The “Unrelenting” Tiisetso Mashifane & The Cast Of SAINTHOOD
I arrived at the Golden Arrow studio at the Baxter Theatre to meet Playwright, Theatre Director, Performer and the phenomenal lady amongst the all-male cast, Tiisetso Mashifane – along with the Sainthood team whilst preparing for one of their performances. She was kind enough to allow me into their creative space as I followed her backstage to commence with our interview.
Mashifane immediately started to multitask by answering my questions while adding some stage make-up to one of the performer’s wrists. I started off by congratulating the cast on their Fleur Du Cap nomination in the category of best performance by an ensemble. They expressed their excitement and mentioned the potential outfits that would be dripping in finesse at this year’s Fleur du Cap award ceremony, which is set to take place on the 10th March at the Artscape Theatre Centre.
Sainthood is a story about five matric boys. Tevin Musara, Simphiwe Shabalala, Mphumzi Nontshinga, Adam Lennox and Cullum McCormack. The cast has had the opportunity to work together since the inception of Sainthood, as early as 2017. Mashifane literally witnessed the cast grow from first-year students into UCT graduates, to now performing on a professional stage as Fleur du cap nominees.
The storyline delves in issues and themes such as identity, sexuality, race, gender and academics within a brotherly male culture. The idea of masculine culture within dominated spaces are one of the vital themes explores within the play. Tiisetso continues to strongly believe that we need to reinvestigate and not dismiss the importance and impact High School has on our adult character and it goes on to shape you. The production has had a successful run, whilst receiving a Standard Bank Ovation Award in 2018 at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and was furthermore showcased at the Theatre Arts Collective, in Observatory of Cape Town.
Mashifane is not only a director and playwright but also a performer and choreographer. She studied at both the University of Rhodes and the University of Cape Town. It was when she studied at Cape Town that the creation of the script for Sainthood came into existence. Tiisetso conducted a collection of true stories from interviews after her curiosity peaked during conversations that occurred between her and her male friends. During these conversations, she noticed how her male friends carried themselves, how they would put up some facade, the more time she spent with them she realised not who they are, but it’s who they think people wanted them to be. She was fascinated to why that was and being naturally curious she would ask questions and expressed that she was very straightforward and transparent with them in the very beginning and as a result, they were more than happy to open up to her.
When asked to describe herself in one word. She fiercely said "I am unrelenting". Her full name itself carries a deeper meaning. Her full name is Tiisetso (which means to strengthen), Mashifane, (her surname from her father’s side) wa Noni (which is in memory of her late mother and late grandmother). She expressed that both her late mother and grandmother would unfortunately not be here to witness the creation of her work or who she is becoming, however, her lengthy name carries a deep meaning of their memory.
Mashifane passionately speaks of her dream for Sainthood “I want to put it on the ground, go to the schools. This play doesn’t require a fancy theatre, it does give an aesthetic feel in theatre, but I want it to reach as many kids as possible, that is what I want. And a bigger dream would be for it to be part of the national drama curriculum; this is the bigger and longer dream. I think it would be nice in school, a play for drama kids, a play about them is sitting in the school library”. She says.
The poster and set design for the play was very intriguing and was strategically influenced by the choice to use soft pink colours in the poster, set and lighting design to subliminally persuade the audience to see through a softer lens. When the play opens the set is seen to have pink hangers, pink hand towels and pink water bottles. “ It was very much intentional and a conscious choice from my part. I am doing a boys school but wanted to move away from the overtly masculine colours they associated with, I wanted to move away from blues, reds in particular because those are very rough colours. When you go to a boy’s school you would expect those colours to pop up. When you see the show, none of those colours pop up, what you do see are soft pinks on purpose to kinder soften the gaze for the audience watching it, it also influences how they receive that. Also in terms of costumes, they wear silk stockings. It’s just a matter of softening, not feminizing but softening”. She says “The poster was also designed to look like a book cover from the get-go. That was the point I wanted the poster image to look very innocent, and essentially what makes the story so scary, that is the jump-off point to all the tragedies”.
Team spirit is said to be the driving spirit of their play. This is notable after engaging with the cast backstage. It is no wonder they received a nomination in the category of best ensemble production. The plays physical elements deserve a mention, It was extraordinary to witness the group’s physical ensemble, especially with minimal space within an intimate confined space setting, which the cast moulded so well. Tiisetso, amongst her many other talents, is also a choreographer. She admits “I can do both physical theatre and dance but I’m more inclined to dance if I’m honest because I love precision and unison. This was exactly what the actor’s physicality looked like on stage, an ensemble of Fleur du cap nominees with precision and unison.
The production opened at the Baxter Theatre, inside of the Golden Arrow studio on the 8th of February and runs until 23rd February 2019. Tickets can be booked via Webtickets (0861110005), online at www.webtickets.co.za or from selected Pick n Pay stores.
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