By Mandi ‘Poefficient’ Vundla |
LORCIA COOPER IS BACK!
There is something magnetic about Lorcia Cooper, it takes almost five minutes for me to break away from her, so i can stand up and walk towards the waiter to ask for a menu. On an ordinary day I’d be annoyed by this but not today. I’m indulging in Lorcia’s intolerance for an industry that prefers high social media rankings over talent and years of experience. She pulls me into her frustration after her photo shoot, we make our way from the warehouse parking bay hidden behind the pillars of a bridge bejeweled with graffiti art. Cooper towers over me in her floral wedges and denim hipsters.
We settle in, at a table outside the Potatoe Sheds and then her gloves come off. “Companies want us to be a free marketing campaign for them! I’ve been turned down for a job before because my following wasn’t good enough”
I’ve heard this story before, how veteran actors who have served the industry in many ways, are being turned away because they don’t have enough followers. Simply put, it’s a numbers game! Lorcia cites Hollywood Industry greats such as Johnny Depp; Meryl Streep; Viola Davis and Robert De Niro, asking when have we ever seen them over exposing their lives on social media and relying on the hype to get by?
“Their work already speaks for them”.
With over 30 years of experience as a dancer, throw in mentor, choreographer and actor. Lorcia doesn’t understand why she needs to rely on her following to bag work. At this point in her career, she is quite content with spending some quiet time with her daughter at the zoo feeding the ducks or watching three hours of animation over popcorn with her little one on the couch. She takes motherhood seriously and says not even her job comes before her daughter.
But let’s take it back to a time when Cooper was younger than her daughter. At the age of four, when she used to mimic her brother’s dance steps in the background while he rehearsed. One day when his dance partner decided she no longer wanted to dance, he was left stranded for an upcoming competition. Because Lorcia was familiar with the choreography, her grandmother made her fill in those shoes but she grew a pair of her own; excelled; won the competition with her brother and never looked back.
Attracting the attention of her then mentor Debbie Turner who owned a modern dancing studio, Turner asked Lorcia’s grandmother if Lorcia could join her classes. So eager to take Cooper under her wing, Debbie would drive 35 kms to fetch cooper from her home.
That was the beginning of a life-altering moment for Cooper. Debbie, affording her the opportunity to escape the harsh environment she was growing up in. This marked the beginning of her career as a dancer.
Growing up in the Cape Flats wasn’t easy, Lorcia had to learn to fist fight at the age of ten.
“If your’re soft in the hood, you’re done, you’ll get picked on all the time”
She was victimized for being a coloured girl with straight hair and her big calves earned her the
the nickname ‘man binne’
Lorcia was different from other students, she attended an all-girl school and her activism was often rewarded with detention which she ended up bunking to get to dance class. She was a vocal student,
whenever a teacher spoke to other students inappropriately, she’d address it and when girls from the neighboring schools wore grey pants during the winter season, she drew up a petition to advocate for her school to trade in the skirts and stockings for trousers.
In Grade 10, she had already summed up the odds; there wasn’t enough money for tuition fees and so she knew that dance was her only way out. She advised her mother to start preparing herself for her departure because in two years’ time, she was leaving! True to her word after matric, she auditioned at the North West Dance Company and was accepted. This is where she learned to teach, through the development programs they implemented in schools, she became aware of her ability to impact young people because the program allowed them the space to choreograph. She says her true calling is mentorship and when she’s not on our screens, she facilitates dance workshops around the city.
AT 19 she was nominated for an FNB Vita Award. It isn’t out of arrogance that she feels she deserved to win but out of knowing, she was that good. Leaving Cape Town made her feel like she had lifted a heavy load off her shoulders. “Cape Town is not an easy place, it’s even harder if you’re a coloured girl with straight hair and dreams, doing something that no one else is doing.”
Though she didn’t win the Vita Award, contemplating her background and the kind of place that she came from, she saw being nominated as victory in itself. When facilitating her kids, she asks them: “what is your win?” She views winning as a personal accomplishment, not just an award one receives based on people’s opinions or standards.
Lorcia has managed to rise through the negativity she has endured as a dancer. Her Ballet master
used to tell her that she would never make the lead because she was too boyish and masculine. When
the time came for them to pick partners, no one chose her. She was always stuck with the boy who had the misfortune of a small body, none of the girls picked him either because he couldn’t lift them.
We all jolt into laughter, imagining that awkward moment, when a pair of dedicated misfits have to switch gender roles to make the dance piece work with their bodies. You know what they say: “where there’s a will, there is always a way.” Lorcia’s path lead her to Johannesburg, where she decided to do freelance work for
theatre and the corporate sector.
Her days were fully loaded, she worked back to back, from 8h00 – 22h00. Now, as much as she found theatre to be more fulfilling, she says with great sadness that it won’t buy you a house. Unfortunately theatre performers don’t earn nearly enough as performers in corporate do and as a result, dance companies have become scarce.
“There is not one full time contemporary dance company in the country.”
Relieved that the Joburg Ballet theatre is still holding on to its breath, Lorcia has enrolled her daughter under their program and is openly excited by the potential of the young black students she has seen.
She says the kind of grooming they receive will get them far, not only in their dance careers but also in life.
Lorcia may have been a well-trained dancer but acting was a foreign language she learned to master
during her days as Charmaine, on Backstage. While in Jo’burg, she received a call from Adele Blank:
a woman she says deserves to be celebrated for the daring work she has done in the past.
Adele Blank was one of the first person to run a multi-racial dance company in the country
at a time when it was illegal. She used to rehearse underground and nobody knows this.
Blank asked Cooper to try out for Backstage, though reluctant at first, in the end she nailed her audition
and was cast for the role but she couldn’t shoot until three months later. She wanted to honor her commitment to the dance production she was touring with in Berlin. When she came back from the tour and it was time for her to hit the Backstage studios, she walked in on set; startled by the many people in the space. Her first thought was“oh crap! So many cameras.” She had no idea that making T.V meant she’d be the focal point of all the multi-cams. She confesses that she’s never seen multi-cams before. Feeling a little like a fish outside water, Lorcia worked hard to catch up to the rest of the cast.
We can’t help but laugh at her gullibility. She thought she needed to learn everything on set, so she inquired about the cameras and the lighting, and when the camera man said “hit your mark” she was ready and knew exactly were to stand. Because she over compensated for the little she knew, no one realized that she was inexperienced. All she had was the discipline of a dancer and God.
There seems to be nothing in the world that has kept her spiritually afloat more than Yoga and her belief in the presence of God in her life. If you ask her what her greatest achievement is; as a mother, she will tell you it is being able to teach her daughter about God. She plays us a recording of her daughter rehearsing her speech for school, then before you know it, the speech shifts into prayer and worship.
Cooper says her life has always been a testimony, she explains what it means to be a testimony.
That, it is when one becomes shameless and being shameless means admitting that you don’t have electricity ; you’re stretching your petrol and you’re sitting with a body full of talent and no work. She knows all of this is standard procedure, how in the season of autumn and winter, God prepares you to be the biggest and greatest tree ever.
She says the biggest and greatest tree in her life is not her career, but her ability to utilize what she does to impact people positively. Maintaining a positive mindset is what pulled her out of her darkest moment.
When she expresses that being broke was a trophy in comparison to working in the heart-breaking slums of an unmentionable production that left her beat down and broken with a thin pay cheque to live on.
“If you’re going to put me through all that abuse then at least don’t let me live on budget!”
When Lorcia eventually left that production behind, she needed to go find herself a new and unlearn the gallons of abuse she had grown accustomed to. She was made to feel so useless and unpretty to such an extent that as an actor, it became difficult for her to deliver her work on set. Her insecurities were constantly being used against her, inevitably they overshadowed her craft and she had to learn to switch into defense mode to get through the day and to protect herself.
“When you get called into the office because your jawline is too hard, your
make-up needs to change and your wardrobe is changing every two months because you look too
While picking herself back up, Lorcia took a well-deserved three year break and got into directing,
she was called in to choreograph for ‘Zulu Wedding’ when she landed a role in the movie.
Now she’s back on our screens as the power hungry Tyson on Lock Down. The irony of being cast in a
prison story is in how liberating it was for Lorcia to have worked with such an amazing cast of passionate and supportive women. She is full with gratitude, she has never known such a synergy among women in her entire life, not even in her dance career.
“When shooting with Dawn (Ma Zet), we always ensured that our performance balanced out.
When she went soft, I’d lose it, and go completely crazy!”
Relying on trust; Zola, who plays Monde, gave Lorcia the freedom to go wherever her character Tyson lead her. So Lorcia licked her face and bit her nipple. She says she wouldn’t have been able to do so if her co-actor was resistant. “If you want to see people who are art hungry, come to our set”
She commends Mandla N for not casting the actors based on their social media stats.
Deep down, she says she knows he fought hard for her to get cast for Tyson’s role because she’s been to previous castings before, where she’s been turned down because she wasn’t ugly enough or because her hair was too straight. Shooting at Constitution Hill has also had a great impact on Lorcia’s performance and the authenticity of her character. She says her work allows her to honor those who are still in prison. She reflects back on her life in Cape Town and on how she is one out of a few who managed to escape the Cape flats.
“But that doesn’t mean other people didn’t want to get out, they just didn’t have the means to escape.
What are your options? When you live in a city that hasn’t yet integrated, that’s still stuck in 1989. Black people are still struggling and the drug problem is at its peak. The youngest confirmed tick user was four years old but you’ll never hear about it.”
Lorcia urges us to look at the back stories of each prisoner.
“It’s important for people to understand that not everyone started out bad.” As Tyson’s story unfolds, we will get to learn the real nature of her crime.Cooper takes great pleasure in portraying Tyson’s character, it has given her the opportunity to put her pretty to rest and to show off her versatility.
Be sure to catch her behind bars,weekdays at 20h00 on Mzansi Magic.