New theatre role for Khayelitsha actress

Faniswa Yisa, right, praising Baxter CEO and artistic director, Lara Foot.

The newly-appointed curator of the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre, Faniswa Yisa, has committed to work around the clock to address the issues of actors, producers and up-and-coming talent.

Yisa, a Khayelitsha resident, was introduced as the new curator by Baxter CEO and artistic director, Lara Foot, at a function on Saturday night, although the award-winning theatre, film and television actor is no stranger to audiences.

Masambe Theatre is situated in the Baxter theatre in Rondebosch and is a platform for up-and-coming and new theatre-makers to showcase their work.

For Yisa, the promotion is a long way from when she was a young girl in Khayelitsha admiring those she used to see on television.

In her youth she studied fashion design at the Peninsula Technikon, now Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), but she dropped out after finding that it was not what she wanted to do.

She then found her way into acting after being convinced by another actor, Mandla Mbothwe, to study drama at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

“I thought I was going to be a fashion designer because I loved clothes but when I was studying it, I realised that that’s not it. So I dropped out. After that I started hanging out at Thobeka Maqhutyana’s home. She was an actor and would sometimes ask us to go on set and be background extras. That is where I met Mandla Mbothwe. He had just finished studying drama at UCT and was a television actor. I didn’t even know that you have to study drama but he told me about the course and I was fascinated. The next year I auditioned and I got in. I was studying during the day and waitressing at night. It was hard but I needed the extra cash,” she said.

Being from Khayelitsha and having studied in the location most of the time was a bit of a disadvantage to her because she had never done drama at school, while most other students in her class had. At UCT she was also the oldest in her class which made her a bit self conscious. She kept her head down, took everything in and passed.

She first stepped into the entertainment industry in 1999, doing a show called Wedding at the Grahamstown Festival and The Little Theatre directed by Peter Scherhaufer.

“I was playing a translator because the whole show was in Czech. It was interesting because I was reading my lines, pretending that I understood what they were saying,” she told Vukani.

Since then she has never looked back. At The Baxter over the years, she has performed in an impressive list of productions, which received great acclaim and accolades. These include, most recently: Magnet Theatre’s Oedipus at Colonus #aftersophocles; Lara Foot’s Life and Times of Michael K; Reza de Wet’s Missing; Barney Simon’s Born in the RSA; Mandla Bothwe’s Inxeba Lomphilise; Brett Bailey’s MedEia and Janice Honeyman’s Madiba Magic.

She was co-producer of Nwabisa Plaatjie’s When We Awake, which was also recently staged at The Baxter.

Still fresh from her new appointment, Yisa told those attending the event on Saturday in no uncertain terms that they should go out there to make the organisation and the community they serve proud.

She has vowed not to change anything in her new role but to introduce a few fresh ideas. “If it is ain’t broken, don’t fix it. What I am offering myself now from today is (for artists) to call me aside and say Faniswa, I have these ideas, can we talk about them and see. There are a lot of ideas that I have but I feel like it’s very important for me to pause and listen to what is urgent for artists. I want to know what is urgent for the creatives at this moment.”

In her plans, she will be focusing on funding, giving space to creators, screen-writing workshops, and ensuring a space that is stimulating to support the creatives.

A big advantage, she said, is that she has a bond with many of the actors, writers and producers.

The newly appointed Masimbe Theatre curator Faniswa Yisa