“He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist,” is a quote which epitomises so much of the brilliance that is Barbie Meyer. For Barbie, everyone has an ‘art’ and hers happens to be performing.
Brought up on Shakespeare and Herman Charles Bosman, Barbie developed a deep passion for sharing and performing stories. Even though she was incredibly shy as a young girl, Barbie loved to sing and she knew drama would be an integral part of what she did with her life. Although great dreams about making a living in the arts are often scoffed at – and, for Barbie, this was no exception – she did drama because she loved it, not knowing if she would make any money doing so. After numerous acclaimed and successful shows, it is clear that Barbie’s love for drama became a fruitful career too.
After years of people asking Barbie to tell stories at braais, her mother finally told her to just “drop all her other stuff” and take Bosman’s stories to the stage. Barbie had always shared a particular connection with Bosman, with one of her most memorable encounters being a Patrick Mynhardt performance of Bosman, where the simplistic effectiveness was astounding. It was after that performance, Barbie asked for her own pair of veldskoene and she still wears them for every show. Barbie went on to create and perform numerous shows in which she relayed the hilarious and poignant fictional accounts of Herman Charles Bosman. There is a deep humanity in his works which greatly inspired Barbie. She also considers this to be one of the most important aspects of drama because, when one is able to laugh at and accept the shared humanity one witnesses on stage, it creates an amazing environment for experience.
This belief is also integrated into Barbie’s work in the corporate and community spheres, where she holds workshops at schools and businesses. Barbie uses her knowledge and abilities in drama to assist in confidence-building among professionals as well as effective communication which, according to Barbie, is largely compiled of non-verbal aspects. Teaching is also a large part of Barbie’s career and she believes that fun and laughter are vital to the learning process. Barbie uses the same exercises for everyone from seven to 97 and says the purpose is ultimately to relearn what they have lost – their fearlessness of making mistakes. This is another inevitable result of drama, as one loses one’s ego in the process.
Although Barbie finds support in the structure of a script, she is also passionate about improvisation. Originally, it was a concept which inspired fear in Barbie, but she was challenged by it and, after attending a workshop by Keith Johnstone, Barbie’s view of performance was changed. She developed a deeper understanding of the importance of saying ‘yes’ and, according to Barbie, should she wear printed T-shirts, hers would read ‘Yes, and…’. It is through the process of risking embarrassment that one finds brilliance. Barbie considers improvisation a daily exercise people go through and one of the most important skills, not only in performing but in life.
Throughout her many years of performing, Barbie has maintained a deep love for words, her own or others’. She strives for work without pretentiousness and an honest give-and-take with the audience. Although her vision has not changed with experience, her understanding of this communication has done. Barbie aims for the audience to experience her productions with truth and honestly ‘get it’. Thus, a sold-out arena is no goal for Barbie, but rather an audience whom she can look in the eyes and engage with, on whom the production has made a genuine impression. Barbie’s favourite performance perfectly embodies this as it took place on one of the last days of a festival and was only attended by seven people. Yet, Barbie, who is never one to cancel a performance, remembers it as one of her best shows.
Barbie’s collaborative relationship with her husband, Marke Meyer, is also quite remarkable, with each working to assist the other in various creative works. Marke assists in stage production and has a brilliant eye for aesthetics and creating a simplicity in props. According to Barbie: “He’s like Zambuk on a mozzie,” with him being the calm in Barbie’s vibrant and dramatic work. The two of them have also found a well-placed niche on the South Coast with the area continuing to be the home to which they return from tours and ventures for inspiration, with Barbie always performing her first showings on the Coast, in the company of friends.