicated than Uys!

 

–Tell us more about your first performance in DRAG?

 

That was at UCT drama school. Prof Robert Mohr did a Japanese kabuki play where women are played by men and so I was cast as the female lead. It was very stylized and still, not in any way ‘drag’. Frankly I have never regarded what I do as drag. It’s more acting a character, although I do have great admiration for the great drag artists of the time: Danny la Rue, Barry Humphries (Dame Edna). Drag is a very vibrant part of British theatre — so I was happily delighted by what I saw in London. I also did a one-minute commercial at Film School — the actress was sick and so I did her part — selling milk in a white dress and blonde beehive. When it was shown at the end of year exams, the principal said: “That girl’s got talent.” If only he knew …

 

–You also at this period in your life did playwriting Several of your plays were performed at the Space Theatre in Cape Town .Tell us more about this?

 

The Space Theatre changed my life. I returned to Cape Town in 1973 — I just had to come back and be a South African knowing that I would never fit in as a ‘Brit’. At the Space, the first non-racial theatre in SA (meaning: illegal because we mixed the races) gave me a chance to develop writing, directing, performance, production and the respect for using humour as a weapon of mass distraction. My first SA play was SELLE OU STORIE which was banned, as was KARNAVAL. The Publications Control Board became my PR department! I fought censorship throughout the old SA by learning the Publications Act and trapping them with their own rules! Other plays of mine performed there were FACES IN THE WALL, PITY ABOUT PEOPLE, GOD’S FORGHOTEN and a real ‘drag’ lunchtime gil called JUST HILDA. Maybe that’s where Tannie Evita’s first steps were taken in 1974.

 

– In 1979 your play Paradise is Closing Down was performed in London and later produced for Granada Television  1981 this must have been a huge honour for you at the time. Tell us more about the play itself and seeing your play on television for the first time?

 

Yes and no. I was still too timid to speak up. The TV director turned the play into a shrill anti-apartheid message, removing the all-important humour and it was hell for me to watch. The disease-to-please that affects so many of us can do tremendous damage to original thought. It took me years to cure it. (I have now!)

 

–You switched to one-man revues at the height of the Apartheid era .Why did you decide on this change?

 

1980: I couldn’t afford to produce my new plays because the threat of censorship meant it would lose money for the theatre involved. I worked at the Market Theatre in JHB and there on 1 April 1981 I started my first one-man show ADAPT OR DYE late night — 11pm! (We knew the security police were either drunk or in bed with someone’s maid!) That was the beginning of doing these shows with a chorus-line of characters reflecting the reality of our lives. Not stand-up but performance. It was also the only way to survive: one could move quickly, hopefully just ahead of the SAP; the shows were cheap to stage because there were no salaries (Just me). And using female characters in the shows also created diversity, great enjoyment and the confusion for those who came to arrest me. Who do they arrest? Me? Or ‘her’?

 

–Tell our readers more about Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout , On how she was created and more about the character itself?

 

She started as a Tannie in ADAPT OR DYE and seemed to come at the right time. People and the press loved her – and soon she was not just a comic character in high heels, but becoming a fully dimensioned person with a family, a history, a personality and a following. She started as a character in a newspaper column in the Sunday Express, once a month – saying: “Skattie, have you heard…?” and then come out with all the skinder of the Information Scandal (1978/79) No one stopped me/her even though those things were illegal to share. Humour was the heartbeat, not jokes – but the truth that can be funnier!

 

–Myself followed your career from a very young age. Tannie Evita is known for her sharp tongue, wit and humour and spoke her mind often throughout the apartheid era. Was there any stage during this time period where you got in trouble for this as the Apartheid era as we all know was and for some still is a very sensitive subject?

 

There was always the danger, the threats, the anger, the tensions — but I never allowed myself to even think about it. I just knew the show must go on, don’t even leave the stage, change in front of the audience — and soon that became a style of performance. And because Evita was not a fan of me, I used her to reflect the official line — and that became funny and so defused the threats. Even Minister Piet Koornhof fell in love with her, and when we spread the rumour that Pik Botha was having an affair with her, he started believing it!

 

–Tell us more about your relations with then president PW. Botha?

 

I knew him when I was a child and his kids also sang in my father’s children’s choir. But the lesson I learnt earlier on was: don’t put yourself into the position of falling in love with your targets. They all have charisma, all have stardom. So he and I never came face to face. (Thank God!)

 

–Then finally came the 1994 whereby democracy was born and we all know about your close relationship with former President Nelson Mandela. Tell us more about the first time you met the icon Mr. Mandela and your relationship with him while he was still with us?

 

I (as Evita) met him for the first time before the 1994 election at an ANC rally in Retreat. There sat Evita in her “Voortrekker Rok “next to Nelson Mandela on stage, like a Nancy Reagan next to her Ronnie. And from that moment she and Madiba became great friends. He even said to her on TV in the Funigalore interview (now on YouTube) “You are one of my heroes.”

 

–Since the passing of Mr. Nelson Mandela the ANC had many negative reactions on the way they now run the government. Give us YOUR views on this?

 

As long as we have our freedom of speech and freedom of expression we can criticise a corrupt, inept and careless government. As long as we have the vote we can vote for an alternative. And as long as we as citizens commit ourselves to protecting our constitutional rights, we’ll be OK!

 

–You are currently involved in teaching AIDS awareness to children travelling to schools all over South Africa. Tell us more about this?

 

I have been doing this since 2002. Now the AIDS issue is as serious but there are medications and survivals. In 2016 I have new version of the show called #HIVmustFALL — and that will also focus on a future for the young audience. Any schools interested can email their details to evita@evita.co.za

 

–You also serve on the board of directors for the Foundation. Tell us more about your relations with Desmond Tutu and how this came about?

 

The Arch was the first black South African that I did in my show doing the apartheid 1980s. Desmond Tutu is one of my inspirations and a good beloved friend. He has proved that practise makes perfect by practising humanity all his life and becoming a near-perfect human being. And he calls Evita “Ousie”!

 

–Tell our readers more about your “baby” Evita se Perron. How this came about? Where you perform regularly?

 

Evita se Perron will be 20 years old in 2016. It is a work in progress. Look at www.evita.co.za and share our story. I do shows every weekend and the schedule is on the website. We also work with our community through The Darling Trust (www.thedarlingtrust.org). The Evita se Perron channel on YouTube also now presents much of my work — as well as a weekly (Sundays) episode of Evita’s Free Speech that reflects the reality of the daily news.

 

–You received countless awards (all richly deserved) throughout the years tell our readers about some of these awards and which one to date are closest to you?

 

The Truth and Reconciliation Award is my most cherished tribute.

 

–As an openly Gay man with a HUGE following what important message would you like to send out to our LGBTI readers?

 

Be proud of what you are — a happy decent human being. Why should being gay be exceptional? I see it as part of my job-description: Pieter-Dirk Uys, 70 years old, entertainer, tends to overweight, loves Sophia Loren, gay, a democrat

 

–The elections are coming up in a short few months what message would you like to send out to our Voters in General?

 

Register and vote. But also do your homework. Find out which politician/party will help you make your dream come true. Don’t just draw a cross because of habit or family loyalty. It will be the most important election in our history: if we can get strong honest municipalities we will have a strong central government. If not…. see you at the Croatian border with a PicknPay bag in your hand!

 

–What can we expect to see from Tannie Evita in the next few years to come?

 

Tannie het planne! Keep an eye on her weekly message on YouTube, or Daily Maverick. Also her Twitter @TannieEvita.

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