We had the privilege of chatting to Lesedi Job about being a womxn in the performing arts industry.
Job is an award-winning South African actress, voice artist, singer and director. She has starred in 'Colored Museum', 'Ketekang', and 'Fisher's of Hope' to name a few.
She made her directorial debut with the premiere of Mike Van Graan's 'When Swallows Cry' in 2016. She has gone onto to direct multiple shows such as, 'Itoseng', 'Brutal Legacy' (co-produced) and 'CONGO The Trial of King Leopold II'.
ONE What have you learnt about yourself and your craft during lockdown? How have you been keeping your creative juices flowing?
I completed an online short course, did a stint in a telenovela, and I have been doing voice overs. What I have learnt about myself and my craft? I have done the work. I have worked really hard to establish a level of consistency in my work and make sure that I never rely on one source of income. I am a storyteller and therefore I should be able to do that in as many ways as possible.
TWO What are you most looking forward to when theatres reopen?
Cooking a play with fellow theatre-makers in a rehearsal room. Wracking my brain and figuring out how best to tell a story that will move the audience. Listening to my heartbeat so fast in the wings and wanting to get in my car and drive home because I’m not sure if I am ready to perform in the show. Sitting in a theatre and having my heart soothed. Shifting in my seat with excitement as the magic unfolds before my eyes.
THREE What is your favourite piece of theatre – musical or play, and why?
Not fair!!!!!! I have many… Mhla Salamana because I wept so hard from the beauty and pain of the show. Marabi because that’s when I decided I want to be on stage. Dreamgirls because I became aware of the insane talent we have in this industry that at the time was still yet to be seen. Tshepang because I discovered the genius that is Mncedisi Shabangu and Lara Foot. Cion because my pain was expressed for me through song and dance and I was given a voice. Songs of Migration because I heard and saw a South African story that was all kinds of a musical far away from that of what Broadway creates. It reminded me of my country, my home and my spirit.
FOUR What is your favourite theatre memory?
Watching Marabi many years ago at the Market Theatre. Something happened to me while watching that show as a little girl that made me want to be up on that stage. I don’t know what it was……maybe the joy in the actress’ eyes. Maybe because I saw two black women on stage and felt represented in some way. Maybe it was the universe setting me up for my journey and I just merely said yes.
FIVE What was the biggest challenge that you faced when you added directing to your existing performing career?
The pressure to succeed. There was a lot of external pressure, a lot of eyes watching to see whether or not I would deliver. I had always wanted to direct since taking a third-year directing course in varsity. I was so okay to walk away from directing if I couldn’t do it, but I took on the pressure and I couldn’t afford to fail.
SIX You have worked on screen, on stage and as a prolific voice-over artist, which do you prefer and why?
YHO!!!! I am always overthinking with TV. I think there’s not enough time to get into the heart of storytelling in TV like we are able to do in theatre. Time allows an actor to sit comfortably in their character. You can only play once you’re truly sitting inside your character…maybe it’s me. I have more years of experience in theatre. Theatre is my bedroom with a duvet and comfy pillows. I LOVE voice-overs. Flip man!! Firstly, not everyone can do voice-overs. It is about using your voice to sell a product or concept. Sounding believable at all times and making sure that people listen. It’s not about how great your voice is, it is a skill with technical aspects and you get better at it the more you do it. Secondly, you cannot waste the agency or the clients time. You have to go in, do your thing and kill it. And the best part is that there’s a fee structure and model that works.
SEVEN What was your process when directing CONGO - The Trial of King Leopold II? What was it like working with John Kani and Robert Whitehead?
I felt like I was in a masterclass as the director. I learnt so so much. How brilliant you have to be to continue acting for many years. We take a lot of things for granted as actors. You have to stay healthy. We’re in the business of working using our memory and we must never forget that. The process was straightforward and no playing around. I only had four hours a day and we managed to get a lot done. No long conversations, and they take on the responsibility of A LOT of their “stuff” for the performance. They will deliver, they will be there, they will arrive. You don’t really hand it to them or pull it out of them. They’ve played so many characters they just know what to do. It was amazing to watch. I would suggest and tweak here and there. What I love is that just like all actors they still just want their director’s approval. That’s humility. Dr John Kani has adopted me and he has become my Xhosa Tata (father in Xhosa).
EIGHT Tell us about your experience directing and working in Nairobi and Uganda.
I directed Swallows at the Kampala International Theatre Festival (KITF) in 2018 and then returned to Nairobi to mentor directors for staged readings of their plays as part of the Nairobi Musical Theatre Initiative (NBO MTI). The NBO MTI is an initiative where Kenyan artists have come together to collaborate on creating 11 new musicals. The staged readings were performed at KITF 2019. There’s nothing greater than coming together as fellow African artists and theatre-makers and making magic. Honestly being in Nairobi was completely sublime. Everyone is so humble and down to earth, but my goodness you’re working with brilliance.
NINE Even though womxn have gotten as far as they have in all industries, there are still many challenges that womxn face in the performing arts. As a strong and powerful womxn in the South African entertainment industry, what challenges have you personally had to overcome? What advice would you live to young womxn entering the industry in order to combat these challenges?
I am not ready to go into detail about my challenges. That’s for my autobiography. I am all about the work. It’s easy as a woman to feel a certain way about things that happen to us because we are emotional, and we express our emotions all the time. Growing up in South Africa when the country was moving from apartheid to democracy meant that I struggled a lot. Being an outspoken black girl did not work well. I was always in trouble and told that I had a bad attitude. I challenged teachers and how they did things, even down to how they taught because I knew that this way of teaching did not work because we were not being taught to think for ourselves.
Anyway, I learnt something during my black girl child comrade days. Use your emotions constructively. Do the work. Use your work as your weapon. It’s easy to take to social media and rant but imagine how much more you could do if you used all that energy to do the work. Being emotional and having the ability to express ourselves is a gift. It makes you vulnerable and that is actually when we are most powerful because we are bare, raw and sincere. Now take all of that and put it in everything you do. See what happens. Fight by making sure you are the best at everything you do. The best according to no one else but yourself. Break your back doing the work not fighting. If no one gives you the opportunity to do the work, use the energy to find the work and when you get it, don’t spend your time being angry because no one has cast you up until that point. Go in, do the work, kill it and see how working with the right attitude and energy opens up opportunities for you to do more work.
TEN In the wake of the #blacklivesmatter movement that has impacted the world, what lessons do you hope the entertainment industry and its audiences in South Africa can learn? What do you want them to consider moving forward?
This is hard for me to answer. It’s deeply unsettling. I haven’t found my words yet with regards to #blacklivesmatter. It’s all still sitting in that raw and vulnerable place where I am speechless and processing my feels.
ELEVEN You have achieved an incredible amount in your career – including awards such as the Sophie Mgcina Award Emerging Voice, A Naledi for Best Director, and a Mbokodo Award. What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Ahhhh it’s not an accomplishment but last year I was nominated for the Rolex Mentorship and Protégé initiative that would take place in 2020.
TWELVE What do you wish somebody would have told you when you began your theatre career?
“Babes KuRough!!!!” (It’s Rough). Oh and “baby girl one day you will watch a standing ovation for a theatre show you directed and all your tears would have been worth it.”
THIRTEEN What is the biggest/most profound lesson that you have learnt about yourself in your career so far?
I had to learn to believe in myself and pat myself on the back. No one was going to do that for me. It’s not anybody’s responsibility to do so. I believe in Lesedi Job in the most humble and sincere way.
FOURTEEN What is your favourite quote?
Shame I’m that bible verse girl, but no.
“I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...” -Henry David Thoreau.
YOU CAN FOLLOW LESEDI ON INSTAGRAM
INTERVIEW BY: Michaela Tobias (Plug In Theatre Intern)