The internationally renowned production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is finally making its South African debut. We had the opportunity to sit down with the three Divas of the show: Candida Mosoma, Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini and Thembeka Mnguini, to chat about the show, their fears of flying and their personal definition of what it means to be a diva. To see the Divas in action performing It’s Raining Men on the Expresso Show click here.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Candida Mosoma: I initially didn’t want to be a performer, I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to do Fine Arts. I told my parents that I was going to go and study and they said, “Fine, no problem.” I searched for institutions that would accept me. Obviously my paintings and drawings weren’t good enough so no one accepted me. I decided that I would resign and become a missionary. I told my dad that I was going to become a missionary and travel the world and he said, “No, not a chance in hell. You have to study first.” So I thought, “What am I going to study? What am I good at?” I had been in choir since Primary School and I came across the course book for TUT and I was paging through it and I saw a course called Musical Theatre. It said, “Requirements: Singing, Dancing and Acting.” And I’m like, “I think I can sing, I’ve been in a choir for pretty much all my life. Dancing, I can learn. And acting? I’m sure I can learn.” So I thought, “I’m going to apply and if they accept me then I’m going to go and study.” I sent through my application and a week later they said that I should come through for an audition. I auditioned and a week later I was accepted. I don’t think there is a particular person who inspired me into Musical Theatre. I find so much inspiration from so many people who have walked this path overseas and in this country. I can’t attribute that to one particular person.
Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini: I think music has been around all my life. My whole family is musical in some way. Both my grandmothers were choir conductors and my grandfathers were more or less the same thing. I think my parents even met on a choir tour of some sort. Music has always been around my family. We would do little shows when we were kids. I never knew that you could turn that into a career but I would choreograph things or my brother and sisters, we would put together plays and charge people money for it. Not only were we good at theatre, we were entrepreneurial too. We used to have lots of fun. I think the people around me influenced me the most when it came to getting into this industry. I remember, I think I was in Grade 6 and we did Les Mis as our musical and after that I was like, “I need to get myself in there. I don’t know what it is but I need to do it.” I think I’ve just been in love with performing ever since.
Thembeka Mnguini: I’ve always just loved it. I didn’t know you could make money out of performing. I would be that little kid in choir in church that would be amongst the adults. I grew up on a farm so I didn’t really think that there were theatres. The only thing I knew that was theatre was Sarafina! because growing up on the farm there would always be that one clever uncle that is collecting all the kids and says, “Do Sarafina!” Then I realised I could sing because people would ask me to sing adverts, back then when every advert had a song. But then I though “Oh no, I’m charging .50 cents.” I was making money because people just kept bothering me to sing for them. They would form crowds on the farm and I would sing Celine Dion and I would know how to imitate her. Then there was Idols but I thought, “It’s irrelevant to me.” I didn’t even speak proper English. I just thought with my accent [that] people would just laugh at me, until Karin Kortjie won and she was the only semi-black, big girl and I thought, “Now I’m going for it.” I called M-Net and I said, “I know Idols is coming.” I was so hyper and like, “This is my year.” And she goes, “There is no Idols this year, it is High School Musical.” And I went, “Ugh, she’s lying.” She told me the address but when I went there, in my mind, I was still going to Idols and that lady made a mistake. They were looking for ‘Gabriella.’ I had no idea who or what Gabriella was. I had never watched High School Musical. I sang for the first round and then I met Pieter Toerien, Lorcia Cooper and Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. I was singing for them and I remember Pieter Toerien pointed at me. When I walked out, they didn’t choose me to go to Johannesburg. As I was walking out the gate someone was shouting at me and then Charl and Pieter were talking to me and said, “Listen, you don’t fit the role of Gabriella but we think we would like you to meet the director for another role.” Two weeks later I got an email saying, “We would like you to fly to Johannesburg to meet with the directors from London.” I met them for 10 minutes. I flew to Joburg, they sat me down for a very nice lunch, they said sing so I sang and then they took me back to the airport. I thought it was a joke. Two weeks later I got an email saying that I was cast. Everyone that sings well is an inspiration to me because the first people who I was really attracted to were the Whitney Houstons and the Aretha Franklins, the people who sing big songs and are not afraid to just be big and sing. Those were my inspirations on TV but I really didn’t know that you could make money from looking pretty and kick-ball change. This is an adventure for me.
What is it like to be part of this production?
Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini: Amazing, tiring but it is worth it. There is quite a lot of work ahead of us. It’s such a great journey, such an awesome cast [and] an amazing production team. It’s worth it.
Candida Mosoma: I feel like when we got into this you kind of had to relearn how to dance and how to sing…
Thembeka Mnguini: …Songs that you already knew.
Candida Mosoma: Because with the choreography it is no longer with the whole body, it’s hand-ography. Usually you can use your body for sass and pose but now you are hanging in the air. That is something that is really hard to learn so once we are in the harnesses, that is something that is going to be even harder to launch off of. I think that once we get into the groove, we are going to be amazing.
Thembeka Mnguini: We are well on our way to being amazing. Now that we get the choreography, we are gaining that confidence.
Did you know about the harness work before? Did anyone have a fear of heights?
Thembeka Mnguini: Auditioning, no because I would have said, “Yoh.” When I got the email, I was just flying to Joburg and I landed and I had received an email from Hazel (Feldman) saying that I had been cast and I just sent her a “Yaaaaaay.” She gave me a call immediately and said, “I just wanted to ask you one question: are you scared to fly?” I was like “Ja well I had to learn [but] now that I am flying every week, it’s fine.” “No, I’m not talking about flights! I am talking about being lifted and flown into the sky.” And I was like, “I’m scared of it but let’s bring it.” I wanted to come back to theatre because I had taken five years off to raise my son. If I fall, at least I’ve lived my best life. I am not now going to turn down this opportunity just because I am scared of flying.
What is your personal definition of being a diva?
Thembeka Mnguini: I learned that there are two kinds of divas. One is a negative side where you feel like you are entitled to everything. Then, there is the diva who walks in and owns, not because “I’ve got money” but because “I know I am worth it.” This is now my definition: I walk into the theatre and I am always the only big girl who is cast in the show and that is not very confidence-boosting because I can’t do all of this and sometimes I think I can…until I have to lift one leg. My thing is that I have to own myself before I can become a character. I walk into a room and think “Ok, I’ve got this. I will bring in the sass and the confidence and the ability to know that you are worth it.” Whatever it is, know that you are worth it. And that just oozes out of you. That, for me, is the definition of being a diva. And also, not being afraid to take risks. Take them without expecting to win or gain anything. Just take that risk.
Candida Mosoma: You said it all girl. It’s the spirit within you. It’s that beauty that emanates from inside. It is not the outside shell. It is not about beauty. It is not about talent. It is about strength from within that emanates and flows from inside. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be the most well-dressed or hottest person. Just as she said, you just have to walk in and own a place. You can be walking around in P-E-P Boutique from head to toe but if you walk in with confidence, it’s not about what you are wearing or where you are from. It’s just about that confidence and strength that you walk in with.
Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini: And also being able to rely on yourself. To know that “Ok, I will get through this no matter what.” That you will be able to show the best of yourself, no matter what happens, and be able to pick yourself up should things not work out. Things aren’t always perfect. You fall on stage, things happen. The fact that you can stand on stage and be like, “It’s fine, I’ve got this. I can keep going.” I think the way you handle the challenges either within your career or your performance or any part of your life also plays a big part of what you are and how a diva is seen as well.
Do you have a favourite number or moment in the show?
Candida Mosoma: There are so many. I think firstly, we are absolutely fabulous but there is this one scene that I just love when Phillip (Schnetler) is on top of the bus singing the aria. That is my favourite moment. First and foremost my favourite moments are every moment that we are on stage together but then secondly is Phillip on top of the bus.
Thembeka Mnguini: I was telling Candida during lunch [that] I can’t believe I am here working with her because for the longest time I have been watching her. I looked up to her before she even knew and I only told her today because I wanted her to know this once we had become friends. I cannot believe that I am with people that I have been watching, especially David (Dennis). I grew up watching him on TV and now he is my cast member. I am surrounded with these people that I have been watching flourish and going to pick up awards and now they are my castmates. They are my colleagues. It’s been so amazing. Everything is just amazing. I don’t have a favourite moment….
Candida Mosoma: Other than when we are on stage together!
Thembeka Mnguini: We are going to bring the house down girl! Best believe it. We motivate each other. I am surrounded by the greatness.
Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini: I was going to say that my favourite moment is the funeral. I think I enjoy myself the most in that scene. The drama of it and it is just my favourite scene. I can’t wait to see everyone in costume as well. I think it is going to be very dramatic and loads of fun.
Candida Mosoma: Everything is just so dramatic.
Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini: It is but the funeral for me, I don’t know maybe it is my sense of humor but it just cracks me up. The concept of people making a whole funeral about themselves and not about the person who has passed away but everyone wants to be looked at. It’s a fashion show.
Thembeka Mnguini: Today I was looking at the umbrellas and I was just thinking, “Can you imagine, on the farm which I come from, people just bringing those umbrellas?” Such drama.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Candida Mosoma: Pamela Nomvete is just amazing. Firstly because she is one of the best black female actresses in the country and because of all of the hardships she has gone through in her mid-career and she picked herself up. She has risen far greater than she was before. She constantly goes in and out of the country to do series and movies in London. She’s gone from being a South African diva to being an international diva.
Thembeka Mnguini: One would be Xolile Tshabalala. She is just amazing. I love that she can play the nice character and she can be the villain and makes them work. The second would be Terry Pheto because she took South African art and made us be recognised overseas. She is just Oscar class. The woman who just took me under her wings and is just teaching me about the industry that I don’t have to pay a cent to but she just saw greatness in me when I was at my low point was Karen Zoid. Those are the three people who I really look up.
Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini: I love Terry Pheto as well but Leleti Khumalo. I just love her. I think because Sarafina! was so…
Thembeka Mnguini: We just wanted to be like her.
Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini: That is what you watched. That is who you copied. Even within her career, getting to watch how she has developed, how she has dealt with her own personal strife, it is someone to look up to and I enjoy her work as well.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will be on stage at Artscape in Cape Town until Sunday, 23 April, thereafter moving to Montecasino’s Teatro in Johannesburg from Saturday, 29 April to 18 June 2017. Tickets are now on sale at Computicket.
All black and white photos taken by Candice van Litsenborgh at Artscape on 15 March 2017.
Production photo taken by Nardus Engelbrecht.