Thando Mangcu is an actress, director and theatremaker. She burst onto the theatre scene in 2016 co-creating, co-directing and performing in The Fall, which went on to win the Encore Award at this year’s Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards. She has also just been named as the newest recipient of the highly coveted Theatre Arts Admin Collective’s Emerging Director’s Bursary. The Fall is currently making it’s return to the Baxter before jetting off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
My parents have always been the people who encouraged me. They always encouraged me to pursue things like writing and extra-murals like ballet, drama [and] piano. And then my teachers growing up at school. It’s always just been the adults in my life.
The news has just come out about the TAAC bursary. How are you feeling about it and what made you want to apply?
I am feeling really excited and also very thankful that an opportunity like this is here and is available. What made me want to apply for the bursary was seeing the impact that it has as an avenue for theatre directors to practice their craft in a learning environment.
What can you tell us about the work that you are going to create for the bursary?
The work that I am going to create is an all-women cast. The story keeps changing. Yesterday I had done some research and then it changed again. It is basically a look at the gaze that society has… So the male gaze and also the gaze that we as women put on each other.
Hearing that, and knowing that the first two bursaries this year have specifically been awarded to women, is that the work you tend to gravitate towards currently?
Ja. I think through my lived experiences… I come from a household of only women and the theatremaking class that I was in was only women. We took a play to Grahamstown that also looked at the reality of an apocalypse and only women. I think that is the work that I am leaning towards but it is not really on purpose. It is just because of my experiences. I am pretty flexible, I’d like to think. For now, this is what it is.
I must ask you about The Fall because it’s taken South Africa by storm. What has it been like to be part of that?
It’s been a great working environment. I think the experience of The Fall has kind of spoiled me in terms of the rest of my career. I am working with my very good friends and the Baxter is so accommodating and has encouraged us to use them as a resource and as a place to devise our work. The experience of The Fall and of making it has also been quite therapeutic and healing because we did experience the student protests. Like Tankiso said in her piece, it was kind of therapeutic to put the ideology into bodied form. I feel like not a lot of people have had this opportunity to really discuss and go in on the ideology in the same way that we have because they don’t have the chance to or they aren’t being paid to write a script about it.
Not only is it returning to Cape Town, it has also just been announced that it is heading to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What are you personally looking forward to revisiting during this next run?
It is really weird because we are already observing how the piece has become a historical play because the student movement has evolved so quickly. I guess what the play captured was the initial impulse towards the movement and our initial reasons why we were there. A revisiting of that and also a reflection but then I also can’t speak to the student movement itself. I’m only speaking as someone who is now in The Fall.
Did you have any idea that it was going to have the success it received?
No. We understood the climate of the time and that every single word we said and how we put it out there would represent something, we would either become representatives of the movement or we would become representatives of the Baxter. We were aware that our words and every move we made has a meaning. We were kind of anticipating more of a…not a negative response because the people in the movement are quite understanding and they appreciated the play but we didn’t think that so many people didn’t know so much about the movement. It seems like such obvious information but what we didn’t expect [was] that so many people would be moved by it and enlightened.
During this year, you’ve won the Fleur du Cap encore award for The Fall and been awarded the bursary and you’ve been out of school for 5 minutes. Do you feel any pressure around that rapid trajectory of your career?
I don’t feel pressure more than I feel encouragement. I think all of these things wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t had this support from my family, my friends [and] my professors. The way that things are going now, I think, is just a culmination of all the support that I have had. I just feel encouraged to do what I wanted to do. When you are going into the industry you always hear how hard it is and I’ve seen it. But the environment that I am in has allowed everything to grow.
As a young theatremaker, what do you find to be your biggest challenge?
My challenge at the moment in writing pieces is in trying to get rid of bias because of lived experience. I’m trying not to be one-sided although one of my lecturers, Jay Pather, always said that as a theatremaker it is important to use your subjective experience. To never try to be universal but to use your personal experience to do so. At the same time, I am trying to kind of see everything at every angle which is kind of hard to do because there is so many different things and there is so much knowledge out there so how do you take everything in?
What are your hopes for the rest of your career?
My hopes for the rest of my career are to keep getting better at what I do. That is all that I want to do. To continue making theatre, to continue acting and to continue going deeper and getting better at the craft.
What are the stories that you’d like to tell in the context of your career?
I can’t really say what kind of stories I’d like to tell. I only have my own experiences to take from. I wouldn’t want to be a voice for someone else’s experiences but hopefully I’ll be sincere enough in my own experiences that it will resonate with other people but I can’t really say what kind of work I’d like to put on. I’m just going to draw from myself.
Is there any work that you’ve seen in the last year or so that has really excited you?
In the last year?
Or ever. Let’s open it up.
There have been exciting theatre pieces from people at drama school that I’ve enjoyed. The two pieces that made an impact on me were Kalahari Swan by Jason Jacobs and Inert by Tarryn Wyngaard. Those are two works that have influenced how I see theatre. When I was in third year I got to perform and usher at the GIPCA live art festival. It is now ICA and I got to see Sello Pesa’s work from Ntsoana Contemporary Theatre. and I also got to shadow him. That was also another piece of work that has influenced me in terms of contemporary theatre. Jason and Tarryn’s pieces were very much focused on image, that is what I learned from them. Those are the three pieces that have spoken to me the most.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Clare Stopford was my lecturer and facilitated us during The Fall and had a lot to say about actors empowering themselves. That is a first-hand example. Just from watching them and seeing them, Mamela Nyamza and Faniswa Yisa just as themselves and seeing how they carry themselves and are not afraid to be themselves. Then, the women around me; Nwabisa Plaatjie, Tankiso Mamabolo [and] Ameera Conrad. Those are women that have inspired me. I like to follow in their example. I am also working with Koleka Putuma. She is also an example. The other women that I am working with in Underground Library are Kathleen Stephens, Dara Beth and Maggie Gericke. I’m also learning a lot from them.
Tickets for the Edinburgh run of The Fall can be purchased here.
Please visit Theatre Arts Admin to stay informed about Thando’s bursary debut production, Pieces.
All photos taken by Chris de Beer at Artscape Theatre on May 15th 2017.