Gabriella Pinto is one of those women who makes you think “when does she have time to sleep?” A multi-hyphenate artist, Gabriella is an actress, playwright, content creator, producer, presenter and journalist. She recently received the BASA Arts Journalism silver award for her work featured on Between 10 and 5. She has also recently launched Theatre Talk, a YouTube based series that chats with theatre-makers about their upcoming productions.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
It wasn’t a specific moment. When I was six my best friend wanted to do ballet dancing at The Waterfront Theatre School. I was never really inclined towards sport so I just joined and from there it developed into musical theatre to modern and tap dancing. When you are doing something for so long, even if it’s in an unnatural setting, it just becomes a part of you and something you love. For me it wasn’t a specific moment. I grew into it and I think that when the time came to kind of make some sort of decision about more or less what a career trajectory would be I was like “well it has to be in the arts.” That was the answer.
And how do you define yourself?
I’m still figuring that out. I think of myself in a broad context as just being curious about the world. I think essentially with any artist or any journalist, there is always that curiosity. I don’t like to define myself because I think as human beings we are much more complex than that. To me it’s just about being curious and about being interested in people and being interested in how the world works.
I recently saw that you won an Arts Journo Award.
I wanted to ask you about how you fell into that world.
I graduated from UCT with a degree in theatre performance. In the theatre-making side, as one does in industry, you work the castings, you go to the auditions. I was writing a lot of plays at the time and I was doing a lot of directing. What I found was that sometimes when you are in a process of creation, it can be a very isolating experience. It can be a very introspective experience. I realised that as much as I enjoyed creating, I also liked talking to other people about their work. It kind of just happened organically. It wasn’t something that I planned and I saw at the time that Between 10 and 5 had a call for an intern. I just contacted them and said “Hi. This is who I am. I would be interested to learn about this in a professional capacity.” That’s what happened. When it came to writing, I guess it’s the same thing, just being curious. I think particularly now in the arts journalism sector, in the media sector, the state of it is very worrying. I don’t think there is a lack of creative people. I don’t think there is a lack of writers or people doing PR but there is an enormous lack of funding. I always believe, as cheesy as it is to say, the arts are a real transformative way to inspire people and get them to think about the world differently. In South Africa, in many countries, It’s a global thing, art is viewed as a luxury and not as a necessity. In South Africa I think we have to understand that because there is very real basic human needs that are not being met but it’s how does one integrate the way in which humanities students learn about the world and how you integrate their knowledge systems and their way of thinking.
It’s obviously a very tumultuous time for arts journalists and yet, I only personally know about this because of word of mouth. I was wondering if you could speak to what is going on right now.
As we know with a lot of publications, everything has gone online. In terms of arts journalism, a lot of the time if you are looking for a job as a writer, a lot of publications need you to be a content producer. It is not enough to just write. You have to know how to edit. You have to know how to make a video, to do basic editing, to do a podcast. You have to be multi-disciplined which is great and exciting but I also think with the advent of that there is also a decline in the quality of writing. What I mean by that is that you can look at any major publication from Time Magazine, let’s say to even The Atlantic which is an American publication. Even Mail and Guardian. It’s like “Seven ways to do X, Y and Z.” That’s important because it gets you the traffic and what you need as a publication to generate revenue but I think it’s always finding that balance between the more serious stuff and the more light-hearted reading. I think it’s a scary time in the respect that the scope right now of employment is not very big. There is a lot of downsizing. But I also think the positive thing about it is that if you are creative and if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and you are willing to put in the work, you can create your own opportunity. Obviously though it is not as cut and dry as that but I definitely think that there is room for everyone’s voices and there is opportunity.
What do you think can be done to proactively preserve this medium?
I think we have to find an interesting way to engage with audiences. I think we have to find what do people want to read? What is the kind of content that they want to be looking at? For example, you might want to write an article but then I think a good way to think about it is right “I want to write a proper article and I want to cover X,Y and Z points. Does this medium serve the story? Maybe I need to make a video, maybe it’s a photo story. Maybe it isn’t the written word.” I really think it’s about being dynamic and innovative, not at the cost of quality but factoring in your audience and their behaviour and the kinds of things they are engaging in and how they engage with content.
I think that is great for the younger generation but what about the generation that has been working for years and have had things been a very particular way for a long time. Do we help them move with the times or do we respect the history of their work?
Again I think it’s a catch 22. I can’t speak on behalf of veteran journalists. I can only imagine that at times it must feel so intimidating because you have a generation or subsequent generations that grew up with a smart phone. To edit a video, it’s like second nature. You can even apply this analogy, I’ll never forget when I was in theatre school, we were talking about directing and one of my mentors said that when you put a play together and you are casting, 90% of it is a lot about the casting. You need someone who is a veteran actor, someone who is middle ground and a newbie. If you can get that combination right then you have an environment where everyone is learning from each other and it is beneficial for everyone. I would think and I would like to hope that is the way forward. Everyone can learn from everyone within the right environment and within the right structure. I would take to say it’s about collaboration and thinking about what some people might have and the skills that they might have, where they lack and then collaborating with people. I think that’s the way forward.
Going off of collaborating I wanted to talk about Theatre Talk which I think is really smart for today’s engagers. How did that idea come about?
Working a bit more on the media side of things, a lot of the time I would google search people to interview them or I’d want their contact details and I would find nothing. I wouldn’t find a website or I would look for shows and it would be the stock-standard press release, the stock-standard review and I just felt, I know, that young people don’t really go to theatre. They don’t care about theatre. “Why do I need to go to theatre when I can watch something on Netflix in the convenience of my couch? What is it that theatre offers me that is different?” And I wondered if it was a lack of exposure, a lack of willingness, a lack of education or just the fact that theatre is an ancient medium that will always persist in our times but is not so widely accessible. From that I was like “maybe we need to get something going. Maybe we need to engage in theatre in a different way. As much as we need reviews and press releases, maybe it’s not that. Maybe we just want to talk to the people who are making the work and saying “hey what are you doing? Why is this relevant?” Instead of I think, trying to make it overtly academic. Instead of trying to make it overtly analytical. I really didn’t want it to be a review. I wanted it to be more of a discussion and a platform. That’s where it came out of. I felt like people weren’t doing enough. You know when you are creating the work, it’s very difficult when you are an indie company creating the work, producing it, you don’t have time to worry about the media side of things. And in effect you should be spending probably about 60% doing that and getting word out there but it’s a lack of man power. I just thought what do I love doing and how can I help that conversation?
I think you have definitely helped it in a way that it is so fun and so informative. Are there plans to expand on it?
There are plans to expand on it. We are two weeks into the year so I’m just trying to get all my bearings but definitely. I would like to make something that doesn’t just speak to theatre but I think you have to start off with what you know. I have to get everything into gear but I hope to see it grow and grow in a way that is inclusive and that we can get more people on board. It’s about sharing and creating a conversation. Hopefully 2017 will bode good things.
Do you have any hopes or goals for this year?
My hope this year would be to collaborate more but I also think to collaborate in a way that is mindful in a way to me and to educate myself. I can’t lie about the fact that I am a white woman. I am a feminist working in a variety of different mediums and I think right now in South Africa, it is really important to consistently interrogate that and to interrogate your world views, your understanding of things and not to be afraid to admit where you might have been ignorant or not to be afraid to ask the question. I think that for me is one of my goals, to understand things with a deeper knowledge and to interrogate your view-point. I think you have to.
Out of all the different mediums that you work within, do you have a favourite?
I love them all for all different reasons. I guess it depends on the time of day. For me it’s always about telling stories. Whatever medium catches me at that point, whether it is acting, whether it is writing a play, whether it is interviewing someone on TV, it is not so much about the medium as it is about the people. Whatever tickles my fancy at that time but I can’t choose.
It’s good to know that the acting side of things and the castings haven’t scarred you thus far.
No. I love it. If I could be a full-time actress I would. I just think that again it depends on what you want. I love doing it and I love acting but I also know that it is a superficial industry and I think you have to be a very strong person to withstand that superficiality. I like to have a broad balance. I like to juggle things so that I am not so focused. If you don’t land a casting, I am not there stressing about it because I have other things that I am working on. And at the right time and the right moment what needs to happen will happen.
I think that’s also a very important point because a lot of people bring up in interviews that you can’t just do one thing in the industry anymore. I think it’s a good point to bring up because if you really love this industry it doesn’t matter what you are doing as long as you feel as though you are contributing.
Exactly. I think actors always have it hard because you always feel like when you are talking to people who aren’t artists or actors, it’s like “Oh you are an actor. What else do you do?” At least for me I always felt like I needed to justify things and say “I am an actor but…” So you don’t always judge me because I am not getting a role or I am not directing a play but I think the work force is also changing. It’s industry dependent but I don’t think you have to be one thing anymore. I don’t think you have to define yourself according to your job description which is actually quite refreshing.
I love how the up-and-coming generation is really doing everything.
Yes. I think that’s because you have to. I always think it’s important to find a mentor if you are passionate about something. Sometimes one needs guidance and just someone who has been in the game longer who can guide you. I am all for that. I think it is all about collaboration and it’s all about if you want to do something, do it. Of course that can be intimidating at times and if you are a perfectionist, then you want it to be perfect because you look at the greats before you and you think “that’s amazing and I have a vision in my head of how I want it to be but because of my resources or because of my lack of practice, it won’t.” I think it’s about being ok with that and knowing that is where you are now and you continue to work at it and perfect it.
And you look at the greats and you are only seeing their great work. You aren’t seeing their failure.
Exactly. I don’t ever think a failure is a failure in that respect. And also depending on what you are looking at, let’s say you are writing a film and you are looking at a blockbuster or indie film. You might be a team of 5 people, you and your friends putting this together, whereas they have an entire production team with R1 billion budget. I think it’s good to always remain inspired but not to let imperfections get in the way of you practicing.
I want to touch on what you mentioned about finding a mentor. What is one piece of advice that you try to live by or that you have received that has made a difference to your career?
There are two. This is such a terrible example but I take it from Nike’s slogan. Just do it. I always live my life in various different areas saying you can sit here and make excuses and wake up five years later not having done that project or you can just do it. What I have found is that the more you do things and the more you put yourself out there, the more responsive people are. I would say another piece of advice that has been harder but I think it’s something that I still work at and especially in the artistic industry is; Don’t seek for validation on the outside. That becomes hard. If you are an actor and you are casting, the validation is that you get the job or you don’t. Yes, that might not be based on your talent but it’s based on your look so how do you validate your work in a way that is not superficial. I think that has been one of the hardest pieces of advice that still to this day it is a daily practice. Don’t look outward for validation that comes from within.
What is something you have found to be your biggest challenge?
I guess in terms of writing, the biggest challenge is to be disciplined and even when you don’t feel like it, getting it done. I guess my biggest challenge has been myself in terms of personal fears and insecurities. Like if I do this what are people going to say? What if the work isn’t good enough? I think the biggest challenge has been to learn that there is place for everyone and there is place for all creativity.
And to balance that, what is something you are most proud of?
What I am most proud of is to be able to work in an industry and have friends who are incredibly talented creatives. People who motivate me and inspire me. Being involved in a burgeoning creative industry, this is what I am most proud of. To be able to surround myself with people like that and to learn from them and to work off them. For me it is not so much one achieves things in an individual capacity but, for example you were talking about the BASA journalism award. Sure, it is a great acknowledgment especially right now with the state of art. But for me, if people didn’t answer me, if they weren’t willing to speak about what they wanted to speak about, I couldn’t have written it. It is always about collaboration and it is always about the people who have helped me on my own journey and have collaborated with me in different aspects.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
I don’t have a list for this. As artists I think you have a gut impulse, you can’t really do anything else other than what you are doing. I think anyone that has the bravery, the honesty, the go-getter attitude to pursue what they love and make that work in today’s world, I admire that. Anyone that is really passionate about what they do and when you look at a piece of artwork or you speak to an artist and you can just tell that they are so invested in what they do. I think that for me is inspiring.