In conversation with Collett Dawson, Producer of Gone Too Soon

Executive Producer, Collett Dawson of The CoLab Network, proudly announces her next project, Gone Too Soon, at The Lyric at Gold Reef City, which will pay tribute to music legends who died too soon but live on through their music. From Amy Winehouse, to David Bowie, Micheal Jackson to Whitney Houston, these are just some of the music legends who’s music has narrated many generations.

With over 25 years in the arts and entertainment industry, working tirelessly behind the scenes, and just the most wonderful person ever, Collett Dawson chats about the incredible and personal story that inspired her to create the show, and how she gives back to the arts with an exciting addition to the show!

1. Gone Too Soon is being staged in loving memory of two South African legends, Matthew Stewardson and Gugu Zulu who both died unexpectedly. What is it about their lives that has inspired you to produce a show like this? 

Both Matthew and Gugu were such incredible men first, before being legends, and I was blessed that I could call them two of my closest friends. Matthew died unexpectedly nearly 8 years ago now but it was actually only after Gugu’s tragic death 2 years ago that something hit me. I was sitting at his memorial service where there were thousands of people in attendance, the service was being live-streamed for TV audiences and as the speakers spoke, all you could hear was the click of the journalists’ cameras taking photos. I got irritated and said to myself ‘can’t these guys see that we’re grieving’? And then two things hit me – firstly, that these guys and others – like the music legends we’re paying tribute to in the show, might be huge legends but they were also PEOPLE first and foremost, who had mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, family, friends who mourned them as people, before legends. And the secondly, was that we needed to share that mourning process, as friends and families of these legends, with those that also loved and admired them. That’s when the idea of the show took hold, to pay tribute to incredible music legends – as music is a big passion of mine so that others can join me in celebrating their lives and the impact they had on all of us. And then on a more personal level, for me to do the same with my two incredible friends, who just “happened” to be SA legends in their own right.

There wouldn’t be a CoLab Network today without them – Matthew was the one that encouraged me to “get out of my rut, get off my butt and start producing shows because I had more to give the industry and its audiences” – I wouldn’t have started my production company without his constant push to do so and I can’t help but think of him every time I work on a new show – Gone Too Soon is going to be my 14th show that I’m producing.

With Gugu, the defining moment for me was when I hit a dark rough patch in the early part of starting the company where I was questioning the path I was taking, my value to the industry, etc. – he actually said the exact same words to me that sent chills down my spine – and they didn’t know each other. One day I was ready to throw in the towel and he also pushed me to get out of my comfort zone with the words “Collett, you can’t give up, you have so much more to give the SA entertainment industry”… and I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again – as the saying goes. I will be forever grateful to him for that.


2.     Since the show’s inception 2 years ago, what has been some of the highlights and lowlights of creating Gone Too Soon?

The highlights of putting the show together has been the choosing of which artists to include in the show, doing our research and then realising just how much of an impact they’ve had on us, as well as the music industry as a whole. It’s been an incredibly nostalgic journey that I’ve loved.

The lowlight I would have to say is the incredibly emotional rollercoaster that comes with that nostalgic journey I mentioned previously – and of course, feeling the responsibility of ensuring that these artists, and also Matthew and Gugu, are shown in the best possible light so that the audiences who attend are moved in a positive way, along with us, in the celebration of these legends’ lives. Another lowlight was needing to postpone the show last year when it was first meant to be staged. It just wasn’t coming together as I wanted it to, so I decided it was best to rather take a step back, regroup and start again… and I’m so pleased I did because I’m THRILLED with the current result and can’t wait for audiences to watch the show.


3.    You have also included the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra, conducted by Eddie Clayton, who celebrate their 20th Anniversary. Why is it so important that young people are a part of a show like this? How do we get young people to appreciate theatre?

What I’m loving about this show experience is seeing these youngsters absolutely revelling in performing these hits, and none of them witnessed the songs first hand, they were all too young. To see these youngsters be just as moved and inspired by these artists and their music is such a thrill for me, and that in itself, proves to me the point that the music these artists performed really are timeless and will live on through future generations continuing to perform these great hits.


4.    What would you like the audience to leave with after watching Gone Too Soon?

Two hours of non stop nostalgia, joining us as we laugh, cry, tap our fingers and feet to the beat, get up and dance, just sheer enjoyment of this incredible music and having the opportunity to celebrate along with us, the lives of these incredible legends and the legacy they’ve left us with.


5.     You’ve had a long partnership with Born to Perform, and now you’re bringing some of the performers on board Gone Too Soon. How did this decision come about, and why is it so important to invest in these young performers? 

One of my greatest thrills in this industry is being able to “give back” most especially to the youth, and to have the opportunity to develop and nurture young talent. What Gemma and Matthew Marinus are achieving through the Born To Perform platform is just incredible, and to have been part of it from its inception 5 years ago to where these youngsters are now, totally able to compete with their professional, adult counterparts is just magical for me.

How it came about including their involvement was due to me watching a rehearsal of their 2018 show that’s just taken place, SHINE! and being blown away by the sheer talent, especially the older contingent of BTP performers. I try to give professional opportunities to their young stars where possible (one example being including Marianthe Panas in Supreme Divas at Joburg Theatre a few years ago) and so it was a no-brainer to include them in GONE TOO SOON. Seven of their brightest young performers were selected and will be proudly featured on stage in Gone Too Soon as the backing vocalists. They’ve already also enjoyed a 2-day workshop with Timothy Moloi who besides being a talented vocalist, he’s also one of South Africa’s top vocal coaches, so they’re getting invaluable experience in all aspects of the industry. They’re so excited to be part of this show and to share the stage with such incredible artists, so they’re working really hard and I can’t wait for audiences to see the end product soon!


Tickets range from R150 – R280.

Bookings are through or Computicket or by calling The Lyric Theatre Box Office on 011 248 5000.

For more information go here.

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