Spotlight: Thando Mangcu shares her 'Pieces' vision

July 14, 2017

The multi-talented Thando Mangcu was recently awarded one of two Theatre Arts Admin Collective Emerging Theatre Directors Bursaries, which now gives her the great opportunity to direct and bring Pieces to the Theatre Arts Admin Collective stage from 18- 22 July 2017.


She stepped into the spotlight with her performances in the award-winning The Fall (which she co-wrote with her cast members) and The Underground Library. Positioning herself in the theatre world as not only an actor and playwright, but also a director, allows her to give expression to all the facets of her creative voice, without limitation, completely embracing theatre as a lifestyle.


Mangcu admits that “the personal to an extent does filter into work: the actor is using their body; their voice; their emotions; dealing with their insecurities. The writer uses the ideas and vocabulary in their mind. As a director I have my imagination and I have to facilitate that with others'. This means that you can't really take the hat off/on every day in terms of research, thinking, seeing, playing - and keeping the body and mind healthy. Not to mention the physical hours spent rehearsing, conceptualizing and preparing for a project. So for me at the moment (and maybe I may get better at it as I grow) theatre and life is quite difficult to separate.”


Being aware of this all-consuming power of theatre, Mangcu is also careful not to get caught up in any one aspect of her theatre persona at the expense of another. “I am being careful in trying not to box myself into a certain category so early in my career. At the moment I have the capacity to do all of those things [acting, directing, writing], and I enjoy all of them. Therefore, my passion incorporates all....”


This diverse perspective also reflects in the way she views her creative vision and approach, as Mangcu elaborates. “I don't have a particular method in that regard - the form I use speaks to the content that I have as well as the individuals I am working with. For example, for Delayed Replays - a performance I co-choreographed with Sihle Mnqwazana and Sizwesandile Mnisi, we used materials and elements like sand and lace, as well as movement: that was the main vocabulary of the work. Pieces is also collaborative and at the moment its form makes use of realistic dialogue/text. One thing that is in common with the two is that I work collaboratively and there is usually no set script at the beginning.”


By embracing such a collaborative approach as part of her creative style, Mangcu's Pieces took form as a futuristic comedy, so evolving and taking shape beyond her initial proposal. Futuristic comedy is however not a style one often encounters. Speaking about her inspiration, Mangcu gives insight into this inspired genre choice:


“I guess I myself came across so many different genres and styles that when I described my vision, 'futuristic comedy' is what described it best. I enjoy exploring landscapes of the past - in fact, it has been my obsession since drama school - to work in a different era. But this time, I wanted to imagine an era for myself and not be bound to a certain aesthetic. It was at first imagined as a comedy because of the absurdity of the main character's situation. I did not want to feel sorry for the character… What I initially saw as a visual aesthetic now forms part of the ideas and writing of the play.”


Pieces is billed as a play that explores existence in all its complexities. Tackling such a theme through comedy is a very brave choice but also a very insightful one, especially when viewed from the perspective that Mangu doesn’t want the audience to “pre-determine or pre-judge the characters' existence”. Such an approach allows for a true balance of depth within a theatrical style that people usually associate with the lighter side of life.


“The benefit of comedy is that it exposes and delves into serious issues but does not necessarily impose a serious tone”, she explains. “The contradiction is what makes the message even clearer.  Whenever I am asked about the use of comedy I almost always refer to what Suzan-Lori Parks said about laughter and how it resembles puking. It is still the same action performed, it still raises serious issues and highlights them. But as I am living this reality I don't necessarily want to (purposefully) be serious about it all the time. But someone else might take on a different view to me and that's also fine. Of course, as an ensemble we are serious about the topic as it is our daily experiences.” 


Although there may be the general misconception that people sometimes underestimate the power of comedy as a form of theatre, Mangcu has a clear vision of how comedy as commentary can communicate a strong, meaningful message.


“I've seen the impact of the genre of satire - particularly with cartoonists/caricaturists, comedians and performers and how they make an impact in the country. Comedy is everywhere, while it is not approached/treated/spoken about in the same way as drama, I think - especially in the country - it is highly appreciated and effective. It is popular (and not necessarily approached as a 'high art') but I don't think people underestimate it.”

When asked about Pieces specifically, Mangcu describes it as being “loopy, deconstructing (as completely borrowed and learnt from Sello Pesa of the Ntsoana Company), reflective”, but also a play that showcases “the power of collaborative work". So viewed, Pieces actually gives expression to one of Mangcu’s goals to work alongside other "Black womxn theatre makers - Elizabeth Akudugu, FaithKinniar, Grace Barnes and Nolufefe Ntshuntshe...  who also write or have something to say in response to the society in which we live”.


At this early stage of her creative journey, Mangcu already shows great insight and vision as to how theatre can be used to tell powerful stories and share messages through a mixture of mediums and styles by letting processes unfold and evolve organically. Just knowing that about her, it can already be foretold that as her career unfolds she will inspire many others to follow in her footsteps, to embrace their passion, and have fun with it.


“In drama school, we were encouraged - particularly by our lecturer Mark Fleishman - to 'play'.  I really enjoy playing - because it's not really encouraged in the world we live in. To play with ideas, further illuminating other possibilities and ways of existing. I can't illustrate 'how' I would like to further develop my voice, but I would definitely like to 'play' more. And to encourage more people and generations to do so as I have been encouraged myself.” 


Mangcu is definitely doing this play(ing) the right way, with great devotion and true passion. Pieces will run from 18 - 22 July at 7pm at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective. There will be matinee shows on 21 and 22 July at 12 noon. Tickets are R60 each and can be reserved via phone (021 447 3683) or email or purchased online. Five tickets are reserved nightly for Pay As You Can, offering five patrons an opportunity to purchase a ticket at an amount affordable to them.


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