Nandi Nhlapho – The theatre maker staging complex experiences of womanhood

Joburg-based playwright and director Nandi Nhlapho is making her distinct mark on local theatre with an already prolific portfolio. The Wits theatre and performance graduate recently co-founded The Wombman Movement, a theatre company that deals with stories that affect black women. Nandi is also the content creator and producer of The OTA project with founder Ntuthuko Zondo. The project was started in 2015, and seeks to connect emerging artists with one another in Johannesburg and her passion for all things theatre related.

Nandi has also played the role of stage manager and lighting technician in over 30 shows over the past three years. Here we chat to her.

Nandi photographed by Alexia Roussos. Styled by Tutu Zondo.

How did you become interested in drama and theatre directing?
Like most people, I went to a school that did not offer the opportunity to see art as a viable career. I knew that telling stories was a passion of mine. I used to write short stories and share them with my friends in high school, so I knew I had to chase whatever impossible dream I had.

Tell us about some of the themes and ideas you explored in your student work?
I have been interested in the human mind and how it can be affected by relationships. My first show of the year, h2o, explored the idea that people use relationships as a form of escape. They hope to find someone who will heal them of their own burdens. h2o asked the question, “how would it look if the person you loved, never left your side?”.

The Wombman Movement photographed by Alexia Roussos. Styled by Tutu Zondo.
The Wombman Movement photographed by Alexia Roussos. Styled by Tutu Zondo.

What has your experience as a student been? 
I learnt the importance of community. The Wits School of Arts is a small group of people and we have relied on each other for the past four years. I will forever take that with me.

Tell us about your creative process?
I am obsessed with character. I enjoy seeing the human spirit fight adversity and how we still find hope in all we do. When I work I start with the character and they dictate the setting, the conflict and the resolution of the story. In rehearsal, I spend three sessions discussing character and script. The person’s background dictates the way they speak and see the world.

Co2, a play directed by Nandi.

What excites you most about the South African creative industry?
We are a young but growing industry. I appreciate the audience. Audiences in our country are willing to be exposed to new things. They want to feel included in South African narratives, and the work that OTA and The Wombman are producing makes this possible. With the OTA project, our goal is to collaborate with young creatives to tell stories that speak about the human condition and reflect our unique realities as young, black, queer South Africans.

What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?
Write what you know. And if that fails, learn more things.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Still writing. I see myself doing more than theatre. My work should impact more people, so I know that I have to adapt to new forms. I see OTA becoming one of the biggest spaces for creatives to expose their fresh talent and give African viewers good content.

Co2, a play directed by Nandi.

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