Images by: Mlungisi Mlungwana | Creative Director Ayanda Sithebe | Make-up by Phumzile Mhlongo |dressed by Chipo Mushwana
Editor: Mandi Vundla | Feature by: Mathunzi MacDonald |
I am set to meet with actress Renate Stuurman at the Potato Sheds in Newtown, Johannesburg. There is the usual subtle bustle of the city on a Sunday afternoon. The restaurant is fairly quiet and I sit nervously waiting at a small table near the glass wall. The kitchen staff smoke up the coal oven while I rehearse my articulation in fear of seriously embarrassing myself. I receive an sms text from my anticipated guest “I am parking now”. I scan both entraces until I see Renate appear, welcomed by a waiter. She looks relatively comfortable in jeans and flats. She walks towards our table as I stand up to greet her.
Unsure about a hug or a handshake, she openly receives my awkward half hug. As she politely greets me, her delicate dimples remind me of the face and characters South African audiences came to love, on popular television soapies such as 7de Laan, Isidingo and Scandal. She takes her seat and quickly scans the menu, hoping to grab something to eat before we begin. I notice the low tones and slight husk in her voice, how through it she speaks clearly even when speaking softly. With permission to record our conversation, I hope she will take me back to Cape Town where she was born and raised.
The telling of this journey does begin in her hometown. A place Renate would call home and learn crafts before shifting between cities and countries with the burden of telling stories.
Renate steps into ballet shoes in her primary school years at a spot right around the corner from where she lives with her parents. “I did ballet for years” she says as she sits up, most probably recognising the delighted shock on my face.
She had already tasted the excitement of stage performance through a nativity play in which she played the angel Gabriel. Interesting how the telling of Jesus’ origins begin to paint the birth of what would be an extensive acting career. This is an early and fond memory for Renate. She re-enacts, through her voice and warm gestures, this part of her childhood.
Sharing how she believed for the longest time that she had been suspended from the stage ceiling only to discover that this was not the case. “My mother said ‘no you weren’t, you were only 4 I wouldn’t let them suspend you.’” She giggles slightly as she narrates this expercience.
Having to change schools, there was no hesitation in picking up drama as it was offered in the new school young Renate would now attend.
“I didn’t know what drama was, the subject, but I knew it was about performing and telling stories. I had already been doing that with my friends anyway, on the playground. We would watch something and re-enact it, and I loved it. ”
At roughly R50 a pop, Renate mentions how her school holidays were also spent basking in the soil of the craft.
“I would work during the school holidays, performing children’s theatre. This was my part time job”.
The end of high school sees Renate drop her ballet shoes to exclusively pursue drama. Renate explains how her parents asked that she choose one discipline, and how although she still loves dance to date, the choice back then was obvious.
She beautifully describes the moment of clarity that would define not only her career path, but life long journey of fulfilment. She paints a stage setting where whilst sitting back to back with a cast member in a pantomime performance of Cindarella, an occurance of human exchange bring her to a very particular decision.
“I remember the audience reaction to the scene, and I remember just that interaction for the first time. And I thought what is this feeling? This thing where I tell the story and I perform, and there is also your part that you (the audience) bring to this live performance. And so in that moment I knew…”
She begins to describe how her parent’s initial uncertaintity about her chosen career path came from a place of genuine love, concern and care. These conversations would futher cement her descision to pursue nothing else but what she loved: to act. Rhodes University in Grahamstown was where Renate pursued her studies in drama. Post graduation in preparation for a move to Johannesburg she recalls sharing this with her father, who suggested that Renate do another qualification. In an attempt to translate just how deeply she felt about not only this craft but the life she hoped to lead she said to him “I need to do this or when I’m 40 I know I’m going to walk into the sea because I would not have chosen the right path for my life”.
With that she moved to Joburg where her career would thrive in dramatic television. Shows like, 90 Plein Street, Binnelanders, Hard Copy, Jozi H and The Mate Game to name a few, welcomed Renate’s acting finesse before their cameras.
I have to take a moment to settle back into the interview. See, even in coversation she tells her story using multiple colours, leaving me with the risk of forgetting that this story is not just being told for me.
I laugh as she holds her tongue feeling as though she may be saying too much. Her passion as she speaks pushes me to ask where she finds her most fulfilling moments within the industry mediums.
Having moved across television, film and theatre, it seems this practioner can find moments in each space that she occupies for work created for her audiences.
The pick in answering my question? A stage play, written by and starring Paul Slabolesky called “Suddenly the Storm”, which traveled through Capetown, across the country and found it’s way to The Market Theatre, which Renate points to behind us as she begins narrating her journey through and with the play. Directed by a artistic practitioner Renate holds in high esteem, and speaks fondly of, Bobby Heany.
“Film is the director’s medium, television is the writer’s medium and theatre is the actor’s medium.”
She shares of how theatre gives opportunity for the actor to dig deep, peeling away the layers. To go as deep as ypu are willing to go as an artist whilst crafting the character. “For me doing stage is always like a Masterclass again for an actor…”.
She further describes what has been coined ‘fast food television’ which at times compromises the production or artistic quality/value of what is being offered to the audience, and may sometimes drive actors to “skim the surface”. Having no real qualms with the occassional light piece, Renate still remains grateful for the opportunities on stage, such as the one she received working alongside Slabolesky in Suddenly the Storm, to go back to truly digging deep as an actor. This is what theatrical stage performance requires of an artist and allows the actor to do.
She speaks of how these different acting mediums having allowed her to create personal relationships with fellow artists whom she meets in the working space. She sites Maggie Benedict as on such person and details a moment between them, prior to the production for The Mating Game, that has stuck with her throughout the years. This moment, where two actresses who had never met before were able to create an almost instant chemistry once engaged in script, bears testament to the possibilty of creating favourable moments through all dramatic art mediums.
Happiness is a Four-letter Word, for whuch Renate was nominated for a Golden Horn award in the Best supporting actress category is a more recent display of her silverscreen performances. Renate takes every opportunity to contribute to the conversation in the space where the team sits waiting as she prepares to shoot. Some comments reach us in jest, others hold a serious tone, especially those that speak to the all round approach she believes an actor should possess or relay in all their work. She shares a little about a decision made about a performance choice with a cast member in the film Happiness is a Four-letter Word, as she stands up during a discussion about television directors and their varied styles of direction. She means to make a point. This point lingers heavily on the ears and minds on the people in the room; The actor must care. The actor must care to know the character so as to do their job adequately. The director having the task of overseeing the overall production presentation, the actor should not sit waiting for the directors instruction before knowing what they wish to do with the character. “The caring part is not just saying your lines, it’s everything. How concerned are you with how real the story is? How much do you want viewers to buy into this thing.”
Renate picks up a few items, preparing to walk over to the shoot location. She has been gracious and patient. As heavy as is her delivery of these insightful thought, she keeps a calm disposition.
She mentions the designer of her dress as having done an astounding job.
I am curious as to how Renate would like to be remember. She explains this gently saying
“My performances were always sincere and honest. That when I was protraying these characters, these women, they were never one dimensional. They were always 360; They were interesting, they were intelligent, they were flawed. They were selfish, they were beautiful, they were insecure. They were all of the things that I know as a woman I am and I know that if I’m that, there are many other women who are that as well.”
I ask Renate to share a quote which resonates with her. She shares a quote that allows her to be mindful of pointing the finger without taking ones self to task by risking the action.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or wherethe doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasims, the greatdevotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with thosecold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
I sit wishing I could draw more from this well of artist wealth, but I like the rest of the world will sit waiting patiently for her next television, film or theatre offering. In the meantime I may place an order from @bakedbyRenate (Instagram), home of another creative outlet for this South African artist. She has been baking for almost as long as she has been acting.
At the point of goodbye, the team understands almost certainly that Renate wishes to further contribute to the space in her hopes of further contibuting to the industry. Having mentioned talks with film industry interns that she will soon be part of, we realise that many are the spaces where she offloads this burden to tell stories.