Behind the scenes with Gaynor Young

Source: Wayne Habig and Hennie van Deventer, T and W

Everyone has heard of ‘that actress’ who fell in ‘that accident’. Gaynor suffered a terrible accident at the State Theatre back in 1989 and Absa (Volkskas back then) had helped set up a donation account for her, to support her recovery.

When our client, Lauren Daniel from Absa, proposed we investigate a Prosper film relating to Gaynor, I didn’t know much about the accident and was a bit worried about a story that was that old, but I asked our researcher, Idele Prinsloo, to investigate. Idele came back and told us that the story of Gaynor’s recovery was amazing. The mere fact that she could share it with us was nothing short of a miracle. We needed to meet her in person.

So off we went to George to meet Gaynor. We didn’t know much about her except that 26 years ago she fell 18 meters (5 storeys) down a stage lift shaft. She had suffered terrible injuries but makes an income these days writing a blog. So we were unsure but curious.

Five minutes after meeting her, our hearts were stolen. Gaynor is such a curious, energetic person. She immediately interrogated all of us, wanting to know everything. But she’s also a natural storyteller – we laughed, we joked, we gasped and we cried. We cried a lot.

We knew there was a story to make…but which part did we tell?

Back in Joburg we shared notes, retold her stories and brainstormed. We decided to tell the story of Gaynor regaining her hearing: On the day, sitting at the audiologist, they switched on her cochlear hearing aids, turned up the volume and prompted her to speak. A wave of noise hit her and she reacted with a loud “Shit!” But being who she is, Gaynor instinctively followed that up with a recital of Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’.

We thought it would be beautiful to end off the film with Gaynor reciting the last few lines of the sonnet on a stage in a beautiful dress. But what stage? What about the State Theatre? Would Gaynor consider it? Had she ever been back? We sent her a mail and asked. She replied with a sincere, “I’m terribly sorry but I can’t. I can’t go back to that stage that took so much away from me.” We then received a second mail from Gaynor. “I’m going to do it – I want to.”

So it was settled. We were making a film and would go back to the State Theatre – Gaynor even had a beautiful red dress specially made for the occasion. We flew to George to capture the story of how and where she regained her hearing. Everything was going well, and after spending three days filming with Gaynor in George, the group departed for Pretoria and the State Theatre. That was where everything changed.

The moment Gaynor stepped onto that stage and saw the spot where she fell, the gravitas of the moment came crashing down on everyone. She was visibly upset but said she wanted to perform. But not the Shakespearean sonnet as planned, she wanted to recite ‘I thank you God for this most amazing’ by EE Cummings.

On our return from the shoot we looked at the beautiful footage of Gaynor Young standing strong and proud on that stage. A fragile woman with unbelievable strength, she had overcome so many struggles in her life and this was the last barrier that she needed – and wanted – to break.

We soon realised that in making this film we had inadvertently changed the story. It was no longer a story about Gaynor regaining her hearing. The story we captured was stronger. It was about Gaynor reclaiming what that moment, 26 years ago, had been taken away from her.

She had proved that she was bigger than that stage. She had conquered it.  

And that is the story we are going to tell.