I am responsible for my part in the Story that is being told…
by Louw Mulder
Earlier this year, it was Peter Shaffer’s Equus, followed by Family Secrets, a play by Enrico Luttmann, currently on stage, that presented Joburg audiences to the talent of Cape Town based actor, Sven Ruygrok in both these productions. Hailing from Cape Town, I thought of getting to know this young actor a little better, if not just for our Gauteng audiences.
Born in Johannesburg, 1991, with an actress mother, Sven’s childhood and family culture revolved around the performing arts. His passion though was for Gymnastics. Earning Junior National colours, he travelled the world, but his gymnastic dreams were short lived due to a knee injury during his final school year. “After that, it was really the question of what I am going to do with my life, and I decided on acting,” Sven says: “I applied through UCT, and it pretty much started from there, straight after school.”
“I worked in the UK for a year and I struggled immensely. I found it really hard and came back with humility, with my tail between my legs. But that was a good thing, as I came home more determined that this is something I want to do. If you get kicked, and still want to carry on being kicked, you must know you really love it.”
Right now at the age of 28, Sven’s resume is pretty impressive and features quite a few International Accolades. Locally on stage, he starred in a few Fred Abrahamse productions, mostly in Cape Town. His big screen credits include his role as David Epkeen alongside Orlando Bloom and Forest Whitaker in 2013’s feature, Zulu. He also played Frankie in 2014 Sci-Fi action thriller Alien Post, and will be seen on screen soon in his role as Bobby Jenkins in Universal’s Inside Man 2.
But for South Africans, Sven is better known as Rambo Black in the Spud Trilogy, alongside British Great, John Cleese. “It was working on Spud that sparked my interest in film. I worked with some incredible talent, local and international. The director, Donavan Marsh, was amazing, and to date still one of the best directors I have worked with.”
But as my conversation with this young man took an unplanned course of its own, the true person that is Sven Ruygrok presents itself to me. It was during his Spud Journey, when the cast was asked to join a campaign against Bullying. “We put the t-shirts on, took the photo, take the t-shirts off, and there we go.” Getting serious he said: “I wanted to be part of this, and promote this. I wanted to be aware of the whole campaign. I contacted the campaign organisers and ended up doing a few talks for them.”
This became one of Sven’s on-going passions, doing motivational talks for Kids. He interacts with tomorrow’s youth, on topics that are a huge reality to himself, like racism, bullying, stressing the reality and phenomenon of cyberbullying. “Online activity is addictive and killing our youth. They [our youth] link personal validation to the amount of likes they receive online. “
Sven named the obsession today’s young people have for the perfect body, as one of the reasons why he loves speaking to the young people: “I speak about body image which is a huge thing. I speak about loving your body. For me, it is one thing to say this all to people, but it is another thing to accept it yourself and to protect it without hurting it.”
“This is exactly what my role in Equus did for me earlier this year,” he said, leading our conversation towards his part in this thought-provoking play. Sven’s role of Adam, a disturbed character, was one for which full nudity on stage was required.
“For me, it was more of a moral thing, more of a part I want to play. It is a hectic play.”
“I am deeply religious, so I personally had a lot of questions. Being part of the production meant that I am to some extent endorsing it. I sought advice from people far wiser than me, in various fields: theology, philosophy, even to my spiritual director, asking what I should do. One of the things that came out was the nature of sin, which is a hard thing to deal with. The question at the end was: ‘What is my Responsibility?’”
“Am I responsible if someone lusts after my naked character on stage, pays money with the intention of purely seeing nudity, and if so, then what is my part in that?”
Clearly trying to illustrate how much value he adds to his responsibility as a part of a story being told, he admits that the character Adam has been part of his life for about three years. When he thinks about the character as a person, he knows that he cannot be responsible for everybody and their intentions.
I learnt about his views on story-telling, the way he approached his journey, getting to know his character. It brought new insights to me, as someone who enjoys theatre, without any educational background of this art form.
He told me some of his acting philosophies: “Good writing can do great things, good stories can change lives. A good actor can make bad writing look good, but not the other way around. For me, as an actor, my best is just to listen to audience members, and make them think.”
Next up though for this young philosopher, is to complete the run of Family Secrets in Johannesburg and Cape Town, then to start a new life, and that in the role of Daddy. Sven and his wife, a high school teacher in the Mother City, are expecting their first Little Ruygrok in July. This as he says, “will be the role I can’t wait to play!”
Joburg audiences can enter our competition, with compliments of Pieter Toerien Productions, to stand a chance of winning one of 10 double tickets, to go see Sven Ruygrok live in Famly Secrets.
For the rest, catch Sven Ruygrok in Family Secrets, alongside Dorothy-Ann Gould, now on stage in Johannesburg, at the Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino theatre until 30 June, after which the production will be moving to the Theatre on the Bay, Cape Town, for a run from 3 to 13 July, 2019.
This interview was edited by Louise McAuliffe from LaMaZing Media
The Photos and Images used in this article was supplied by Sven Ruygrok.
Schools and alike are encouraged to email Sven directly, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for talks on topics such as Bullying, Value and Self-Esteem, Racism and How to Raise Honourable Men.