You know those neighborhood gossips? The ones that know everyone’s business and aren’t afraid to say what everyone’s thinking? The ones that whisper over the walls and truly define what it means to ‘spill the tea’? Those are The Color Purple’s church ladies; a dynamic group of vocally strong women who make sure to have their say on just about everything. Dolly Louw, Lelo Ramasimong and Ayanda Sibisi are not your average choir group. They give it to you straight whether you like it or not, and serve it up with some impressive vocal layering and harmonies. “They are the ones who are observant of everything around them and everything around them,” says Dolly who plays the role of Doris.
From the beginning right through to the end, the church ladies drive the narrative and play the voices of the audience’s thoughts. “The church ladies are the ones that ask the controversial questions,” says Lelo, who plays Darlene, “For the audience, they find themselves liking them and then sometimes not liking them so much because of how they ask the questions, which sometimes have a judgmental undertone for the answers they are trying to get.” However, Ayanda who plays Jarene says, the church ladies also bring a lot of comic relief. And with such heavy themes within the story of The Color Purple, these pockets of laughter are much needed to swallow the hard pill of abuse, misogyny, and many more.
Any actor will know for a show to run smoothly the cast needs to be united, feeding off each other’s energy and responding. To pull of such a seamless production, the entire cast would need to develop a working relationship. For the church ladies, who stay glued to the hip throughout the show, Lelo says that oddly enough the bond came very naturally. “It’s great!” she says, “It’s great to come to a place where you click with people, but not just in terms of our characters and in terms of our friendship but also vocally.” The ladies all agree that together the voices of the cast blend so well together. While this is very true, there is still a distinct individuality that stands out from time to time. Especially within the church ladies, who lovingly call themselves the ‘Sisters in Harmony’.
Dolly, Leo and Ayanda all come with a collection of experiences in the industry and having worked in theatre before, have armed themselves with the tools to stay vocally and performance fit. For Dolly, although she initially thought she was going to have a problem with the gravity of the vocally demanding show, she realized that it’s natural and feels it was something she was born to do. Ayanda loved having an EMT doctor during rehearsals that guided the cast on how to keep healthy during the performance run. “For instance, the confidential voice,” says Ayanda, “whereby you don’t speak above your volume or speak too loud, you must speak low and take it easy.” All three agree that diet is also very important in staying vocally and performance fit, especially during performances where you sometimes have 2 shows a day. They also understand the importance of pacing themselves and knowing how to persevere consistently. As well as cooling down after the show, which may or may not include not talking to their partner or anyone around them. Whatever works for them!
When asked what is one juicy teaser to wet the taste-buds of anyone who (still) hasn’t seen The Color Purple? Dolly, Lelo and Ayanda all look stunned. “Wow,” exclaims Lelo. Dolly echoes her saying, “You can’t dismantle the show. You can’t just pick one part. It’s all so together that we can’t even pick out one highlight.” And I have to agree myself. Having seen the show, I’ll reiterate what’s already been said in many conversations about The Color Purple: It’s something you can’t describe, but must be felt.
All images by @enroCpics with permission from BSharp Entertainment.