Lillian Zandile Tshabalala |
Hayleigh Evans’s Instagram tag line is ‘hot child of Jo’burg City’, which is Highly fitting for a girl who grew up in the South and had to wrestle her way through the inner city streets to get to school in the north of Johannesburg in her teens. She is a proud Jo’burger and loves this city mostly because of the characters she has crossed paths with. She is an Actress, Director, Producer and co-owner of Pop Art theatre in Maboneng; where we caught up with her to talk about all things work and play. She took a break from working on an audition piece she was preparing to do the next day where she was required to play a Swedish woman.
LT: How would you describe yourself?
HE: I would describe myself as a theatre maker mostly; in that I produce, direct and act in theatre predominantly. That’s the thing I’m most passionate about. It wasn’t an avenue that I was particularly interested in going into when I was studying, I actually wanted to be a movie star and theatre kind of came up as a back-up thing to do while I was waiting to do what I wanted to. I completely fell in love with it, I think I’m well known as the co-owner of the Pop Art theatre which is a performing arts space that offers artists a space to showcase new work and run workshops. We also have a production company within and that’s where we produce from.
LT: When and where were you born and raised?
HE: I was born in 1985 at the Johannesburg General Hospital, my parents have lived in the same house my whole life which is in the South of Jo’burg. I find it to be an interesting space because there are a lot of characters that live there, it’s kind of a very different world and I had a great opportunity to meet a range of people. Which is where my fascination with characters came from!
LT: Where did you receive your training and do you still dream of becoming a Movie Star?
HE: I don’t ever want to be a celebrity. I want to be in films where you see good character work done on screen, in the same breathe it really doesn’t seem like the kind of ‘team work’ you would find in theatre, where you spend hours in rehearsal fleshing out characters. I feel like film is very lonely yet gratifying. When the film star dream was very much alive, I went to AFDA straight out of varsity; I did my Bachelors and Honours degrees there. Which was great because that was also the year when the school was transitioning back towards focusing on theatre and play-making, so my honours year was almost a full year of playmaking with three students in our class. I really enjoyed myself and I’m glad I did it.
LT: When did you graduate and what was it like getting into the industry?
HE: I graduated in 2007 and I had already waitressed through varsity so I figured that’s just what you had to do, “wait tables at night and go to auditions during the day.” I really didn’t go for a lot of great auditions; as anyone knows in the Johannesburg scene they are kind of few and far between. A lot of commercial auditions became incredibly disheartening after a while. It’s so hard to be an actor trying to navigate life in Johannesburg or the South African industry, because you’ve got an idea of how it’s supposed to be; at times it looks like that except it’s so much bleaker. You’re fighting with models over the next ‘ad’ that’s actually not gonna get you anymore work. I’m kind of glad I went through that experience because that is exactly what informed Pop Art.
LT: How did the vision of Pop Art come about?
HE: Around 2009/2010 all the friends that had gone overseas after graduating to take gap years and work abroad were starting to come back home; and Orly Sharpio was one of those people. We had a couple of coffee sessions where we were talking about our experiences, we are really not the kind of people to sit around and complain so we were trying to figure out what we were gonna do. At that time, I had also just taken a job in Maboneng when it was pretty much just Arts on Main. My job was communications manager and I was in charge of coordinating all the arts and culture events that were happening in the area; I had to advertise them, make them look cool and get people to come down to see them, in this weird part of the inner city. In that program I felt like theatre was missing, even though we did have some pop up theatre-activations it was nothing permanent. I emailed Orly when she was six months pregnant telling her that we should do this! The original idea was more of a performing arts center than anything else. A space for people to train and practice; and when people walked in we decided to start out by having brainstorming sessions but people kept saying: “hey we could make plays here and put on shows.” We had two par cans and a sound system and that’s how we started.
LT: Did you imagine that Pop Art would become such a great success?
HE: I didn’t imagine that it would be as important as it has become. For me the most heartwarming thing that has come out of it, is the kind of people we have been able to meet! I wouldn’t have imagined that half of the people I grew up looking up to would be my friends and also find themselves performing in my theatre one day. That still makes absolutely no sense.
LT: What kind of challenges have you come across while running the theatre?
HE: The kind of challenges I’ve experienced are when I see a performer working hard but people don’t show up to see the show. I learned to not ever take that personally because there’s been times where a really good show doesn’t do well in the specific week that it’s in, because there was a roadblock or it rained. A lot of that stuff isn’t personal and the biggest thing I learned there is to never do anything at the last minute. You can’t fill a room at the last minute! What fills a room is years and years of consistent work, either from the actor or the theatre, and when those two come together it mixes well. So I always have to remind myself to “just keep doing what I’m doing!”
LT: You mentioned that you do not want to be a ‘celebrity’. I have heard a lot of actors whose foundation is in theatre, echoing the same sentiments. Why do you think that is?
HE: I think for me the celebrity notion should go back to people being recognized for their talent, but with film it’s certainly a trade; if there’s a famous face in a movie, it’s sort of guaranteed to be good. Which is definitely not always the case but it certainly gets bums on seats. With social media and the nature of how easy it is to become a celebrity these days it’s a bit tricky, but I do feel that there are a lot of South African actors who deserve to be celebrated for their talents. It’s about playing the game light footedly as well as you can, without getting caught up in all the crap. But in terms of acting, I really just wanna do good work and this year I’d like to focus more on classical pieces. I think in the past years we’ve focused on a lot of new work in our space but as an actress I’d like to go back to classics and also be cast in plays I’m not producing for a change.
LT: Do you have any plays in mind that you’d love to be cast in?
HE: There’s one comedy piece I’m looking at and very excited about called ‘Matt and Ben’ written by Mindy Kaling & Brenda Withers. It’s a great comedy piece that can be performed by two female comedians. I could also literally do “A street car named desire” even though it’s been told so many times before and people would probably not come through to watch it but I just wanna do it just to play Stella!
LT: Are there any directors you’d like to work with?
HE: I think we are very fortunate to have so many amazing directors in this country and it’s very hard to pin point until you know what the work is, because everyone has their own individual styles.
LT: Do you see yourself doing anything globally?
HE: Not unless it was produced at home. I think we need to learn to start taking our own work to global stages, which is what we’re hoping to do at Pop Art in the next couple of years. After that maybe we can discuss collaborations, but I don’t think it’s worthwhile to go into a space where people don’t know your work because then it becomes about their purposes. If you know each other’s work it may be easier to collaborate, unless of course you’re being funded by the British council and you have enough time to get to know each other.
LT: How’s 2017 looking for you as an individual?
HE: 2017 is already looking pretty full which is was not the plan at all, because I wanted to slow down in terms of the pace and ideas. Last year was a big year for ideas and traveling. I wanted to just let that sink in and my word for the first couple of months was ‘housekeeping’. Making sure everything is in order around the theatre and not take on any projects, but that’s not how it’s turning out! So the dream for this year is to find balance even within the madness. I’m already living my dream and I’m very lucky to wake up every single day and do what I love. What I love about the theatre is that you can do all of these things: act, produce, direct and write all at the same time. Not necessarily on the same project but you can literally be directing one gig and performing in another. We have two exciting projects coming up and I’m looking forward to that, ultimately being able to still run this space and operate as a creative and also be employed by someone else like I mentioned earlier would be appreciable. I also said yes to a lot last year but this year I want to find the right things to say yes to.
LT: What do you do for fun outside of the theatre?
HE: I don’t think I have a life outside of Pop Art but I love spending time with my dog. I got my dog last year and she’s just a very nice break from people. Because I’m in such a social business, fun to me is being on my own and having time to process things. Having the dog around means life doesn’t get too lonely, and at the same time she doesn’t need me to have stimulating conversations with her or come up with new ideas. It’s just a face that loves me! So my fun is more about getting away and escaping or a good holiday in the Drakensberg, riding horses, not talking to anyone and just being around nature; which wasn’t always my thing but that has certainly changed as I grew older and my life became more hectic. The quiet is good! I also like a bit of family time and going home to a nice warm home cooked meal. I’m very privileged to be living so close to my parents.
LT: Do you have a significant other?
HE: No I don’t.
LT: Do you think owning a space like this takes you away from having solid relationships?
HE: It certainly influences relationships. If I reference my last few relationships I think I tend to choose partners who are as busy, I’m also really lucky to have had relationships with people who have understood the business. It’s kind of one of those things where it’s really difficult to maintain a relationship when you’re in theatre if the person you are with has a day job because you won’t really see each other. But then it’s also hard to maintain a relationship between two actors because it can get dramatic. I want to work out what I want in a partner, I don’t find that I need too much but I need to know what having a partner means to me; and I have to find the answer to that before I get myself into anything else.
LT: Pop Art is one of the few independent spaces that have managed to keep going in
this business, what’s the secret?
HE: I always believed that anything I’ve ever done right concerning this space is that I gave a huge f***k. I really cared and I was passionate about it so I’d say my advice to anyone out there is; firstly, don’t do anything that you are not passionate about. A lot of things are a good idea but if you don’t have the energy, passion and drive for it just do something else! If you’re passionate about making money then make money, and if you’re passionate about doing theatre then do theatre; but know that those are two very different things! We’re also very lucky to have had great partnerships. Orly and I have found a great rhythm between each other. When I’m down she is up and vice versa, so it’s certainly not a one man show! Ultimately you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on. If something’s not right today it will be tomorrow, and if it isn’t then we’ll find a new idea!
LT: Famous last words?
We need to create an industry that can stand alone from other industries and it starts with the way we choose to conduct ourselves!