When she is not learning her lines for a stage production or film, Ethiopian-born actress Pamela Nomvete is showing young people the showbiz ropes at her youth incubation social media enterprise. The Sibongile Bax Dale centre, which she runs from Braamfontein in Johannesburg, has now given birth to the Rise Up and Walk International Youth Arts Festival, which takes place this month.
It features work written, directed and performed by young artists. Nomvete, who has found her passion offstage as a mentor, coached some of the young talent included in the festival programme.
Many South Africans will recognise Nomvete as one of local television’s most memorable villains following her role on SABC1 soapie Generations, where, for six years after moving to South Africa in 1994, she played the character of Ntsiki Lukhele, a woman we loved to hate.
The entertainment business gave her a rude awakening, which she divulged in her “tell-all” memoir, Dancing to the Beat of the Drum, published in 2013. In it she talks about being homeless and her troubled marriage. Despite the drama in her personal life, Nomvete – who has also lived and worked in Britain – has starred in notable films such as A Reasonable Man and Zulu Love Letter, which was screened at the 2004 Cannes film festival. She recently starred in the international film Kingmakers, directed by Nicholas Beveney.
The Mail & Guardian met Nomvete at the Joburg Theatre, where the arts festival is being held this weekend, to talk about youth development in theatre and lessons she has learned from the school of showbiz.
What prompted you to open an incubation centre?
I work a lot with the youth development department of the Joburg Theatre and I really wanted to create a space where young artists can come and create and develop work. I also wanted to encourage the youth to think long-term by creating work they can perform and publish, even if it’s grass-roots publishing [printing out, binding and selling the play], so that we can unblock the monopolies that have taken place in our entertainment industry – informing us how we are supposed to express ourselves.
I’m not really seeing the true expression of young people in South Africa. If you go to poetry spaces around town, you’ll see that young people have a lot to say – but I’m not seeing that on the screen or in the theatre. The only place I can see that expression is in the youth development department.
What do you hope to achieve with the youth festival?
The premise of the festival is not only to open up the theatrical space so that those people who don’t normally think the theatre is for them find themselves in here, but to also educate them while we entertain them. Our target is the youth, right up to young adults.
Why the title Rise Up and Walk?
Nobel peace prize recipient Professor Wangari Maathai, who encouraged Africa to “rise up and walk”, inspired the title. She was an environmentalist who believed in sustainability and education, and that is the spirit behind this festival. The title also talks to artists and says: “You can’t just lie down; you are the one who has to take the first step.” As artists, we have been turned into dependents.
What can audiences expect from the festival line-up?
We are having an art exhibition with portraits of our past liberation leaders. The curator will give the audiences a brief history behind the pictures. We have an interactive programme on the Saturday morning that aims to make reading attractive to children. The Saturday is free for children and we are going to have reading workshops and animation.
What themes do the productions cover?
There is an array of themes. A lot of the performers are female. Most of the young people who walk through the doors of the youth development centre are female.
We feature a comedy, There’s a Zulu on my Stoep(id) Heart, about relationships and making the wrong choices with Zulu men as a Tsonga woman, and a production that addresses albinism. There will also be an exhibition and documentary on Marikana.
The British Film Institute has donated a few short films and Kingmakers will also be screened. There will be vendors selling various artefacts and clothes in the theatre.
You have been nominated as best actress in a leading role for Kingmakers in the Nollywood and African Film Critics’ Awards. The awards ceremony is a month away, in Los Angeles. How do you feel about the nomination?
The award nomination and the role I played brought back my love for acting. I got the role by mistake. The director, Nicholas Beveney, who is also my friend, asked me to be a part of the film when one of the actors couldn’t work on the film any more.
Do you see yourself returning to our television screens in a local series or soapie anytime soon?
I wouldn’t mind acting in a series. If I see something exciting I would act in it. I’m very fussy about what I work on.
How has life been after the release of Dancing to the Beat of the Drum?
The book opened more doors for me. It’s nice being an author. I’ve discovered more careers since I wrote the book.
What do you think of current local drama series?
I don’t watch TV that much, however I’m not seeing a change in the content on TV. Because of the corporate monopolies that are running the platforms [broadcast stations], channels are churning out the same content.
Are you working on any other productions?
I’m going to be in London after this youth arts festival for four months, because I’ll be performing in the play Teddy Ferrara by Dominic Cooke, at the Donmar Warehouse.
The Rise Up and Walk International Youth Arts Festival runs from August 14 to 16 at the Joburg Theatre. Visit joburgtheatre.com