Images by: Mlungisi Mlungwana | Make-up by Phumzile Mhlongo | dressed and styled by Ernest Mahomane
By Mandi Vundla |
Lesedi Job was an over-achiever and excelled in Drama and Music in high school; she received provisional colours for public-speaking at Red Hill High but when the penny dropped and the time came for her to choose a career path, she chose to study journalism. “It was the closest thing to public speaking” she says. When she told her mother that she wanted to pursue a career in the arts, her mother rejected the idea. “You are not serious, that’s not a career!”
In her first year of varsity, Lesedi barely attended her lectures, she was uninspired by her journalism course and her grades were sinking low. To prove to herself that she was truly a talented singer, she decided to audition for Idols and came up in the top 32.
One morning, when Lesedi’s mother caught her sleeping in the car while she was driving her to school, it dawned on her that maybe her daughter really doesn’t like Journalism and as a result, she eventually opened up to the idea of Lesedi studying drama and even advised her to apply at the Wits School of Arts, Lesedi jumped at the opportunity and never looked back.
She applied for a Bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Arts and her days of bunking lectures came to an end. She excelled in her studies and was accepted into the Golden Key Society: a community that recognizes academic excellence. Because of her well-polished grades, she was allowed to major in Drama, Film and Music.
Her professional theatre debut was in James Ngcobo’s ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ in 2008.
Job never stops mentioning James Ngcobo throughout our conversation, she credits the artistic director of the Market Theatre for being a great mentor to her. She recalls a time during one rehearsal when she said to James “listen, do you know that you haven’t moved me, I’ve been standing in the same spot for the last…” This is when Ngcobo spotted the director in her and began to encourage her to start directing, gently guiding her along the way to her own discovery.
Lesedi has always had the heart for directing but she admits that she would never walk out on acting.
She starred in plays like, Touch my Blood (2009), Letters to Mandela (2015), Ketekang at the Market Theatre, Curl Up & Dye at the Auto & General Theatre and Fishers of Hope at the Baxter.
In 2016 she spent six weeks in Toronto as part of a workshop for the Musical ‘Sousatzka’, under the mentorship of Adrian Noble from the Royal Court; an experience she wouldn’t trade for anything. “The musical is about Themba, who leaves South Africa after the 1976 uprising and ends up in exile with his mom. In order to represent the black narrative, the production needed a black director who could understand the language and accents at play, and also work with the cast.”
Lesedi thought this opportunity was way above her but James Ngcobo encouraged her to apply.
“Watching how the global world works with their art was a great eye opener, as much as there is artistic integrity, there is also a great focus on the business model, the project was funded by top business men and women. We need to get the business sector to fund our arts.”
Outside of Ngcobo’s mentorship, I inquire about the women who have influenced Lesedi throughout the years, but sadly she can only count a few that have come before her. On one hand she names Thoko Ntshinga; Warona Seane; Napo Masheane, Fatima Dike and Lara Foot and on the other she counts those in her own generation: Khutjo Green and Momo Matsunyane.
“We need more black female theatre makers!” she says with conviction.
“But how do we harvest them?” I ask.
Although she doesn’t have a definite answer, she notes that actors are chasing T.V work for a better pay which leaves theatre at a deficit, secondly, she confirms that theatre requires more people to study.
“You need some kind of understanding of how theatre works, whether you’re studying at the Market Theatre Lab; Magnet Theatre in Cape Town or a little theatre company.
“You have to pay your dues!” Lesedi hammers this point across the table.
“It’s about who you work with not what you do! Your C.V needs to be made up of names of people who have a good handling and understanding of theatre.”
Lesedi remembers a time in her acting career when she was told that her leads would come in her thirties, so she always knew that in her twenties she would be playing supporting roles, and true to that advice, she scored her first lead In 2014, playing Ruth in ‘Fishers of hope’.
2017 marked Lesedi’s directorial debut with Mike van Graan’s play ‘When Swallows Cry’. She was overwhelmed by the responsibility of filling a directors shoes so she borrowed from her experience as an actress. “I was nervous but confident, knowing that I have a very good understanding of text, I’ve done accent work as an actress and I knew that I could get to the heart of the performance”
She began by challenging herself, saying “this play is an actors production, we’ve got three actors playing three different characters in three different locations, I need to be able to switch meticulously”
The proof is definitely in the pudding, the play starring Mpho Osei- Tutu; Christiaan Schoombie and Warren Masemola packed The Market Theatre and received great reviews.
Job went on to direct Itsoseng, which was also staged at the Market Theatre. Her stars are definitely aligned and her time has come. She is currently the recipient of the 4th annual Sophie Mgcina Emerging Voice Award. The Award is presented each year by the Market Theatre Foundation to a leading young creative who excels in their career.
It is named after the great Soaphie Mgcina who was honored with ‘The Order of Ikhamanga in silver for her musical contribution and achievement in theatre and film’
Inquisitively I inquire “So why do you think you were chosen for the award?”
and there is no hesitation in her response, “The award is for artists who are creating a path for their voices to be heard in the arts. I started as an actress and now I’ve grown into a director”. The previous recipients of the award are Khayelihle Dom Gumede (2015), Sonia Radebe (2016) and Lulu Mlangeni(2014)
Lesedi has moved up from the days of being an aspiring actress to holding her own ground.
She takes me back to the first play she watched: Marabi, and remembers how Moshidi portrayed a little girl, lifting her dress and showing off her panties, she highlights the importance of interactive story-telling and how it enables you to relate to certain characters the way she related to the little girl.
“You may not have hope in your own life but when you’ve seen a person present the possibility of hope, you become hopeful.”
That’s the power of writing stories we can identify to.
You can catch Lesedi Job starring alongside Fiona Ramsay at the Market Theatre in the play ‘If We Dig’: a delicate multi-lingual piece set against the backdrop of student uprisings and a complex societal landscape.