Centre stage with Napo Masheane (Part One)

Posted on April 04, 2011

1. What kind of education or training did you have in theatre and directing?

Speech and Drama Diploma: (Fuba School Of Dramatic Arts 1998- 2000)
Stage Manager & Production: (The Market Theatre 2001-2002) FLARE Project (Female directing mentorship 2008) DEON Writers Program (Market Theatre 2009-2010) New Playwrights Program (Wits University/ British Council/ Art & Culture Trust 2011).

2. How did your career in theatre begin? (As a performer, playwright, etc?)

I always wanted to be the first black Ninja girl and my father; a teacher was a visual artist and lover of African literature. My mother was a good storyteller; she shared with me all Sotho folklores, fairy tales and the richness of our Sesotho language (idioms, riddles and proverbs). All this fascinated me and allowed me to create a world in me that I knew little of.

Later on, living in the Johannesburg City Centre as a teenager I found my self-surrounded by famous performers, actors, musicians... and one of them invited me to The Market Theatre to listen to John Kani and Peter Brooks in conversation. It was my first time inside the theatre and it hit me that people can actually make money for being loud. The following year after graduating with Marketing Management Diploma I decided to study Speech & Drama at FUBA School Of Dramatic Arts.

3. How did your career in specifically directing begin?

I took interest in directing at the drama school when I realized that there was more to theatre than just being an actor or a performer. And considering there were no female directors in the whole drama department I decided to take directing as my major.

4. What have been major obstacles and successes in your career?

I am one of the most privileged young South African women, and I keep taking a leap of faith in telling stories that are true reflections of my community and life. The fact that I often have to produce, write and direct my own projects is a huge challenge. And lack of funds and resources can sometimes be a huge pull back.

But I have not had a chance to make excuses… besides Bell Hooks says it better “… Speaking for me becomes both a way to engage in active self-transformation and a rite of passage where one moves from being object to subject. Only as subjects can we speak. As objects, we remain voiceless - our being defined and interpreted by others.”

5.  What was your career highlight?

Making history by being part of all female Spoken Word group called “Feela Sistah Spoken Word Collective” along Lebo Mashile, Ntsiki Mazwai and Myesha Jenkins. All of us broke through the South African poetry and literature scene, which was and still is dominated by men…

Producing, writing and performing my first one woman show “My Bum Is Genetic Deal With It” mentored and directed by the late John Matshikiza, this play opened doors for me in theatre that I had thought were impossible.

(Flare Director’s Project) this project asked six up-coming female directors to adapt plays. Nothing spoke to me so I asked to write my own. At the end of the project “The Fat Black Women Sing” was born and produced by The Market Theatre to full houses. This play launched me into the mainstream as a director.

6. Do you like to direct any particular types or styles of theatre?

/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;}I am drawn to plays that have a poetic appeal or a symbolic dialogue in them. Language is my first love and if its part of the script it gets to me… I find these kinds of plays easy to breath life into and they seem to allow enough room for actors to engage the audience. And for me to paint pictures that can be carry out of the theatre.

I also love humor in scripts… the world is sad and angry enough and if I can provoke the audience to talk about things they wouldn’t normally talk about (whether its body issues or sex /sexuality) … and still make them laugh at them selves and the world… I am more than content. There is a strong message that laughter which is an actors tragedy can give the audience.

7. Which directors, in particularly women, inspires you?

Shoo! Let me see. I like Yael Farber: (A Woman In Waiting/ Amajuba/ He Left Quietly.) Her Testimonial plays from South Africa are mind blowing and spring from real life experiences.

Ntshieng Mokgoro: (The Olive Tree) … she is one of the first black women directors I have ever known. She has worked her self up from being a community director to mainstream director with awards on her back.

Warona Seane: She directed Ntozakhe Shange’s (For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide Before The Rainbow). Warona is fierce, cuts throat, works hard and doesn’t compromise her voice.

8. How would you describe your aesthetic as a director?

Woa! I breathe life into words and transform those them into space. The scripts is my paintbrush allowing me to treat the stage like a canvas; presenting the world as we know it, as we fear it, as we feel it, as we hate it or as we would love it. Whether people like the finished product or not… I do my part and leave the audience to find pieces of them selves in it. (I really like working from nothing to some thing.)

9. Your directing style or methods in rehearsal?

Most of the plays I have directed are either written by me or revised in collaboration with other artists. And as the script develops or takes shape I start to see the characters, the set, and props and how lighting can fill the mood. But I don’t like planning ahead when it comes to the actual blocking of actors. I choose to follow intuition and journey with the actor.

I listen to actors off stage. When they are having coffee or chatting during lunch. I study their behavior, personal traits and body language. I watch their reaction to things… I pay attention to the way they use their voices and language. And when we get to the rehearsal room, I remind them of what they did or said when they were off stage and ask them to present that world on stage for the audience to witness.

10. What are your current projects and future plans?

I have just done a poetry and musical show: “Mollo (The Woman In Me)” at the Joburg Theatre. I am working on my second poetry anthology: “A Fat Song For My Girlfriends”

I am planning to publish my three plays “My Bum Is Genetic Deal With It & The Fat Black Women Sing” together with my present work in process play “Any Man Is Better Than No Man” which will be up before end of the year. I will always be involved with theatre as a director, travel the world and still take care of the Ninja Girl in me as a performer.


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