Actor reflects on a ‘blessed’ career

Royston Stoffels has been an actor and a musician for 42 years.

Royston Stoffels considers himself blessed – 42 years after he started his career as an actor, he is still doing what he loves most.

“Sometimes I look back and think how did I get this far? In my career, I’ve probably done over 100 productions – South African productions, movies and some of my own productions I’ve written.”

The Walmer Estate resident, who recently played Aunty Merle’s husband, Dennis, in Aunty Merle The Musical, has now taken on the role of Akram in Tsotsi the Musical, being staged at the Artscape Theatre from today, February 8.

“Akram is a Bangladesh immigrant who came to South Africa for a better life. He then opens a spaza shop in the township, and the issue of xenophobia becomes rife. He is also robbed and looted several times. Akram then has to choose between self pity or self preservation.”

Roysten grew up in Salt River in the early 1950s.

“Salt River was my world. I grew up in Durham Avenue and attended Wesley Practising School and the Methodist Church. All my friends were around and we had a Main Road with several shops where we could buy anything at all.”

He said Salt River was a suburb of artists.

“People always said if you come from Salt River, you’re a poet and you don’t know it. That’s because all the streets were named after English poets.” And, being a musician himself, he remembers that his home town was filled with music and bands.” Salt River also had a number of bioscopes, which Royston used to visit with his brothers every Saturday. This was where he was first exposed to the entertainment scene.

He then attended Harold Cressy High School, and went on to study teaching. He taught Grades 4 to7 at George Golding Primary School in District Six.

“In 1976 I started my career as an actor. I was part of a cultural group of teachers that were invited to tour the country with the then Department of Coloured Affairs.

“We would go all around the country, doing educational training and setworks, and then we would do a little play for the children too. I then decided that acting was a better career for me.”

He then joined the Eoan group at the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone as the head of drama.

“It was a happy time for me, because art was becoming a real interest. We had a huge membership.”

He had also applied at the Artscape, then the Nico Malan Theatre, but was unsuccessful because the theatre house was for “whites-only” under the apartheid government.

As television was introduced to the country, Royston landed a number of small acting roles, which opened up doors for him.

“My mother was concerned because she worried about how I was going to survive, but I am so blessed – its been 42 years, and I’m still in the business.

He later applied again at the Nico Malan, this time for rehearsal space, but instead was appointed as a drama educational organiser and an actor at the Cape Drama Company housed at the theatre.

“By the end of the 90s, schools became mixed, and it then became okay. Being at the Nico Malan (Artscape) was the highlight of my career, because we had a playground, and all the toys to play with.”

After leaving there he did some freelance acting in theatres. His career took him to the Edinburgh Film Festival, among other parts of the world.

Apart from working in the city centre, Royston loves taking Saturday morning strolls around the city.

“I love the city, it buzzes. I particularly love Saturday mornings, when stall owners are setting up on the Grand Parade and people are still coming into the city. And just sitting at a pavement café – such things were impossible during apartheid.”

One of the memories he has as a child was being chased out of Cape Town station with police dogs because they had mistakenly used the “whites-only” entrance.

“The city has changed so much. It’s much cleaner, and there used to be much more crime and grime. It’s also more diverse.

“The best thing is in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, there is still a quiet place you can sit and just watch the people and everything going on around you.”