Creative Director Ayanda Sithebe |Images by: Mlungisi Mlungwana | Director Samke Makhoba | Make-up Artist Pumzile Mhlongo | Interview by Sisonke Mbalekwa
Editor In Chief: Mandisa Vundla
Growing up, how were you introduced to acting?
I grew up in a small town called Thulamahashe in Mpumalanga, that’s where I grew up for the majority of my life then I moved to Nelspruit. I went to this school, I was a bit of a… Not a loser but I kept to myself most of the time. When I got to this school, haha, they put us in groups in grade 8. I was in a group where we had to dance and I couldn’t dance so I thought what am I gonna do, I can’t dance dawg. This guy said trust me, go on stage and do these moves and he showed me like a couple of moves and from that moment I became like the dancer guy. I ran with it and I killed it with those moves and I started wanting to learn more. I went to youtube to learn how to do different moves, then I became the dancer guy. Then I went to another school and in this school, no one really cared about the dance industry. I used to dance and people thought it was cool at school. I got to grade 10 and one of my mates said ‘dude do drama’ and because I could dance I thought it would be a good medium to explore physical theatre, then I got into physical theatre in grade 10, did a lot of drama, went to SA champs for a monologue; I did Tshepang as a monologue and I did Woza Albert as a scene with another chick which was amazing, we killed it! We got silver for that, silver S.A champs. When I finished matric I went to AFDA.
Were your parents supportive of your decision to study Dramatic Arts?
Sort of. When I changed schools from grade 8 to grade 9, the school I attended was very helpful in terms of life orientation. My mother came in this one time and asked ‘what is this drama thing this guy wants to do?’ And she just let me do my thing. Since then, I’ve just been doing my thing out here. After graduating from high school I went to AFDA, I studied film and acting, but I just really wanted to act, I didn’t care about anything else.
Why did you study both film and acting?
I had no idea how the film industry worked when I got to AFDA, I just knew stage, I had to learn the whole medium to sort of understand how to do the right performance for the medium. As much as I was doing acting, I thought it would be cool to know how to edit; hold a camera; know all the lenses; what are the shot sizes cause with a lot of the performances your eyes are on the screen so I had to sort of learn the medium because I was used to extreme expressive body physical stuff and it was difficult for me to adjust. When I graduated from AFDA it was rough, I struggled, not getting enough jobs, getting features here and there, nothing crazy and eventually I went to this audition in Pretoria, I prepared all night, I barely slept. I got to this place and there was no audition happening. I’d prepared the best monologue I thought I’d ever prepared in my life. When I left and I was driving back home -I used to stay in Braam and I had driven to Pretoria, barely any gas and when I was driving back I was like no ways all of that time can go to waste. I have to do something with what I have crafted and I believed in it so much. I called a friend of mine and I said dude, please just come and hold the camera for me and I’m just gonna recorded it and I put it online.
Since then, every time I’d go to auditions I’d meet different actors and they’d be like hey, let’s do something. My recorded performance caught people’s attention. It was at a very important time where women were getting abducted and the monologue was pretty much based on that. Everyone thought the lady was black but, in the end, it turned out she was white. It was a nice story that I told and yea it caught traction. When I went to audition people were like yoh, let’s do scenes, so I started doing scenes with different actors and eventually I was getting a lot of actors asking for that. I thought it was just a bit too much for me to handle so I figured that I may as well make a show and put all of those guys in it. That’s how the ‘Love’ series started. A friend of mine once said the worst pain brings the greatest creativity. I had a fire inside of me, like no ways will my craft be so undermined and so belittled like this. I had to do something about it and since then this web series has been what I’ve been working on. I also started a production company with a mate of mine called Outre’. Outre’ is what’s keeping me alive.
Tell us about Outre’
Outre is a production company that a mate of mine started, he wanted to start a production company, I wanted to start a production company (we’ve been mates since high school), when I got to university he told me that and I was like ‘oh me too’ and somehow over the years our vision sort of aligned because we understand the world in a very similar way. We decided to do this thing together, we started to google, like what will the name of the company be? We wanted to create content that’s outside of the box, so we went to google and typed in synonyms of outside the box, read a couple of them and then outre’ was there, I was like hey, this is the one.
Are you passionate about producing or are you doing it to pay the bills?
Yea there’s a passion for it. In any medium, I don’t think anyone should do it if there’s someone out there who’s better and they’re willing to do it for you. Personally, I think I’m ok at producing. I do it because I don’t trust anyone with the amount of belief and drive I have for the production. Cause if you give it to someone… I’ve tried before… It just didn’t work out because I work hard and I don’t think a lot of people are willing to go as far as I do sometimes for the craft that I love.
What do you do with that energy that you have for acting, where does that fire go?
At heart I’m an actor, always will be an actor, that’s my first love and I think it will always be a nice medium of expressing myself because I have a hard time expressing myself.
Whenever I’m alone and I feel like I haven’t acted in a while, my outlet will be to express what I feel through movement but I don’t do it in public anymore. Earlier you asked what am I working on and I said, I pick my scripts. The reason why I said that is because a lot of the time you get a script and there’s not enough meat, the character is so generic that they themselves haven’t even thought about where they want to take the character, not even a character bio, they just send you the script. So you want me to do all the work for you.
Does it cripple the craft when one takes a character because they’re trying to get paid?
I think it depends on the person, some people have different reasons why they would do that. So they can gain the experience, some people will say, hey, you gotta eat. But from a personal perspective, I think when picking scripts, I like well-rounded humans and if the human hasn’t been thought of and they say yoh, you’re playing a cop and there’s no meat, there are no layers to the person and the script is very one dimensional, I’m not attracted to that. There’s no way I’m going to go into an audition room and kill the performance, I won’t have the drive. I’d like to go into an audition saying I can’t wait to audition for this; like I can’t wait to show you guys what I have in mind for this guy. Without that, I don’t think I’ll be able to do the auditions and that’s why I haven’t done a lot of auditions.
Is there a market for the web series content you produce?
Yea there is a market for it, I think we’re still growing it of course, still learning different mediums in order to get a larger audience than we’re getting already. As much as it is there, the only two biggest hits on my episode were ‘5000’. There is a market, it just needs to be grown and directed. The other day I was at this digital filmmakers talk ‘ Broke Ass Showcase’ and we had a chat regarding the industry and where we’re going. I think in the next couple of years it will be bigger than what it is right now because of the internet access. Internationally there is a market because there’s a lot of web series festivals happening out there.
Is internet access the only barrier?
On social media it easier because we’ve hit like 100 000, but translating that to youtube because essentially you’re trying to get all those people to go watch the full episode on youtube. You give them a clip and they’re like this is so dope but only 5000 go watch it on Youtube out of 100 000 which is a bit weird, but yeah there is a market and it’s gonna grow. The only boundaries are definitely internet access and marketing because a lot of people in South Africa do have over half a million previews per day, it is possible. I just think the content itself speaks to a certain type of audience. The more urban dude, who comes to Joburg to get their dreams which is the majority of us. I think that the majority of the people I’ve met are not from around here. I thought telling a story that is relatable where we all come to this Jo’burg place to make our dreams come true is relatable to the majority of the youth who come to Jo’burg.
Most people are afraid of putting their work out there because they fear criticism. How do you handle trolls?
I used to be a fan of Justin Bieber, this is so random, I was intrigued by the comments, sometimes I click on the comments and read what people say and people have serious hate. Because of that, I’ve always understood that there’s always going to be a good and a bad to it. Some people are going to like it some people won’t like it. So it shouldn’t be about them, as much as it is at the end of the day when you’re creating it there’s a feeling you go through when looking at it, you go damn, this never existed before now it all came from your mind and you did it. You faced a couple of challenges doing it. When you get on set there are these problems you have to solve and you get to editing… At the end of the day,
oh my goodness I go through so much to make this thing so I love the journey of the creation and the problem-solving. The problem solving is the fun part because I’ve never experienced a set where everything just flows and its all just smooth. I’ve never been to a set like that. It’s just the nature of the game, you just have to figure out what to do and figure out how to tell your story and I think that is the reason why I do it because the drive of doing it and creating it is nice. Putting it out there is very daunting, but I think as soon as you put out the first part then it gets easier. You get to understand the medium. Even when I put out the first episode of Love, I never expected it to get so much love… The scene has two people fighting in an apartment and they say some really mean things to each other. I’d get a lot of DMs saying oh my goodness this spoke to me so much, my boyfriend used to speak to me like this, this is my past relationship, so I was like damn this is moving people, its something that people care about so from that moment it became beyond me and it was just the story for the people. So over time, you get over the fear and you just have to do it, there is no other way of getting over the fear, you just have to do it, put it out. and there’s no point in creating something and keeping it to yourself. As creatives, I think that’s a no-no.
On a scale of one to ten, how far are you in achieving your dreams?
Damn! I’m scared to scale it cause my dreams keep changing and evolving all the time. At first, I wanted to be a big Hollywood actor and now it’s like I want to be on HBO, I want to be that guy, ‘yes his content works’, I wanna act in it too. My dreams have evolved since so I’d give it a 4/10.
My dreams are to have a fully functional production company that sort of collaborates with different upcoming guys and becomes a hub for content creators essentially so that everyone comes together. I’m gonna have a community because I feel like South Africa lacks in that regard. We don’t have a community of people who are willing to create all the time. It’s only your friends who are always willing to do stuff and people who you meet through different mediums, but beyond that, it’s like people you know. Essentially, we are trying to create a hub through Outre’ where everyone comes together and we have this database where you can find different… It’s like a LinkedIn, you come in and you can find different people and that way we can all collaborate and create different content.
How did you overcome your financial barriers as an artist and producer?
So I didn’t have to pay for school, the Mpumalanga government paid for all of that stuff.
I got a bursary from the New York film academy. They came to my school and I didn’t apply then. During my first year in AFDA, I saw it on Instagram and I said I’m just gonna go try it out. I pulled out my best two monologues and I went there, did my thing and they gave me like 40 -50%. I was like that’s nice I can cover the rest of the 50. I looked everywhere, I went to MTN, I sent everyone emails, everyone, Audi… I sent that mail, it didn’t matter how or who and eventually the government pulled through and they were willing to help. They said this is different, we’ve never met anyone who wants to do something like this. My portfolio was quite strong in terms of how I presented it and they were willing to pay for everything and then when the paper came the one that said this is how much the school fees is, they were like come on dude this is ridiculous, we could pay for 30 other students with this money. I had signed a contract already so I was ready to go. I was pumped and packed to go and like two weeks before leaving they were like sorry man you can go to any school in South Africa, we’ll pay for everything, just pick a school in S.A. So I went to AFDA and because of that I could be smart about what I did with my mom, so I said hey mom you’re not paying any school fees dawg, hows about you get me like A YOUNG CAM! So she got me a 70D or something. I didn’t know what a camera was, I used to take stupid photos and eventually you know what, that monologue was eventually one of the pieces I did alone as Zigi but beyond that, we used to shoot a show called black twitter and it’s online. The purchase of the camera did put me a step ahead.
What do you think being a New Breed Actor means?
I don’t know how to think about it, to be honest. Personally, it feels great, like I’m one of the people selected for this, that means I must be doing something right in my regard but I don’t overthink it. I just go through the process more than anything. I don’t like to glorify, I like to keep swimming with my head down, I don’t know where the finish line is, I just keep going going going till I touch the water then I know ok I’m here but I don’t feel like I’ve reached that point yet.
What characteristics do you think the new wave of actors will need to survive the industry?
The eagerness to learn, constantly. I remember I did three shows and I was very unsure, I barely had any lines. It was one scene and I struggled with those words, not only because I didn’t know the words, the words I knew, if the camera was off. I knew the words it was just the uncertainty of performing. That pressure sometimes gets to you, you have to get to a point where you’re comfortable with yourself.