Who’s Upstairs: Nicky Schrire

Nicky Schrire is the creator, composer and vocalist for Escape: The Ingrid Jonker Suite on at Alexander Upstairs for only two nights, 20 and 21 April at 7PM.


Home town?

Born in London but raised in Cape Town and very much a Capetonian (i.e. likes to talk about the changes in weather and how consistently majestic Table Mountain is.

Tell us a little more about your show?
I stumbled upon excerpts from “Black Butterlifes” online, and was inspired to delve further into Ingrid Jonker’s poems (it had been a decade since I studied them in Afrikaans at high school). André Brink and Anthie Krog translated Jonker’s anthologies into English and Brink wrote a hugely illuminating foreword that really drew me into Ingrid’s life story-the tragedy of it, her short but brilliant literary output, and the politically charged time during which she lived. I knew that other artists (Chris Chameleon and now Luna Paige, Lucy Kruger, etc.) had set her poems to music, but no one had imagined her works in a cinematic/folk/art song world. And the beauty and sadness of her life really lends itself to that genre. So over two years, I worked on setting a selection of her poems (Ontvlugting; Bitterbessie Dagbreek; Korreltjie Sand; Gisteraand; Ek Herhall Jou) to music, arranged for string quartet and voice. To honour Ingrid’s Afrikaans heritage and the fact that so many people adore her poems as they were intended, actress Jenna Dunster will read the poems in Afrikaans in between the songs.

And what’s next on the cards for you?
Because I lecture in Jazz Studies at UCT but write and perform as a folk/pop/singer songwriter, my projects tend to be hella varied musically speaking! So, next up is a concert celebrating the music of South African jazz pianist Bheki Mseleku (I’ve written lyrics to several of his beautiful compositions and they’ll be performed at the SA College of Music on Wednesday 10th May at 1pm with pianist Andrew Lilley and trumpeter Mandisi Dyantyis). Then cellist Ariella Caira and I return to our working duo (voice, guitar & cello) for a May duo concert for Sit The Folk Down, and a June performance at the Cottage Club (run by Bill Knight-a great musician in his own right). In the midst of that, I’ll also be the guest vocalist with the UCT Alumni Big Band at the Big Band Festival at the Baxter on Saturday 3 June. I told you there would be genre-bouncing :/

And the project you’re dreaming of?
It would be great fun to write for other artists like Majozi, or Karen Zoid. And I’d love to collaborate with a producer to produce an electronic album that leans on acoustic songwriting, in the vein of Emiliana Torrini or Roísín Murphy.

How did you get into theatre(or music/burlesque/magic/etc)?
I’ve always loved music and studied it to a dizzying degree at school, to the point where it seemed logical to continue studying it at university. It kinda stuck. And now I can’t really disentangle myself from it’s wonderful, challenging and frustrating grip.

Dinner with any two figures from history: who would you invite and what would you serve them?
I’d invite Marni Nixon (she sang for Audrey Hepburn and Deborah Kerr and many more) and Julie Andrews. It would be a singer love fest. Or at least a fawning fest for me. They’re both quite classy, so I’d probably serve them roast chicken and roasted root vegetables. And then a simple, but really excellent, chocolate torte for dessert. Maybe from Nigella Lawson’s wheelhouse. Her dessert recipes tend to be pretty full/fool-proof. Obviously I haven’t thought about this AT ALL.

Favorite spot in Cape Town (besides Alexander Bar, obviously)?
I love Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens-it is calming and green and magical. I also find Cavendish Square very calming. This tells you everything you need to know about me in terms of my oscillating between the superficial and the natural.

What excites you about theatre (or music/burlesque/magic/etc)?
The fact that it is a live experience, for both performer and audience member, is a thrill that is difficult to describe and capture. I love the immediacy of it. I love the degree to which it is a living, breathing, ever-changing entity.

What mistakes have you made and learned the most from?
I have a tendency to rush into things. Sometimes this has been a good thing because it has helped me set and deliver on goals. Other times, it has been reckless and resulted in subpar creative output (even though I’m often the only person aware of the drop in quality). I’ve also become more wary of asking people for recommendations-whether it’s a venue, or a player. Different people have different expectations. So one can never skimp on researching. Does that make sense?

Who do you think people should be talking about? (chance to punt other artists)
I think people should be talking about Hatchetman (they’ve just released their debut album “Finding Sanity” and it’s as brilliant as their live performances). People should celebrate Beatenberg signing with Island Records in the UK (they’re my favourite SA pop band, hands down). Folks could take a minute to get excited about Diane Wilson being in The Fugard’s production of “Funny Girl” and then book tickets (I love Diane a lot #fangirling). And the general public should have their interest piqued by the life and work of Ingrid Jonker and join us on Thursday 20th OR Friday 21st April for ESCAPE: THE INGRID JONKER SUITE, only at the Alexander Bar.