Beauty and the B.E.E.
The B.E.E. in Ben Voss's bonnet
By Shezanne Socher
"Beauty Ramapelepele is my voice in a country that is cutting voices down instead of building them up," says satirist Ben Voss on his new production, Beauty and the B.E.E..
Voss, best known for his performances in 'The Mamba Series' (Green Mamba, Black Mamba, Best of Mamba), provides a "fly-on-the-wall" account of South Africa's new, black elite via his new character.
"It feels to me like the Rainbow Nation was a complete load of bull and I feel like a sucker because I believed it, perhaps because of my own privileged, non-racial upbringing. It's a great sales pitch but people tend to fall back on their own racial prejudices when the shit hits the fan in this country."
"My aim really was to generate a character that says what people want to say but can't and not make it come from a white, male mouth."
Voss not only wrote the script for this production but chose to star in it as well. So where does his inspiration come from?
"I had a wide spectrum of people to pull on, from a thirty-year-old black woman to a fifty-year-old white guy and everything else in between. The point was to distance myself from the character and playing a black, female businesswoman was the furthest stretch for me as a white, male actor."
"Originally when I started writing this script, I was going to tell the story of my alter ego. I was going to play the love child of Margaret Thatcher and Pik Botha who was abandoned at birth and raised in a rural community. He's a young white guy who is totally convinced that he is black. I think it would be appealing to a younger audience."
This show does not merely touch on South African taboos but rather comically scratches far beyond the surface of these realities. We asked Voss about his satirical approach to his productions and the importance of addressing these issues in a performance environment.
" I think that biting satire like this is important in our country but the key is to do so without alienating your audience. You need to find a balance because there's such a fine line between what one can and cannot communicate."
"The greatest comics are people who can say the most cutting things and still get away with it. Personally, I'm not a cynic and I do love this country but I feel that by acknowledging our faults, we can move on to achieve great success. Self criticism is important to fix the faults."
Voss is most definitely proudly South African, in spite of his sometimes-controversial characters. Born and raised in Durban, Voss stated that "the best thing about being an actor in this South Africa is that I am permitted a voice to say these things freely."
Well-known South African director, Janice Honeyman, who Voss obviously holds in very high regard, directed this truly excellent production.
"Janice Honeyman has an incredible mind for what works onstage. She has an awesome knowledge of what I have to do with the script. She kept me on track and just let me write my piece without trying to stamp her own authority on it."
What many of you may not know about this award-winning actor is that, before theatre, he completed a degree in mechanical engineering and was in fact working as an engineer before he had a drastic change of heart.
So when did he first decide to head for greener pastures?
"I first thought I should try something else when the gear box broke on the third paper machine (think industrial machinery and not your average Xerox copier) and, once again, I was covered in oil from trying to fix it."
Well, the engineering world's loss was most definitely the acting world's gain.
Voss has starred in multiple productions and won many awards so when he told me of his career highlight thus far, I was, admittedly, a little surprised.
"One of my best memories was when I was just starting out as an actor. I was dressed in a clown suit and handing out biscuits in the supermarket to the guys who I knew when I was still an engineer. I took such a risk and was really enthusiastic about changing careers that this one low point makes the rest of my accomplishments seem so much better."
From clown suit to the Afro-chic dresses worn by his character, we asked Voss about the wonders of women's clothing.
"The best thing about wearing women's clothing is the comfort. No seriously, if I could wear skirts I would. There are no tight things between your legs all the time, they're light and let air up your legs as well. There's also so much variety and choice with woman's clothing."
And the makeup?
"The makeup is a big process. It really helps me transform into my character. My other rule is that once I have the dress on, from the vocal warm-up till the end of the show, I'm not allowed to be anyone else but Beauty."
Voss really does capture the essence of this 49 year-old, black businesswoman and truly brings the charismatic Beauty to life in his performances.
After experimenting with womanly attire, we couldn't help but ask the recently married Voss if he perhaps had a newfound appreciation for the lengths that women go to when it comes to their appearance.
"Yeah, I do. It seems like they are bound by pressure to look good. Iv been buying some women's magazines lately and it seems that they offer such a contradiction. They give the feel that they are complimentary, offering support and all but then they only show pictures of women that look like they're supermodels. It's unattainable for women to look like this all the time and I find the juxtaposition in these magazines really strange."
Answered like a true gentleman.
So what's next for Ben Voss?
"I'm writing a script for an animated cartoon series called Freaks of Nature with John van de Ruit and John Cole. It's about these animals that are sent to an island for doing bad things like a lion who ate four Japanese tourists and a zebra who has a sex addiction. It's definitely not for kids and we're holding onto all copyrights for now."
It sounds like an interesting project but Voss isn't giving up on Beauty just yet. The show is currently on at the Old Mutual Theatre on the Square and you can contact Beauty Ramapelepele on bookface (a little joke from the show) at www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5967562401.
When is the next show and where?
Author: Bronwyn Tanner, 2 June 2009
I feel so awful that I missed the show. Please tell me when the next one is coming up? Bronwyn Tanner Scottburgh KZN
Magical Moments Fundraiser - Beauty & the B.E.E.
Author: Ilana Friedman, 16 October 2009
Ben's back in Johannesburg!! Please support us. Buy some smiles and support our FUNdraiser on Wednesday, 4 November - an evening of fun, laughter and celebration. Contact us on email@example.com to reserve your seats. R200.00 per person for theatre ticket, a large dose of laughter, pre-theatre snacks, fabulous prizes and raffles and all for a magical Cause.
Beauty is the BEST!!!
Author: Hennie Kuhn, 15 November 2009
It took us 2 hours from Rustenburg, through Diepsloot, to get to Sandton City to see Beauty at the Old Mutual Theatre at the Mandela square. The theatre was stuffy & hot, and I was tired & frustrated, untill the show started.
When she greeted us, I could not believe that 2 hours had past, and the show was finished. I had stomache cramps & wet cheeks, from all the laughter.
She is really sharp, and even took me out, about white men, liking the black ladies.
If you dont see it, you are missing out!
I'll be following Ben Voss, from now on.
Add a review or comment on Beauty and the B.E.E.: