BWW Interview: Five on Friday with BLACK & WHITE's Thola Antamu

BWW Interview: Five on Friday with BLACK & WHITE's Thola Antamu
Vanda van Speyk and Thola Antamu in
Photo credit: Christopher Clark

Thola Antamu traces her roots in performance back to an experience of watching the Zip Zap Circus perform in Cape Town. Lessons in circus training followed, as did studies at the Cape Academy of Performing Arts as well as explorations in physical theatre with Theatre Gargantua and immersive theatre with The Artful Badger. She has appeared on stage in pieces like EXHIBIT S, AN ODE TO SAARTJIE BAARTMAN and HOME, and is a fearless blogger. She performs in her latest piece, BLACK & WHITE, with her mother, Vanda van Speyk, sharing their cross-racial adoption story. Their hope is that through sharing their story, an experience that connects people across the divides of colour, class and language will emerge.

David Fick: BLACK & WHITE has a subtitle that reads "an adoption storytelling". How did you and your mother collaborate in creating this particular project?

Thola Antamu: My mother and I have been wanting to share our story for some time. At 28 years old, I acknowledge that I am one of a small number of cross-racially adopted children who might be able and willing to make the experience easier for this who have come after me. I did not grow up with role models and mentors who looked like me. I wish that I had. My mother and I have been slowly developing our ideas into a concept that made sense to both of us. For me, as a performer, the natural next step was to put it into a performance space and share it. My mother is a natural storyteller; it just felt natural.

DF: What attracted you to the Theatre Arts Admin Collective as a space for presenting this piece?

BWW Interview: Five on Friday with BLACK & WHITE's Thola Antamu
Thola Antamu and Vanda van Speyk
Photo credit: Christopher Clark

TA: We have been performing our story in intimate spaces, somewhat unconventional spaces. When we received the invitation to come and perform at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective we were thrilled. It is a beautiful building with warm, intimate spaces perfect for storytelling and dialogue. The spaces that we choose need to allow our audiences the confidence to acknowledge that the performance is not just mine and my mother's; it belongs to all who are willing to share and listen and be present.

DF: You seem to have had some incredible opportunities to refine your craft both locally and internationally, also performing in pieces like What has been the highlight of your career do far?

TA: I am still shaping my career and the path that I want to travel as an artist, as a woman and as a black person. I pull my inspiration from my personal experiences and interactions in the world and from the way the world treats and sees me. I can not say that there has been a highlight. I take great pleasure in the small things such as being able, through my paid performance work, to perform for those who are unable to pay. I did the most incredible poetry workshop for children in Mfuleni earlier this year. I was only able to do it because I had managed to make enough money previously and was financially secure enough to offer myself for free to these children living in tin and dust. It was absolute chaos, but I loved it so much. I left the workshop with handfuls of torn paper with poetry written on it. Many of the children had no idea what poetry was, but there they were, writing.

DF: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing South African theatre at present?

BWW Interview: Five on Friday with BLACK & WHITE's Thola Antamu
Poster artwork for BLACK & WHITE

TA: The biggest challenge. That is a huge question. I can not speak for the whole of South Africa. I can only speak for myself. My challenge as a black South African artist is that there are no boxes for me. Everyone needs to fill a particular box to be funded or followed or given attention. I am a black, well-educated, able-bodied woman living in an area that does not classify as 'poor'. My parents are white, and so the government assumes that I am wealthy enough to manage on my own. There is no box for me to tick, so I find myself begging for funding and support that - because of the boxes - cannot be allocated to me. That is my challenge.

DF: In South Africa at this time, we have a huge mix of theatre legends and inspiring new artists right now. Who is your South African theatre hero?

TA: My South African Theatre Hero. I cannot give you one person. I admire all of the young artists who are trying their best to create platforms for marginalised peoples through art. There are structures out there that can support you but these structures are few, and again, one needs to tick boxes. Being an artist, a black artist in South Africa right now, is something to be admired. Those of us who are creating work that speaks to situations bigger than ourselves are doing so purely with our own muscle a lot of the time. It is these people that I admire.

BLACK & WHITE: AN ADOPTION STORYTELLING will be performed at 12:00 tomorrow, 22 April, at Theatre Arts Admin Collective. Tickets, costing R100, can be booked by calling 0724048387 or by email. The Theatre Arts Admin Collective is situated in the Methodist Church Hall on the corner of Milton Road and Wesley Street in Observatory in Cape Town and can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

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