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Play for women by women proves female leadership is power

Lebo Mashile
Lebo Mashile
Image: Supplied

Noted South African poet Lebo Mashile has taken to the stage to discuss her weighty history in the production Venus vs. Modernity.

Originally conceived over 10 years ago, the production took Mashile five years to bring to fruition, an effort she accomplished thanks to collaboration with her industry peers Pamela Nomvete, Anne Masina and Kholeka Phuthuma.

“The story of Saartjie [Baartman] has been with me for over 20 years but it became important for me 10 years ago when I started having public battles about my weight,” Mashile shares.

While tackling weight issues in Venus vs. Modernity, Mashile’s collaborative efforts with her crew and cast mates are proof that women are a force to be reckoned with.  Keitu Gwangwa, the CEO of the Windybrow Arts Centre, which is also supporting the production’s tour to Holland, was moved by the piece upon seeing it at Design Indaba and expressed interest in supporting the play.

“If it wasn’t for a black woman inside of a public art institution, this piece wouldn’t have the platform that it has right now. If it wasn’t for creative black women coming together to make this piece [it wouldn't have happened],” says Mashile.

She also notes the work of musician Moonchild Sanelly, who created the titular character’s cat suit.

Mashile says views that often discredit women in leadership is a ridiculous stereotype as it’s impossible to get along with every person one works with, regardless of their gender.

“Patriarchy makes women hate ourselves and it makes women hate each other. Patriarchy is the thing that makes women hate each other. So if we walk into spaces anticipating that we are in some strange competition with each other then it is not going to work but if everybody is clear on their roles and responsibilities and everybody feels affirmed about what they are doing then it would be amazing.”

While balancing roles for Venus vs. Modernity has been a learning experience for Mashile, she notes five ways that young creatives in the arts can best balance creating art for money or for themselves:

Creative life is not a job, it’s a calling

This is not a nine-to-five job, this is not a job where you are going to sign in and check out. It’s a holistic experience of life. It’s going to be an aspect of every single part of your life and all of the people in your life have to understand this. After I’m done at the theatre sometimes I’m at the studio doing voice overs at one in the morning…get over the idea that you are just going to do one thing. You are going to do many different things to serve your creativity.

Know your worth

Don’t allow your value to be degraded, do not settle for less than what you are worth but at the same time do not degrade someone else or diminish their value.

We are all equals

I cannot walk into the rehearsal room and be like, ‘I’m Lebo Mashile, I performed in 26 countries, I am an award-winning artist' …you can’t create new work from a place of ego or a place of superiority. It can only come from a place of vulnerability, from a place of searching, from a place of exploration.”

Get the pay

If somebody is willing to pay you for what you do, don’t ever do it again for free. If you decide to offer your skills to someone without getting physical money or remuneration, make sure that what you get out of it is tangibly worth more money. You must know, immediately, what you are getting out of it.

Protect your intellectual property

There is so much information nowadays on the internet, learn about publishing, learn about royalties, and learn about protecting your IP. There are also so many skilled lawyers and young people out there who do come from legal backgrounds whom you can ask for advice and can be willing to help you with your contracts. Invest in building the structure of your business and invest in professionals who can help you do that.

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