Young black female directors are a rarity in the South African theatre landscape (and probably around the world) but Lesedi Job, who has been on a roll since her first production a couple of years back, tells DIANE DE BEER she is determined to change all that:
Representation is a rare commodity but one of the few positives in our crazy world is that in spite of protestations, that is changing – especially in the world of theatre, film and television.
It’s voices that we have missed up to now and while some of their stories have been told by others, this no longer holds true. Think the Central Park Five story When They See Us, Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, to mention a few.
It isn’t even the stories that always need to change, it’s the perspective, says director/actor/singer Lesedi Job who is directing her 7th play, The Dead Tinder Society, in just a couple of years. “When James (Ngcobo, artistic director at The Market) first mentioned that I should direct, I was hesitant,” she says.
But that’s then and since that time, she has been piling on the experience with very diverse plays and even a sublime stint in Canada where she mixed and worked with the best in the industry. If there was a common denominator it was quite tough social commentary, she notes.
This wasn’t necessarily a choice but as a newbie, what she found was that she was mainly directing local debut works, which appealed to her because there was no blueprint. She was gifted to find her own voice. She knows and believes that hers is an important voice.
Also because of her age, which already broadens her viewing audience. It’s precisely her youth (30something), that drives me to want to see her newest work to catch her perspective and where her head is at. The topic doesn’t necessarily interest or affect me.
Having said that, there is much to recommend in Job’s latest production running until August 25. The new South African play dealing with post-divorce Tinder-dating, The Dead Tinder Society, is about that difficult time in a 30/40something woman’s life when she must re-enter the dating world – and how to do that. “It might not be a funny time in a woman’s life,” says Job, but both the playwright and the director wanted to highlight the funny side of this one.
Actor Ashleigh Harvey (who has recently left SA for Britain) switched roles in this her debut playwrighting effort.
As she’s left the country, they have been speaking via social media and having studied at the same time at Wits (in fact the two actors are also Wits alumni), they knew one another well which made the process much easier.
“Ashleigh gave me carte blanche on the actors,” notes Job and she decided that with her pick of both a white and black actor, the interracial dynamic would also come into play. And when she was auditioning, the thing that appealed to her most was an actor’s hunger for the role. “I know when I felt like that, I did my best work on stage,” she says.
Sharon Spiegel-Wagner is best known as a musical theatre performer, but Job points out that she studied straight drama. “I think she’s loving this.” She had worked with Mpho Osei-Tutu on When Swallows Cry and she knew what she was looking for was versatility because he had to play different characters.
She’s thrilled with the process because with a new script, it’s important to have everyone on board – leaving any preciousness to the side. And they have. Job insists that she brings all her attributes to the table. Her age, especially, because she believes that whatever age, a play will be approached differently.
Also with a play that has Tinder at its centre, even if that is simply there to get to the more emotional stuff, you have to know what that culture is about. “You’re required to think on your feet,” she says because time is short and money is scarce. But Job has learnt to work around all of that. For the moment, it’s a fact of an artist’s life – and won’t change in the foreseeable future. “It’s important that the actors also have a voice and that they’re allowed to connect to their instincts,” she says. “I encourage play and towards the end, pull it all together.”
The way Job has been pulled from one play to the next is impressive, with different people spotting that it quality. She is in the process of finding her artistic voice. Because all the plays have been different, it’s allowed her to explore and examine her craft. “For me it is really important that what I do has to work for the writing. It’s about the text,” she says.
And while it is not the end goal, for the moment, theatre is her teaching tool. As an actress (Raisin in the Sun, Fishes of Hope), she knew she wanted to direct – some day.
And she’s had wonderful guiding hands from James Ngcobo to Megan Willson who pushed her to find her own voice. “It was like freestyle dancing. She stood there and gave me the tools – me, myself and I.”
At the time it might have been frightening, but it’s easy to see and hear when she talks, that this is a woman with a mind of her own. She has a strong voice and one that has found many different stages.
Her biggest dream is to grow the industry, to keep the wheel turning. “I want to be part of that. This is my life – and for all my years to come.”
Flying high so quickly, she has also become a target of politics, but she shrugs that off. “South Africa is too small, we should be working together not against each other,” she advocates. “We all need each other.”
Once theatre is up and running, she would love to turn to film and television but knows that she will always return to the stage. “That’s where an actor exercises his muscle.” And finally, the thing she really really wants to do is to create and direct a fully-fledged South African musical. “I know we can do it!”
And while few know it, not only is she a remarkable actress (who still wants to act), she’s also a good singer. “Even as a voice artist, I’m brilliant,” she says almost shyly. “It’s all about telling a story.”
And in that vein, meet Jody Green, a 36-year-old recently divorced mother of two. With the help of her best friend Ray, she signs up to Tinder (the infamous mobile dating app) in an attempt to put her shattered love life back together again.
Watch and learn.
Tickets@R130 at Computicket
Running time: 60 minutes
Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Studio Theatre
Producers: VR Theatrical (award-winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Rock of Ages)