TO BE EDITED
(19**-) Stage manager, manager and producer. Although sometimes referred to as Debra Batzofin, she is generally known as Debbie Batzofin or "Miss B" in the industry. Though later an independent manager and producer, she was also a long time business partner of Richard Loring.
Born Debra Batzofin, she grew up in Port Elizabeth. Debbie was knee high when she and her brother, David Batzofin who is also in the entertainment field (a radio announcer), were hauled to the theatre by their parents. She always had the inkling that theatre would be her life, and grew up with likeminded friends (to this day) including Simon James (Johannesburg Civic Theatre) and Dave Whitehouse (Congo Blue). Working with the Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival Group and selling sweets at the Opera House, Debbie confesses that she is not entirely sure how she managed to matriculate! At her parent’s request, she enrolled for a Hotel Receptionist Course, but dropped out soon after when called by the city lights of Johannesburg. Here she managed to secure a secretarial day time position at Peter Brown Men’s Wear. Debbie was familiar with this trade as her father was employed for many years at Rubin’s the Man’s Shop and she had worked there during school holidays. In the evenings, however, Debbie sat on the pavement outside the Academy Theatre for a month, waiting for someone not to show up for work. “On one particular night someone came running out of the theatre and asked if I could dress.” Of course Debbie could and it wasn’t long before she had proved herself and moved across to the Brooke Theatre to do lighting on Ipi Tombi, . She was freelancing and working on Ipi Tombi (Brian Brooke Theatre), a controversial musical considering the time in South African history. She worked for five years at His Majesty’s Theatre as stage manager and lighting operator where she met Denis Hutchinson, who at the time was serving his national service and was back then a novice lighting designer. Freelancing for Brickhill-Burke in 1983 on Razzle Dazzle, Debbie met Richard Loring. “He was giving out so much free advice at that stage that I suggested we start a company,” Debbie recalls. “Richard already had a company but our association started on 1st April 1983 – we should have known!!” While she looks after the nuts and bolts, Debbie says that Richard is the creative one. “And he always pushes me to the next level.” The pair has proven to be unstoppable.
The partnership saw the Sound Stage being born, which also unintentionally became the training ground for many a lighting designer such as Alistair Kilbee, Glenn Duncan and the list goes on. Both artists and technical crew were given work opportunity for many, many years.
Audiences, including corporate companies, streamed to the Sound Stage where the shows were complimented with a buffet style meal and entertainment. But the traffic congestion to Midrand became a problem, and audiences could not get to the Sound Stage on time. Friday nights, in particular, saw frazzled guests, sometimes arriving late, because of the traffic. “On a Friday evening we started giving our guests complimentary sherry,” says Debbie. This just took off the edge and helped everyone unwind. Two years ago the Sound Stage closed their doors, and the Lyric Theatre, with Richard and Debbie once again at the helm, opened at Gold Reef City, Johannesburg.
On two occasions Debbie had to put on new shows in new buildings which were being built. One was the much acclaimed Hairspray which opened at the Lyric and then of course prior to that African Footprint which initially showcased at the Globe Theatre and has now been to all corners of the world.
On 31st December 1999 it was a proud moment when African Footprint was performed on Robben Island. “We were also the first people to be invited from South Africa within 25 years to be part of the Royal Variety Show in London” says Debbie proudly. At this event, it was her highlight to meet “Mr Bean” (Rowan Atkinson) backstage. “I was so excited,” remembers Debbie. “Shirley Bassey was there, Lionel Richie and the Calendar Girls. But Mr Bean, he was brilliant. He was so charming and didn’t seem to know how popular he was in South Africa.”
There have been many milestones too, like stage managing the 50th anniversary of South African Airways where Debbie’s final cue was to call in a Jumbo with dancers on the wings. Adventures and memories have been made along the way, like travelling in China for a month, spending 16 to 19 hours a day on the bus and then avoiding turtles for supper!
With her passion for travelling, she has also met other interesting celebrities such as Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, John Mahoney and David Hyde Pierce (both from Frasier) and most recently, the pleasure of working with international psychic medium, John Edward. Special moments have included whale watching in Australia and of course she has had to find a way around her sea sickness to follow her dream of snorkelling and scuba diving.
The longing and connection with friends and family in South Africa have always ensured that Debbie returns home. “In our industry, associates are friends.” Debbie is saying goodbye to the Lyric Theatre and no doubt there are some exciting plans for the future. “I’m going to miss Graham (Brune) and my team… If you don’t have a crew, the curtain doesn’t go up. I’ve also enjoyed teaching and training and hope that they will continue to love the Lyric Theatre as much as I do”
The industry is her first love, but Debbie adds there’s nothing wrong with staying up all night to finish a jigsaw puzzle.
Since starting her theatre career in 1973 with Ipi Tombi, Debbie has worked with top managements in all aspects of theatre, film and television. In 1983 she joined forces with Richard Loring to form one of the most successful independent theatre companies in South Africa. Career highlights with Richard Loring include Carnival International 86 & 88, the UK tour of Ticket to Ride, a Persian Gulf tour of A Touch of Webber – A Taste of Rice and the Royal Command Performance of Girl Talk in Malaysia. At the Sound Stage, Debbie co–directed Girl Talk – Nite Out and Yellow Brick Road for which she received a Vita nomination.
African Footprint highlights as Associate Producer and Company/Touring Manager: Millennium Night on Robben Island; 2000 Royal Command Performance in London; St James' Palace, London; and Monte Carlo Sporting Club's 30th Anniversary performance. Debbie remained in South Africa to join Gold Reef City's team which built both the Globe Theatre (300 seats) and Lyric Theatre (1 100 seats) and she stayed on to head up the Lyric Theatre team for 3 years. Debbie has been General Manager for Hairspray, Saturday Night Fever, Winnie the Opera and for John Edward, international psychic medium.
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