By: Sandy Nene
This month we are celebrating artists who are excelling in their careers and as I was thinking of an individual to grace our cover, I could not think of a better young, talented and hardworking individual than daughter of multi-award winning Author, Gcina Mhlophe – Miss Khwezi Becker. As someone who I’ve known since my childhood days while still involved in theatre, Khwezi’s involvement and growth within the arts has kept me and many other South Africans inspired inspired.
We met up at Howard College’s Amphitheatre around 9am with my partner in crime Aluta Humbane and his camera on hand, snapping while Khwezi and I conversed.
They are my short production scene for my Honours directing course. It’s my adaptation from the play ‘spoils of war’ by Tamar Meskin and Mervyn McMurty
“I always had a passion for performance. I started with dance, ballet to be specific. Then I began to sing and all sorts of other things that allowed me to be confident in front of people. I tried running from the arts for some time but in Grade 10 I did my first major practical assessment in Drama and felt completely at home. The bug had bitten and wasn’t lettinggo”
Khwezi says her first acting gig was on a children’s television for a show called Creature Club about nature. “I was about 10 when I started if I’m not mistaken. Sometime in 2008”
KHWEZI’S LOVE FOR THEATRE
Theatre is my first love. There’s something so special about having that relationship with your audience and being able to share a gift with them night after night. The stage is holy ground for me, when I’m performing I am praying. But film has its own magic which I hope to explore and also find my feet in.
FAVOURITE ROLES PLAYED
I have two favourite roles. One is a character in a monologue play called “Womyn” by Chuma Mapoma, another powerhouse artist. That character allowed me to be an angry woman of colour, a woman with pain but full of love. She allowed me to face my own demons head on and evolve as a young woman. A woman ready to defend her sister and the children yet to come from all the ugly we face on a daily. She allowed me to tap into my inner poet as well somehow. And I got to sing and act alongside such amazing women. The second is a character named Twiggy in a play called “Cell Block Double” by Nosipho Sikhakhane. Twiggy let me play with accents, with being comedic, something I never considered myself to be capable of doing. I was challenged in so many ways and Twiggy truly helped me push myself.
A ROLE KHWEZI WOULD LOVE TO PLAY
I’m not sure that there’s a specific role I would like to play but the first two that came to mind were Abigail from The Crucible and any of the women in You Strike A Rock. The Abigail kind of character because I want the challenge of being the character that everyone should hate but ends up loving because of how well the play us written and the fire they possess. The latter because I have an innate love for women and their stories and we must continue to tell our truths.
MORE ON ROLE PLAYING
Khwezi played Napoleon in an Animal Farm scene during her matric practical. “I thoroughly enjoyed being able to take on this hyper masculine persona and make fun of politics as I go. I am going to be doing another play in which I play a male character soon and can’t wait. The challenge is always thrilling for someone as dainty and obviously “feminine” as I am”
What is the scariest part of an audition? Having to introduce myself and being afraid I will forget something significant. Actually doing the monologue scares me less for some reason. Wanting to come across as a committed and hardworking artist is always at the top of my mind. It means I can always learn where my acting needs improvement and growth.
What is a show you would never do again? There is none. It would always be quite something to see if or how much I have improved. I like to see my progress and how it never ends.
What show could you do for years? “Womyn” that I mentioned earlier, as it is an evolving piece and still relevant. I have many more plays to be in to add to the list though.
What are you auditioning for next? Hopefully for something on screen or a play that I wouldn’t usually be drawn towards.
What show are you doing next? “Hudson and Watson” by Stephanie Jenkins in June of this year. It’s going to start its journey in Durban and then head to the Grahamstown Fringe Festival.
What is the strangest thing a role required you to do? I haven’t done too many strange things yet. I’ve crawled on the floor in a Victorian dress during a monologue to explain how desperately I needed a man to woo me before marriage. And I’ve had to learn to stage smoke when cigarettes and I are worst enemies. But nothing majorly shocking…yet.
Besides acting, what other training have you had? I did ballet for five years with the Maureen Cook Dance Studio, switched to modern and then contemporary. I still join dance classes for fun here and there but I don’t move like I used to. I used to sing in choirs and bands. I did piano and guitar lessons a while back but theatre took all my attention.
Have you experienced any real life actor’s nightmares? Thankfully I haven’t. Going blank on stage happened once a long time ago but nothing else.
Have you ever forgotten your lines, or a prop, or choreography during a performance? What happened? I do forget lines on occasion but have for some reason always been able to improvise through it and continue the action as long as the story is still in order. I went blank once in first year but someone began a song and I suddenly remembered my line and we turned it into a purposeful pause and continued with her song accompanying my words.
Have you ever been injured on stage or on the set? I was in a Moliere play which involved farce and naturally everything was exaggerated. Unfortunately so was the “dance” that my suitor had asked me to join her in and although she was supposed to drop me, she dropped me against the table and I landed on the corner. So the winces were rather realistic but the show went on regardless. We could fuss over my back after the show.
Have you ever missed a performance? I haven’t to date. The show always goes on.
What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out as an actor? That I shouldn’t be afraid of it. That it’s my calling and I should love it with every fibre of my being without hesitation.
Is there a particular role that got away? – A role you really wanted, but wasn’t cast in? My most recent audition for a play. I fell in love with the role but I felt quite quickly that the role wasn’t mine. There were actresses that had the right fire and I knew how to acknowledge that despite fighting. Sometimes there are spaces we aren’t meant to occupy just yet.
If you could choose, what three actors would you really want to work with? I’d love to work with Lerato Mvelase, Janet Suzman (or Aunty Gomet as I affectionately named her as a child) and Viola Davis.
What’s the worst part about being an actor? The lack of time to see people and do other things when you’re working on a project. Even when there is a moment you’d rather be alone and quiet. Luckily I’m surrounded by people who get my chaos but I still wish I could give more to them.
What’s the best part of being an actor? Getting to see things from so many perspectives. You’re forced to consider “what if” and genuinely believe that “if”. You become more open as a person and learn to observe, ask questions, play, let yourself feel, rediscover yourself and so much else. You grow.
Do you think you really understood what you were in for when you decided you wanted to become an actor? Probably not entirely but I had seen my mother’s hard work and grown up knowing that I was signing up to be a fighter.
Why do you think so many aspiring actors end up giving up on their dream? Sometimes because there is no warning of the amount work and emotion that goes into this career but also because of how much “off-stage acting” that happens. In showbiz many people love you when they see you and for some of us it’s exhausting. But a reality is that especially in South Africa, it is hard to make a living solely off of performance and when push comes to shove, “favours and exposure” don’t put bread on the table.
Have you ever gotten a chance to be on the other side of the table at an audition? What did you learn from that? Yes, I have. I learnt to smile. To welcome. For many people who came, it was their first audition. Heck, I even gave a hug or two. In the real world we may not have that much time but a little warmth and sunshine goes a long way. We already live in such a harsh place, why not let the “real world” be a bit tenderer when you’re there?