Working artist, model, videographer, brand maven and digital celebrity, Shaun Smit, is probably best known for his role in The Rocky Horror Show, which ran at The Fugard Theatre (Cape Town) and Montecasino (Johannesburg). I interviewed Shaun and asked him to share his life lessons about the value of personal passion and its impact on creating career-related opportunities.
1. What’s your origin story?
As a 22 year old boy from the conservative side of Pretoria, it has been quite a journey; yet, the journey has only begun. In high school I went through a few schools – Hoërskool Pretoria Noord, Wonderboom and Waterkloof. Everyone thought I was crazy, but secretly I loved changing schools. It gave me the opportunity to meet new people, don a new uniform, and learn about different cultures. That skill of managing “change” was carried over into my career.
2. What is your academic background?
I studied Musical Theatre in Pretoria at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), but didn’t finish my course as the department went through some trouble.
3. What skills help create success in your profession?
If you want to have your name in lights, just like a massive Coco Cola billboard, you have to swallow the bitter pill of realising that you’re not much different than a can of coke. You are a commodity. You have to look after yourself and make sure you stay healthy and look the best you can. It’s not vanity; it’s your job … but a fun job.
In addition, when you are a performer in our country you must be ready for constant change. It can be really amazing to travel the country (or world) but the downside to it is that you become extremely close with people (your cast mates in theatre for example) and spend all day every day with them, and then suddenly one day it all disappears and everyone moves on to their next project/family.
4. Where does your passion for creative practice stem from?
It’s difficult to pinpoint where my passion stems from, but I’d say it’s what makes me happy. That has been a value for me since I was a little boy. I’ve come to realise how short life is and that I only have one life, therefore I want to do what makes me happy; that kind of joy that thrills you. Do that! I’m fortunate enough to ‘play’ for a living. There’s obviously a lot more to it than just playing, but that’s what it comes down to.
For me personally, you have to be able to see art in everything – in the food in front of you, in clothing, in nature, in buildings, in people. Living a life through that perspective has helped me so much in my career. You have to stay creative all the time, and be able to be inspired by small and wondrous objects. I mean, you don’t need these things; they’re just my tips on what has been working for me. And if it can work for you, why not?
5. How did your biggest career breaks come about?
In 2013 I was called to audition for The Rocky Horror Show. By that time, honestly, I didn’t know what this musical was about. I auditioned and got the part of Rocky. After getting the role, I thought I should Google what the musical is all about. Boy, did I get the shock of my life! But wait – what I did is NOT advisable: going blindly into an audition or job interview is the worst thing you could ever do! I was just lucky to get away with it this time.
6. Was The Rocky Horror Show your first big role? What are the biggest surprises and life lessons that you draw from that experience?
The Rocky Horror Show has been my first big break and I am truly grateful for every performance. I’ve been through so much during the time I was part of the show. By spending every day with this group of people, they have become my family and have been with me through a lot: coming out of the closet, getting into a relationship with an amazing human being, dealing with a long-running highly successful show, trying to figure out who I want to be in life, staying healthy, and so much more. Perseverance, consistency, dedication and authenticity have been only a few things I’ve learnt in life and on stage.
7. What are the biggest challenges and blessings in doing stage acting? What kind of training do you have to do to prepare for the performances? How do you ensure that your performance, week after week, remains new and fresh for you each day?
The show by itself has so much cardio that I am VERY fortunate to only visit the gym about 3 times a week for 40 minutes weight sessions just to not lose too much weight. And just like it takes a lot of physical training to deliver a successful performance, it also takes mental preparation. Every night before I go on stage, I slowly start “leaving Shaun behind” and focus on the character and story that needs to be told. I go on stage and try not to “know” what’s going to happen next; that keeps my performance fresh. Also, on some nights I would put extra focus on my singing, the next show I’d put more focus on my dancing, then character, then accent. Doing that slowly and consciously keeps improving your performance. But one must be careful, you can’t allow yourself to go overboard, you have to strip it down (excuse the pun) and stay true to the character. Your character may grow, definitely, but only to a certain point. It’s not always easy to know when to stop, but that’s why you have a resident director and a gut-feeling to keep you on track.
8. Do you consider yourself predominantly a stage actor?
Although I am currently known mostly for my work on stage; I’ve also done some TV work playing a high school boy in SABC’s Erfsondes. But I wouldn’t want to label myself as anything. I am a creator. I create characters on stage and on TV. I create art with drawing, writing and photography. As long as I can CREATE, I’m happy. I also create video content through my YouTube channel at ShaunChadSmit – I always make time for some sneaky little self-promo. My channel is still very much in its infancy; I have exciting plans for it in the near future, so stay tuned.
9. How has stardom been treating you? Are there things you know now that you wish you knew before your name was up in lights?
Everyone says “If you wanna stand out, you have to be unique”. The secret is to be honest, to really just be you. In a world where so many things are fake, blown up and photoshopped, it’s refreshing to see someone just be themselves and completely comfortable in their own skin. Now some people misunderstand this concept. This doesn’t mean you should lie on your back and expect to get famous because you are “just yourself”. No, this should encourage you to be the best version of yourself with sincerity.
10. What are your career aspirations for the future?
I have many plans for the future. I want to do more theatre, series, soapies, movies, vlogs, modelling, start my own business, and many more. But for now I’m focused on what’s in front of me; I am grateful to be employed and excited to just be healthy and alive. My future is in God’s hands. I’m just 22, so I’m quite relaxed – or maybe I’m just saying that while planning to take over the world, who knows [wink wink]?
Lastly, stop worrying too much about the little things; don’t take yourself too seriously, but work your butt off and don’t expect any applause. Live. The lights will fade; give it everything while you have the opportunity.