A Q&A with Tankiso Mamabolo

Tankiso Mamabolo is an award-winning actor, theatre-maker and singer. Since our conversation with Tankiso in 2017, she has gone on to be nominated for a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for her performance in Aunty Merle the musical and released her debut album Freedom Hurts Sometimes. Her one-woman show, Tankiso Live, The Audacity to Be, which enjoyed two successful runs at the Baxter Theatre in 2019, is the debut production to launch on the recently created South African Theatre on Demand, a new online platform which brings original filmed theatre productions to your screen.

Click here to read our conversation with Tankiso from 2017

How are you doing in the midst of this pandemic?

Surprisingly I’m doing quite well. Despite the fear and the troubles that came with this pandemic, I was already going through a change in lifestyle and approach to everything so I am quite centred. Of course, each day has its challenges but I’m in a very good place mentally and emotionally. This feels like it’s going to be around for a while and so I’m making the necessary adjustments.

The last time we spoke was in 2017. What have you been up to since our initial conversation?

Well, I’ve worked on quite a few projects since then. I’ve worked on Marc Lottering’s Aunty Merle The Musical, I’ve had a stint teaching drama and musical theatre to some adorable primary school learners, I’ve has success in my live music show, Tankiso Live and have performed it twice at the Baxter Theatre. I also released my first album Freedom Hurts Sometimes which was released in April of this year to a very pleasant reception. I’ve performed more music than theatre during since then and it has been a nice balance between the two.

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Photo credit: Sophie Kirsch

Your one-woman show, Tankiso Live, The Audacity To Be, which ran at the Baxter Theatre last year, is now available to be streamed on the recently launched South African Theatre on Demand. What has it been like to adapt that piece from stage to screen?

The idea that my work doesn’t have to end with my inability to physically perform in-front of an audience excites me. There was not much adjusting to be done as it was shot to be viewed onscreen so all I had to do was acknowledge that life is different right now and give my permission for the streaming. I had to adapt to the fact that I have no control over the energy in the room and it can be received in any way, but I’m still excited about people being able to access my work any time. It means that while this pandemic has affected my livelihood greatly, I still have some agency when it comes to my work and can decide to allow people to watch me.

Tankiso Live was the debut production to be released on South African Theatre on Demand. What was the decision around launching on that platform and how do you feel that new platform benefits the work? 

The decision was around agency and adjustment. This pandemic was so disempowering to us live arts practitioners that we had to think of alternative ways to still perform and contribute to the maintaining of performance in South Africa. During my show, some people were not in Cape Town and I was performing for a limited amount of time. Some people also did not know about me or my music then, so this has given me the opportunity to perform to supporters who could not make it in 2019 as well as to showcase my live performance skills to supporters who may have heard my album but did not necessarily know my music before. It means I can still get an income even though I’m not performing live.

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Photo credit: Sophie Kirsch

In addition to Tankiso Live, The Fall was recently released online for a limited time as well. How do you feel these filmed productions have been able to translate to audiences? 

I think this adjustment happens in the minds of actors as well as in the minds of audiences. It is understood that artists, just like everyone else, did not know about the pandemic beforehand, so while people may prefer watching theatre live, they have had to accept that you can watch a recording of the show that was not necessarily performed to be watched on the screen. While this is the case though, the quality has been great because artists always want to look good. The form itself has to be described using different words because the energy is different.

As an artist, how have you managed to stay inspired and creative during this time?

I came to the realisation that my art is not here just for the sake of being monetised and enjoyed by other people but for a long time, it has been the thing that I need to express myself, heal myself, interrogate myself and understand myself. I’ve used this time to write music, plays and to just create as a way of reminding myself that I am alive. I write according to how I feel so my inspiration comes from external as well as internal factors. I’ve also consumed a great deal of content from music to film to series and books. Just like any other skill, growth is important and being inspired by your peers is also important.

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Photo credit: Sophie Kirsch

How are you feeling about the future of the arts industry?

I’m feeling positive about it. We are some of the most proactive, most resilient and intelligent people. Theatre has been called a “Dying Industry” for years now and we are still here, still experimenting and creating work for ourselves. The most changes have to come from government and arts institutions in how they treat artists and compensate us for our work. We need insurance, housing, medical aid and benefits and this is where I see the future going. This time was made bearable by art. Everyone was binging series, movies and even theatre and music and we’re going to see the value in the arts and protect them. I feel hopeful that this time has given us a lot of room to reflect.

What is one online platform or social media account that we should be following right now?

SATOD is definitely number one simply because of it being artist-run and accessible all the time. Faye Kabali-Kagwa is a friend of mine who is a great supporter of the arts and shares all new work on her Facebook profile so people should follow her updates. SATOD also has social media handles where audiences can follow what new shows will be streaming.


Tankiso Live, The Audacity to Be is available to stream on South African Theatre on Demand.

Special thanks to Tankiso Mamabolo and Blythe Stuart Linger.

All images were taken by Sophie Kirsch at Baxter Theatre on April 26th 2017.

Sarafina Magazine and Sophie Kirsch maintain copyright over all images. For usage or inquiries, please contact us.

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