In its first year, Actor Spaces was still a baby learning to say it’s first word aloud: ‘A-c-t-o-r!’ In a build up to its second year, past teething phase, past what will people say, or what if we fail? The platform has become a nurturing space for actors, unashamedly living up to its name: ‘Actor-Spaces’. Now as we enter the terrible twos, as we grow older, it is imperative that we take this time to reflect, to learn and unlearn and to continue the work of archiving, celebrating and molding actors across generations for years to come.
It’s a Sunday morning and the city is hung-over. A cold breeze whisks about, the streets are silent but inside the Actor Spaces Offices, the foyer is filled with excitement as the team prepares for the Birthday Shoot themed Black and White. I enter the building and greet in passing as I make my way to the Boardroom where Mandisa Vundla, Editor and Project Manager of Actors Spaces Holdings, is finalizing a document for submission. She is dressed in a white blazer with black-pinstripes over a white dress. Her head fixated on the screen in front of her. She is running business as usual. After a brief chat, I find myself in the office; a small room with three desks and chairs. There is a portrait of Amanda Lane in her directorial pose on the wall and a whiteboard covered in sticky notes and plans for the year. The office is minimalist. I sit for a moment to catch my breath and observe. The team is running behind schedule, so in-between the shared laughter, the light-hearted ‘throwing of shade’; there is a sense of urgency crawling around. A bubbly Linda Mbangeni enters the room in a black velvet dress and a neatly tied turban. She is the radio content producer for Actor Spaces Radio and doubles as a P.A to CEO, Ayanda Sithebe. A stunning Nomvuselelo Dlamini, who we call ‘Lelo’ for short, joins us as well -also dressed in black. She is the production coordinator and also works as a producer for the newly launched Actor Spaces Radio.
As Felicia Sithebe, wife and partner to Ayanda Sithebe, herds us to the shoot location, I am led astray by Mandisa, who is getting her eyebrows ‘fleeked’ by Actor Spaces resident Makeup Artist: Glenda Mhlongo, who is also dressed in black.
After several attempts to gather the team for the shoot, Felicia finally finds us in the lavatories. I use this opportunity to pick her brains about Actors Spaces and in response she says:
“I never ever doubted that he(Ayanda) would get here, and I don’t doubt what more is to come.”
Born of an earnest yearning to show South African actors appreciation, it was on the 4th of July 2016, when the first feature was published online and the journey of celebrating, archiving and documenting the craft of acting began.
“Not many a man can say, I have lived up to my name. His grandfather named him after his favourite actor, Jack Palance.”
The article opens with an allusion to an African proverb and Pallance Dladla, the SAFTA award-winning actor and Executive Director of Actor Spaces sets the tone for the magazine. It was this feature that marked a milestone for the platform.
The magazine is the foundation of Actor Spaces, a digital space that continues to advocate for the appreciation and support of the craft. It comprises of various components like the ‘Feature section’, a narrative style that shines a spotlight on exceptional actors along with the ‘Profile Section’, a Q&A format that uncovers the heart of these stellar performers; the New Breed Actors, a quick read up on your favorite actor on the rise; the Director’s corner, a view of the Film, Television and Theatre industry through the director’s eye and the Portraits sections, a visual storytelling experience that captures notable actors in the industry and seeks to encapsulate their story. Here, in the portraits section, I am reminded of Assia Djebar’s quote:
“Sometimes fear grips me that these fragile moments of life will fade away It seems that I write against erasure.” The magazine is archiving actors “against erasure”.
Following the Pallance Dladla feature, the magazine went on to document Nthati Moshesh, Sello Maake ka-Ncube, Jerry Mofokeng, Lorcia Cooper, The late Henry Cele, Israel Matseke-Zulu, and younger actors such as Nomzamo Mbatha, Lesedi Job, Makgotso M and the notable, Thabo Rametse.
While the Magazine is dedicated to celebrating legendary actors and their work; through its offline platform, Actor Spaces, spearheads The Master Class Project, which includes a Three Month Acting Mentorship program that caters to actors keen on developing their craft; The Master Class Talks: an alternative learning space where professional actors sit on a panel to share their Industry experience and expertise; The Interactive Acting Master Classes, gives aspiring industry practitioners an overview of the industry. They are also introduced to different career paths within the industry. This is the work Actor Spaces has committed to in the past two years.
Editor of the Actor Spaces Magazine and Actor Spaces Project Manager: Mandisa Vundla; shares a tearful experience of the Actor Spaces Interactive Master Class she worked on at the GFC Youth Expo. It is clear that her passion and drive supersede any material benefits.
‘Some of the kids had never touched a camera before, and there they were writing, directing, acting and rolling the camera. And to hear one of them say “Yah! Bengi’feel-a ngathi ngi top!” She pauses and then bursts into exhilarating laughter.
Back at the Actor Spaces offices, the shoot is still underway. I make my way down a flight of stairs towards the shoot location (around the corner from the Actor Spaces offices), there’s a dilapidated building -what looks like an old worn down block of abandoned flats; the paint peeling off the walls, has created the perfect aesthetic for previous Actor Spaces shoots, like ‘ The New Breed Actor Series; The Tribute to Mama Winnie Series and the Thabo Rametsi Feature. This building now forms a part of the Actor Spaces Legacy and there is no better location for the Actor Spaces Birth-Day shoot than this.
In the room chosen for the shoot, there is not enough natural light spilling in. The walls are chapped and the concrete is cold. But there is warmth harboring us. Mlungisi Mlungwana, the head photographer is directing his subjects and ensuring that his assistants are “doing the right job.” Mlungwana recalls his journey throughout Actor Spaces.
“Every shoot has been special to me because it has its own look and feel.” He notes shooting Mmamabto Montsho as one of his most memorable experiences.
“Mainly because we took a risk and sam’shootela at a taxi-rank which wasn’t really the safest place. She trusted the process and it worked out.” Mlungwana also shares his biggest stumbling block.
“The worst thing that can happen when you’re shooting someone is for you not to vibe…”
I wait for Mlu to get done shooting the formidable board of directors before I take the opportunity to speak to the four of them. Sdumo Mtshali, Ntokozo Buthelezi, Pallance Dladla and Ayanda Sithebe, all agree that the aim of the platform is to create a space for actors that recognizes and appreciates the thespians while they’re still alive.
“…More than anything else, is owning our content as young blacks, and we are starting it from scratch—” says Sdumo “—and taking it to the next level.” Concludes Ntokozo.
While interviewing the team, it was clear that the magnificent ship sometimes sails stormy waters but throughout it all there is an anchor that keeps everyone grounded. This anchor is founder and CEO—Ayanda Sithebe. I sat with Ayanda and watched him come alive as he spoke about what it has been like for his passion project to come alive.
Sithebe began his journey as an actor but soon his curiosity led him to start directing and working as an acting coach. It was his love for acting that made him yearn for a space that recognizes and elevates the craft. “What’s the worst that can happen?” this is the mantra that keeps the shy Ayanda going. He has inevitably found his voice by creating a community that allows actors to have a voice.
I ask him about two rewarding moments throughout his journey, although there are many, he holds dear the memory of Dr. John Kani agreeing to do a feature. This was in October 2017, a few months after the magazine had turned one. It was this validation that turned a photo-shoot at the Transport Museum into a classroom, and the icon, “Utata” as he is known at the Market Theatre, shared his long-standing experience and expertise with the production team. The second moment came when he received an invite that read:
“The SAFTAs & NFVF would like to honour you for your contribution to the Television and Film Industry.”
Sithebe reflects on the man he was when the platform was launched to the man he has become. “I am much braver now.” He has found his “service to the world” and his generosity spills over into the team. He reiterates that Actor Spaces is not his but belongs to all creatives who seek to grow, collaborate and work. Actor Spaces is headed in the right direction and it is a true testament that when one follows their dreams wholeheartedly then “something’s got to give”. Actor Spaces is looking forward to documenting and archiving the stories of more actors and developing young talent for many more years to come.