My Father, Mandela and Me
2018 Resident Director, Taoana Tsiki, explains why Water, Bread and Salt means so much to him
I’m from Johannesburg and always wanted to be an actor. I originally went to America and studied at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. I enjoyed the course but felt that it wasn’t suitable for what I wanted to achieve - grassroots acting. My dad suggested that the UK was the most logical place to try. It was a very sensible idea and so I ended up at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and have recently graduated.
Tangle saw my profile on Spotlight and I came in to audition for Water, Bread and Salt but wasn’t quite right for the part. Thankfully Anna saw something in me, and my strong link to the history of the piece, and suggested I apply for Tangle’s Resident Director role, a new position the company has been piloting in 2018. I knew there were values that I could bring to the production because the subject is very personal to me. There were many candidates, but I was given an interview and offered the role. I decided to spend the allocated 10 days in the rehearsal room helping bring the piece to life. I also joined the tour in Swindon and in Worcestershire.
My grandparents lived in Soweto, my father grew up there and it’s been like a second home to me. My father went to Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto and also spent time in the house where Nelson Mandela used to live. He joined the ANC at a very young age and trained for the MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe); the military wing of the ANC.
In 1977, he became involved in sabotage activities to a railway line in Pietersburg. It wasn’t successful and he and his colleagues were arrested and charged to spend two years on death row in Pretoria Maximum Prison before being moved to Robben Island for a further 12 years. In his time on Robben Island he would communicate with Mandela and they got along very well. Mandela became a personal mentor to my father whilst they were in prison. Then when Mandela was negotiating the future of South Africa (from Victor Verster Prison) he took on my father and a few others to serve as advisors for where the country was going to go.
I was a kid whose father had a personal tie with the struggle against apartheid. I’ve seen how people suffered and I know what people lost in that struggle. It’s something that is very personal to me. I know it is very focussed on Mandela but it is also telling the story of our country.
Mandela’s legacy for me is that everyone is human. It doesn’t take a superstar to do what he had did. He was a normal person who didn’t grow up in the best conditions but he managed to achieve greatness through persistence and sacrifice. That is the main thing that I get from Mandela, that there are going to be sacrifices that you’ll have to make but it’s not someone who is born into greatness that will necessarily achieve greatness. It could be anyone. He managed to unify a country that was in tatters, he manages to be respected by all races and all cultures.
A lot of what I do with my work is my way of saying to my father, ‘I recognize the work that you and others were involved in, I still believe in it and I’m trying to carry it on.’ I want them to be aware that everything they’ve done won’t be forgotten.
I would say that my role as Resident Director is to help bring authenticity.
Being South African, I can make sure sure the pronunciations are right and the feel and sensations of the songs are too. I also understand what it is like to be an actor, so I can communicate with the cast knowing the language and terminology that they use. I see myself as a bridge between the director and the actors, an extra link.
Rehearsals have been absolutely awesome. It’s been long days and I’ve had to take in a lot of information over the last few days. I’m used to four-week rehearsals but this is a two-week rehearsal, so there’s a lot happening in a short space of time. It’s been quite satisfying to see how different actors from different backgrounds have embraced South African culture.
The highlight has been working with the group. You never know what’s going to happen when you walk into a room with people from different places, with different personalities and different levels of training. You’re never sure how the dynamic of a group is going to work but I can honestly say that this is a good team who work well together and are very supportive of each other. That doesn’t happen all the time.
When you see Water, Bread and Salt you’re looking at a South African production produced and worked on by non-South Africans. It means that it avoids falling into the potential trappings of being done by South Africans and that helps with authenticity. But having said that, you’re not going to lose the essence of South Africa. Come along and you will get a good sense, almost a handbook, of what Mandela did and said, and what guided him through his life. You’re also going to be entertained through song and dance and get an introduction to a theatre company that is embracing different cultures and diversity.
By Taoana Tsiki