• Chenal Kock

QnA with Thembela Madliki : The final recipient of the TAAC Emerging Theatre Directors Bursary


Vulture Productions popped in during one of Thembela’s rehearsals for her latest project “Where She Walked”. The talented Thembela Madliki, is the final recipient of the Theatre Arts Collective Emerging Theatre Directors Bursary (In partnership with the Baxter Theatre Centre and the Distell Foundation), the bursary provides an opportunity for 4 emerging directors annually to each create a new piece of work under mentorship).

Thembela Madliki is a theatre maker from King William’s Town. She recently completed a Master of Arts degree in drama, specialising in Directing, at the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR). During her time at UCKAR she directed numerous productions, including the National Arts Festival (2016) student festival production Nyanga, an adaptation of The Crucible which won Best Student Production and Most Promising Student Director. In 2017 she returned to the National Arts Festival stage with her production Bayephi, which won the Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award. The production went on to be performed at the 2017 Cape Town Fringe Festival.

1. How did you discover the bursary and what inspired you to apply?

Thembela: I had heard about the bursary through a post on social media and I also had people sending the post to me directly.

2. How does this specific bursary work and what does it entail?

Thembela: I have a piece I want to create and the Theatre Arts Admin provides me with a month’s rehearsal period and a week’s run. They fortunately provide me with time, space and funding to create my show and to fund my project. I think it’s a great opportunity for young directors.

3. What is your process when it comes to directing?

Thembela: I like thinking and working through a device process. In this piece I am working with a script, however during the rehearsal space it changes, because you find new things with the cast, their understanding and how their responses tie into creating the piece so that they able to find those things within themselves, before they find it in the character. I tend to explore with music, poetry and imagery as well. It is very collaborative in a sense, which is how I find myself working most of the time, because I don’t know everything.

4. What have you found most challenging about this project?

Thembela: We still in our rehearsal period. I don’t think we have faced as many challenges, but I do think oh the time, check in with me in about the fourth week (laughs). Right now we climbing it, working on it always moving and in a sense I am breaking it up, the first week we explore the next week we focus on blocking it and we working quite nicely.

5. What is “Where SHE WALKED” about?

Thembela: “Where She Walked” is a story about how a family maintains their ties to their culture and tradition against a backdrop of prolonged displacement. It followers the father and daughter relationship. The daughter finds herself back at home and is met with dealing with her father, dealing with the past and present. The father is very much stuck in his old ways of thinking and she is very much of the new and urban westernised thinking.

The piece in itself was inspired by Zakes Mda’s “Heart of Redness”. My piece is very much different in its sense of focus, two people in their different views about where we should go culturally vs modernisation and so this discussion happens between daughter and father. I found myself being that person. I wanted to find out more and discover more about my culture but also realising that I can never really connect to it in the way my mother does, because I am influenced by the city and other things and that place is so foreign and distant, people don’t go back, so it is like for a person that goes back to kind of like go back to really find themselves again.

6. What did you look for in the performers when you cast the roles?

Thembela: I am not from Cape Town, I am from King Williams’s Town. I arrived here about a week before we started rehearsals and that weekend of the 20th-23rd I held auditions. I had asked for people who could preferably sing. I kind of always lead to music, because it adds to the flow of my creativity. I had asked for a young girl who could play 20, another in her late twenties, and people who could preferably speak isiXhosa.

7. How would you like to describe yourself?

Thembela: I would label myself as a theatre- maker. I think it’s that thing of being sort of creative and willing within that creative process and being keen to try that. I try to refrain from having a fixed label.

8. Is there a dream play that you wish to direct soon or one day?

Thembela: I would of love to direct anything by Yael Farber. She does devised and collaborative work. I am always keen to take on collaborative work and make it different. I think that’s like such a weird process to go through and I think I would like to create work with as much integrity like Lara Foot.

9. What do you think makes a good director? Is it the actors, the script, the direction?

Thembela: I think it would be having all and most of those things coming together. The team is very important, I don’t like working with actors, I like working with creatives. I would say I facilitate more than being a director, I will come in with a stronger vision, but otherwise I am sort of like facilitating a process. Its understanding all of these elements that you have in the space, understanding them and listening to them, and using them makes a really good director/facilitator.

10. What director(s) inspire you within South Africa?

Thembela: There are so many great directors in South Africa: Mandla Mbothwe, Neil Coppen, Qondiswa James, there are so many creatives that are my peers. I am so inspired by the work that everyone is creating and doing, hustling, pulling through and making things. It is kind of hard not to be inspired.

11. What would you say is your niche or signature style now visible when people witness your creative work?

Thembela: I would say magic- realism, I cannot even deny it, I kind of never really think about a linear structure in a sense. I am into landscape theatre as well as repetitions and music, but I think our signature is something we consistently finding it is there but we still finding it. I would say when people watch my work they always say realism and I think I connect to that in a way .My initial thing is to ask what does it make me feel like oppose to what does it look like, that makes it very descriptive as we explore through the process.

12. We all know about the many challenges in theatre, if you could have a super power what would it be and why?

Thembela: If I could have a super power I would make sure artists are employed. I would be like job here, bam, opportunity bam, funding bam. I would make sure that people are working and able to be stable, in a sense to get stability from their arts. My super power has to be something that I could contribute to in the theatre world. Why are we out here struggling and suffering after all the hard work we putting in, no let me bless you with my super power bam! (giggles).

13. What do you think of when I mention female directors. I think of the admiration I have for being a female director, what do you think of?

Thembela: I feel like I don’t know any male directors amongst my peers (giggles). I think there is a growth more and more coming up. I think at times it is relevant to speak about it and have these conversations. I feel like the time right now is very important being a black female director / theatre maker. This is the time!

14. How has being a student influenced your journey so far?

Thembela: Being at school and University allowed me to put up and showcase my work. I was very fortunate in this sense, where you can be recognised for your work, to make work that people can see at the National Arts Festival, while still having the safety of being a student. I think it would have been very different if I didn’t have that opportunity.

15. What advice do you have for aspiring director’s theatre makers? Or those questioning if this is for them?

Thembela: In third year you have to decide what your elective would be, you can decide if its not for you later in life, but opportunities is there for you to do what you are interested in making. I think if you are interested in something or slightly, just go for it and give it a try. Your doing deserves courage, give yourself that opportunity, it won’t hurt. I see many friends now giving themselves that opportunity, saying I have this dream and I just want to try, so they fund their own projects. I want to try and give my thoughts and my dreams, that chance, do it and direct your show. If you have this idea about directing, direct it! Find ways of directing whether it’s in school not in school, in front of friends, find ways to explore, or play with the idea on the floor.

16. What do you want the audience to take away from “Where She Walked”?

Thembela: I would say that I want them to learn about connections, it is not just material connections to things. There are traditionally and culturally things we can’t articulate about, there is history in the land and spaces that are important to other people, it’s not just the value of land, it’s our ancestors, , I feel like in a sense the play provides a conversation between the daughter and the father, so many people have walked a space before you and will continue to walk that space , time influences that space and relationships with people have with that space, . I would want them to understand the connection to history, and how we changing overtime because the world is changing.

Thank you for your time Thembela. We wish you a great run and may you continue to do what you passionate about!

Where She Walked with Indalo Bennet, Thando Mzembe and Nthabaleng Jafta runs at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective from the 28th-3rd November. Bookings can be made online or tickets can be reserved on artsadmin@mweb.co.za.

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