|It's great to live in a sea of trees, and Johannesburg is unlike any other city in this regard, says Paul Slabolepszy, South Africa's most prolific and well-known playwright and actor, and a South African institution with 28 plays to his name.|
Slabolepszy, born in England and brought to live in South Africa at the age of three, grew up on the platteland. He has lived in Johannesburg for 22 years and wouldn't live anywhere else.
"I see myself getting old in Joeys," he says. He adds that although he takes trips to the coast, he finds it boring, and gets to miss Joburg.
Photo cred: Netwerk24
"I don't know what it is, I think it's something about the pulse of Johannesburg." That "pulse" for him includes the "energy, people, vibe and movement" of the city.
And he's right about the trees - Johannesburg has six million trees: there's 1.2 million trees within the parks and on the pavements, and 4.8 million in private gardens throughout the suburbs.
Slabolepszy soaks up the city - "I know so many parts of it" - by visiting the green places: the Black Eagles at the Witwatersrand Botanical Garden in Roodepoort, riding his bike around Emmarentia Dam, and enjoying Zoo Lake, living in its neighbourhood for 17 years.
But he enjoys the suburbs too: Northcliff, Sandton, soccer at the Rand Stadium, Malvern, Fordsburg and the old-feel Hillbrow. Some of these suburbs have been the inspiration and setting of several of his plays: Mooi Street Moves and Fordsburg's Finest, in particular.
When still at school Slabolepszy wanted to be a sports commentator, but after completing his BA at UCT he became an actor and was a founder member of the Space Theatre Company in Cape Town in 1972, and the Market Theatre Company in Johannesburg in 1975.
As an actor he has appeared in over 250 stage and television plays and films, most recently for the BBC in Rhodes and Apprenticeship of a Mahatma. He has numerous acting awards, and for his role as Eddie in his own play The Return of Elvis du Pisanie, he was the first actor in the country to win three best actor awards across the country.
Since 1979 Slabolepszy has written and performed in a lot of his 28 mostly- farcical social-commentary plays. Every year since 1979 he's produced a play and some years he's produced two. Some plays have been made into movies - Saturday Night at the Palace and Heel against the Head. He reckons that because the runs of the plays are so short, he has to be prolific.
His plays have been performed around the country and at the Old Vic in London, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Theater der Welt Festival in Munich, and the Images of Africa Festival in Denmark. His Once a Pirate, written in 1996, was put on at the Lincoln Centre in New York.
And the future? He sees himself continuing as a playwright, and hopes to get more involved in writing for movies, while at the same time admitting that the South African movie industry is in the doldrums at the moment.