It is Sunday Morning and the sun is loud on my back, I’m waiting for Amanda Lane while watching the Orlando Towers employees, bungee jump from the suspension bridge tethered to the neck of the towers. These grown men carry the spirit of little children, swinging blissfully from a 100m jungle-gym before their customers roll in. At this moment, I am green with envy and drowning in amusement when I spot Amanda walking towards me. My eyes are torn between the bodies swinging in the air and her; the lady dressed in black, soft spoken yet verbose. I’ve heard plenty about her. “She carries a small body for such a big name”, i catch my inner voice say.
I imagined that someone who’s bagged as many credits as she has, would walk with her head high above the towers, floating somewhere in the clouds, but she remains grounded. Her heart dangles heavily from her sleeves, hoarding empathy and an unfathomable love for story-telling. We met at Chaf Pozi: the tshisa nyama hangout for locals and tourists with a thirst for kasi culture, is reeling back from the previous night. We found a spot where the music was softer on the ear, to sit and get comfortable.
Our conversation felt more like we were picking her brain from the inside of a book one should read through before braving the industry. Now I understand why her name sits like a grand staircase on the lips of the actors that have worked with her. She has loads to tell about the beauty and the defects of the industry; the birth of Is’thunzi and why she chose to remain in South Africa when her friends relocated overseas.
“When you’re raised in the countryside, at a time when Kayalami was still a naked plot of land surrounded by nothingness and school is your first interaction with people, besides the next door neighbors of course, your imagination is bound to grow thick in skin”.
At the age of three, before Lane had access to television, she would spend hours staring at her pillow seeing people and stories, she’d say to her brother: “look, look at my pillow, it’s magic, can’t you see?”
I figure his imagination wasn’t as wild as hers and of course he said he saw nothing. To persuade him she’d say: “look there’s our friend Sonia…” Lane claims that her creativity is an in born thing.
So I’m not surprised when she says that she doesn’t have a shortage of stories. Her resume’ reads like a fairy-tale. The award winning writer and actor has directed shows like Zone14; Zibondiwe; Ingoma; 4Play: Sex tips for girls; Jacobs Cross; Soul buddyz and Soul City. She is the Creative producer for Tempy Pushas and her recent accomplishment: Is’thunzi, has captured the hearts of its viewers; a love at first sight.
Lane was raised by both her parents. Her father was the star of her life. A business man who made wheels and told fantastic stories. He’d save her from her insomniac nights with what she gloats ‘were the best stories ever!’ Even when he was exhausted after a long day at work, she’d still plead with him to “please finish the story”. But the following night her father would begin a new one.
Clearly story-telling is a family trait. We laughed a little when she told us that her mother used to tell her Greek Tragedies and she has no idea why.–Poor little soul.
Apart from the tragic stories, Amanda says her mother was an extraordinary woman who was responsible for the integration of athletics in the country.
Speaking about her upbringing, Lane keeps taking us back to when she was ‘six’; some of her most treasured moments rest in that period and she relives them with the excitement of her six year-old self. She recalls when they finally bought a television set at home and how “it was a big event.” The family would gather around to watch the black and white screen.
It was also at this age that she was certain she wanted to be an actor. She was very shy and barely opened her mouth, till one day, her teacher; Mrs Pinkess recited a poem titled ‘A kitten’s tale’ with her. Somehow when she stood on the stage, another aspect of expression came to light and this is when she knew she was going to be an actor. That’s all she was really interested in even after her father begged: “Lord please do something else.” Whether he knew it or not, hiring a projector on her birthday and giving Lane the gift of movies and sometimes even puppet shows, influenced her career choice.
Still at the age of six, Amanda watched E.T at a movie house for the first time and was completely blown away. Movies and T.V helped her understand that there was another reality outside of the one she lived in.
This became her escape.
“You can’t rescue people from where they are but a movie and a story has the power to help create an alternate reality; to show that there’s another way to be. I hope that anything I create inspires people with the same courage to hold on and one day you’ll be big enough to make your own decisions and escape; to somehow preserve your center”
Born in 1973, she lived through the dark times of our country and attended a school that didn’t encourage freedom of thought, although Lane had friends, she always felt like an outcast. She knew she was different even when there was a lot of emphasis to fit in, she’s quite pleased that she didn’t. She held onto her sense of self. She hated living in South Africa, there was also lot of discussion in her life about moving overseas when most of her peers who were also actors had emigrated, however when the country began transforming, she had a change of heart and developed a love affair with the new South Africa; the courage of its people and the sense of humor and joy they carried she says she had never witnessed anywhere else. She knew that even though South Africa was complicated and difficult, there was still something special about its people; how the blessing of living in adversity or being surrounded by it enables one to value life and people, whereas when life is too easy sometimes… The human nature is to make drama and crisis, even if you’re living the greatest life, you’ll still make drama and crisis. If you don’t have financial worries, you’ll create other worries or insecurities such as: am I pretty or successful enough?
Because of the impact Lane’s parents had in her life,when growing up; she was exposed to the whole sphere of society. Expressing that the danger of living in South Africa is that: ‘we instill’ and that’s the terrible legacy apartheid has left us with. People are bound to their neighborhoods, they don’t move out and as a result we become afraid of one another and we seize to understand each other. This leads to a class and cultural rift.
To her advantage, Lane’s work has opened her up to a more diverse people. She’s been able to live and adapt to environments in ways she never would have been able to otherwise. She encourages more South Africans to step outside their comfort zones in order to broaden our experiences and knowledge of each other.
Highly aware of the depth of her privilege as a UCT graduate,Lane is bursting at the seams with gratitude for the wonderful career she’s had as a theatre actor. She worked at the Market Theatre from age 21-25 but didn’t think women could be directors, noting that at that time,there were no directors. The Market Theatre had a heavy influence on her childhood, conscientizing her about the events unfolding in the country. Like most actors, when she joined the Market she thought all her dreams had come true, but unfortunately the theatre grew more challenges than bums on seats.
Lane breaks it down. Starting with the increase in crime stats as the number one factor for disengaging the financial bread and butter of the theatre: The white market. Traditionally they kept the theatre afloat.
Then she peers into the past political situation and how those stories made theatre more relevant. So did transformation make our stories less exciting for the stage?
“Although politics continued, people slid into this fairy-tale phase and stopped worrying socially about the condition of the world. We were all in pursuit of our dreams and in the absence of finding an identity we began living the fairy-tale life”
Now we know why Monte Casino looks like someone snuck a paradise on earth. With its shiny cobbled floors and man made skies, you can’t help but lose touch with your reality on your way in.
Still on the matter of a dwindling theatre audience, Lane means no disrespect to the management of that time when she turns the spotlight onto the mismanagement of the theatre and how it also contributed to this. She believes that the theatre experience should feel more like an evening out, because one play alone isn’t enough to hold the crowd, unless you can guarantee of course that every show is going to be great. “I love theatre” she says, “but i’ve attended some shows where I wanted to apologize to the audience for wasting their money.”
So maybe theatre needs a new model, something more engaging and socially viable to attract
scores of people from different walks of life. Maybe Lane is right, the arts cannot exist in isolation,
because art itself is a collection of different things coming together,’You need environment’. She uses The Maboneng Precinct and Braamfontein as examples for creative spaces that cater to different markets and facilitate an artistic lifestyle, allowing people to live and experience the arts differently; giving music, theatre and all the arts the potential to thrive.
But it wasn’t always doom and gloom for the Market, she recalls a time when The theatre went through an incredible and exciting period. In the beginning, when she did plays like‘Popcorn’ and ‘Shopping and Fu*king’.
Saddened by its downfall, she made her way into television but playing the same role over and over became boring and frustrating, with her black belt in theatre, being a film actor made her feel useless. Her face is raw with sarcasm when she takes us through her experience; when she always wondered what everyone else was doing on set because she came from a place where actors were used to working hard.
You bet your life we’re in stitches…
Looking back at her life as an actor, Amanda says she did far better on stage than she did on t.v,
primarily because of the content that was available.
The focus on t.v has been to make Melo- Drama. That’s been the strategic choice for the broadcasters;that’s also been a strategic financial necessity for production companies because producing a Melo-Drama comes with a higher budget than producing a Drama. Melo-Drama has a particular acting style. Sadly this is where all the good actors get absorbed because of the money and that becomes a problem.
Often people say ‘ I go where the wind blows’, when it’s time to move onto the next chapter in their lives. But when Amanda is done with the one lane, she says: “I go where the audience is!’’And you best believe she does!
In realizing that there is no market for making films in South Africa, Lane has resorted to producing an Afrikaans movie, this way at least she says she can make a decent cut. She doesn’t mince her words when
explaining the bite size work cinemas have put into moving the industry forward.
“There’s no point in me making a movie for five people, i love television because it has an audience.”
Surprisingly enough, she says she doesn’t make nearly enough as a writer and director, ‘I’m a salary employee’. If she lived anywhere else in the world she’d be able to retire but sadly it doesn’t work like that in this country. The rights to the work she has created belong to the broadcaster, and this she says dampens the spirit of the creative.
“My hope is that the broadcaster will understand that releasing some of the rights to the work;paying residuals to the artist and allowing producers to exploit their shows abroad, will improve the quality of the creative work and the industry as a whole”
Her vision for her teen drama; Is’thunzi is for the show to become more accessible to the public but most importantly to her target market. The show has received much appraisal from those who were following the lives of Winnie (ThusoMbedu);Londi (Zikhona Bali); Tishiwe (MakgotsoM) and Noxolo (Yolanda Msingane); drawn from real
Lane recounts the story, when she relocated to Cape Town and two girls were raped two days apart from each other. The one rape happened in Kayelitsha; the girls head was shoved in a toilet, sadly she didn’t make it. This is where Winnie’s rape was drawn from. Another girl from her neighborhood was raped by three guys when she was running at the same park where Lane’s niece usually runs. Lane’s sister was worried that something had happened to her daughter when she couldn’t find her at that time.
“The fear that consumes you whenever you here a story like that.
Those two girls are everybody’s daughters and sisters.”
Lane’s eyes are twinkling, her voice is low and her brokenness is gentle and easy to read.
She shares another incident in a nearby township called Masiphumelele where she keeps a lot of her friends, Tik addicts raped three people: a granny; a young woman on her way home from work and a 13 year old boy. The boy was raped so severely that his insides were pulled out. The community was so outraged that massive violence broke out and the perpetrator was necklaced.
Her question is: “what makes a guy so damaged that he does that to a boy; a girl or a child?”
She is deeply affected by these stories and how devastating Tik and Nyaope are in the community and how they contribute to making one fundamentally lose their humanity.
She advises that we need to begin to re-evaluate the stories we tell each other, particularly around girls.
In Is’thunzi the most powerful statements used on girls are words like Sfebe, Skeberesh, Nondindwa, hoe and bitch. A million names for damaged girls but she wonders what the names for the ones doing the damaging are?
Her work is centered mostly on HIV and women’s issues. What is also striking for her in the education of HIV is that we’re dealing with the symptomatic thing of: ‘use a condom’. 20 years ago people didn’t know that, now most people are aware but they still have unprotected sex.
She highlight that ‘our quest for love” is the reason why we put ourselves at risk; it’s what makes us drink; it’s what makes us addicts and it’s what makes us self-destruct.
“The way you are loved when you’re a child and the way that society loves you is the way that you will become.
Initially, the going title for the hit drama series, Is’thunzi was ‘Damaged’, simply because Lane thought it peculiar that a girl who has had sex and is impregnated, is labeled as ‘damaged’. She notes the complexity of this label. Although Is’thunzi was centered on girls, her intention was not to isolate the boys.
She wanted to show both men and women who are broken and also boys like Lwazi whom she is happy was the viewer’s favorite. It seems the birth of ‘Is’thunzi’ was her way of mourning and deconstructing our violent nature. She interrogates the source of pain that leads a man to destruction and begs that we begin to analyze our pain differently, she believes the country’s high level of violence and crime stems from scores of unresolved pain; that black culture endorses this when it fails to encourage men to speak freely of their pain, “they’re expected to kind of get on with it,at least the girls are permitted to cry.”
When she witnessed a young boy crying and heard his mother say to him: ‘be a boy, be a boy!’ she wanted to respond by saying: “for God’s sake, his only a toddler.”
She is perplexed by how we raise our boys, how we deny them their emotions and are startled when they grow into Psychopaths, when we are the ones who train them not to feel.
Lane is motivated to continue doing the work that she does because this is her humble way of contributing to our society. She doesn’t know how else to do so. Jokingly she says maybe if she were a nurse then she’d be able to do more meaningful work but that’s the sound of a modest woman speaking, because the stories she has contributed have created space for dialogue and healing.
Though that space for dialogue has proven to be very suffocating for her after Penny Sparrow’s
racial slur. Feeling defeated, she says: “i just wanted to dye myself blue.”
She found it challenging, as a progressive South African, who wants to address the wrongs of the past to
enter into conversations that polarize us.
“In those moments that’s when apartheid wins”
Our country is in constant combat, from race to gender violence.
Lane carves out the source of all the brutality within the home and the society, saying the war between men and women in this country has left more casualties than many other wars in the world and the fact that most people are killed by their loved ones means that the enemy is in the home. She quotes Bishop Tutu who said: “Home is a macrocosm of a broader society, when you break a family, that’s when you break a society.”
She reflects back at our history; at how the English broke the Afrikaaners and how they were the first people to start concentration camps that violated families. They tried to break the Afrikaaners by breaking their families and the cycle continued when the Afrikaaners followed suite.They broke a black nation by breaking their families. She looks at our value systems and asks this of our culture. ‘What do we keep and what do we do away with?”
I couldn’t let her go without asking for a resolve for the actor tasked to embody our stories but is constantly burdened by this unpredictable industry; is in-between jobs, and has to learn stability.
How can they capitalize on their craft in a place where everyone is easily dispensable?
Her energy hits the roof and she crawls out of the somber state of our society and boldly says:
“Lots of actors I see are fu**ing lazy! They believe that they are talented and are waiting to be discovered.”
Amanda speaks highly of Mbali Maphumulo’s work ethics. Mphumulo: an actor she cast in 4play: Sex tips for girls. she remembers how Mbali handled wardrobe for 4 play and Tempy Pushas and went on to do make-up for the latter, she also provided music for the latter because she’s is also a singer. A good example of how not to just wait on auditions but to learn to stretch yourself further.
Lane recalls back then when she was still an actor. For ten years of her life she wore different hats.
She went from being a children’s entertainer and a clown at the Baragwanath Hospital to waiting tables.
The reason she knows so much about people is because she also did street theatre ‘and if people stop and give you money’ she says, ‘then you must know you’re good!’
Really!? We laugh and take it all in.
I used to think being an artist was a luxurious burden, it looks good on the outside yet reeks of rot and sweat on the inside. But not Amanda, she sees it as a great privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted or rewarded with blank cheques and abuse.
She advises that if you love what you do, you must find a way to do it and don’t just settle for being an actor. Irritated by how people presume actors are stupid -which she believes is the greatest fallacy of all. She encourage actors to write for themselves rather than getting drunk on a daily and sinking into depression, maybe create a show for the kids in your community. She says people are bored and are always in search of entertainment and if you think you’re such a great Shakespeare actor then go do you damn soliloquy on the pavement!
“When our lives don’t have meaning that’s when we implode”
My lesson for today is that actors need to unlearn the super sensationalized glamour of the industry if you plan on surviving it for years to come. And yes we live in the age of Digital media and Amanda uses #Gwarizi as an example on how one can utilize social media to their own advantage.
The world really is an open stage. BE YOUR OWN LIGHT!