“Mosadi wa Pelo ya tau by Galaletsang Koffman: Unpacking The Performer’s Trinity with Moshidi Motshegwa”

As I sit across Moshidi Motshegwa, a legend of the stage and camera – a woman whom I always adored growing up – a powerhouse that has given many characters a home to dwell within her with an unshakeable energy, I am in awe of her presence and the harmony she brings into the room. I search my mind trying to find the woman I once saw on television. I do not recognize her characters as they are absent, yet the artist and person are present. She sets the tone in her posture and I can already tell the difference between the woman before me and the woman that people would recall her to be.

For actors dealing with their craft, there is a moment of understanding and awareness that comes which each performance – the moment when the lights come on! The person, the actor and the character – a ‘trinity’ considered to be the holy grail for performers – comes together. These three markings in unison and often in harmony with each other, are attuned and negotiated by the actor. They measure the test of an ultimate performance(r).

Easing Motshegwa into a conversation about the ‘trinity’, I ask what acting means to her, what an actor is and whether she considers herself an actor. She laughs. Acutely aware of her surrounding, she is extremely observant and reflective – and takes time to process before responding: “An actor is a thief of life; it is somebody who is an observer. Someone who takes from life, interprets it, and gives us the pictures, the emotions and the journey”. Motshegwa cements, “Actors are the scribes for our journey on earth.”

She speaks of keeping her space sacred while the work remains public: “I always treat acting as my job, as one would treat a 9-5 and I treat my personal life as my personal life. Without the personal space, I cannot do this work.” Characters, left unchecked, can be detrimental to one’s health. We have seen many actors go down the wrong path of substance abuse and mental breakdowns because of the pressure and emotional baggage that comes with the characters that they play. “When I leave set, I leave the character behind. Debriefing is important and so is knowing who you are”, adds Motshegwa.

We switch gears to talk about her early beginnings and training at the National School of the Arts (NSA). Very cognizant of the fact that she was the only black girl, Motshegwa says shares that she was well aware that after her, more were going to come. It was recognizing this fact that propelled her to raise the bar in terms of her craft – and to do so, she turned to books. “If you want to be an actor then you have to read!” She adds, “You need to understand character development and how stories are developed because that is what you are – a storyteller and if you do not understand how a story works then you will never understand how a scene works and most importantly how a character is built.” Unfortunately, this is a flaw that actors, especially in our country, are cursed with, the lack of understanding that acting is a medium. From Motshegwa’s perspective, this has a lot to do with how actors are mesmerized by fame.

Dialing back to the art of the trinity, Motshegwa shares incredible advice, “I believe that theatre teaches you ensemble work and how to put your emotions aside and focus on the craft.” And for the people out there who are deeply talented but haven’t had the opportunity to study, she says, “The greatest learning is in the business – people will teach you how to treat yourself in this profession.” 99.9% of the job requires you to deal with yourself – that is the kind of personality you need for this profession.

After being home for five years and losing her father, she returned onscreen playing Malefu Mokoena (affectionately known as Mme Mokoena) on The River. Speaking of her return after this long hiatus and sharing a bit about the character she portrays, she says “One of the things that I have always loved about this profession is the fact that, it doesn’t matter what is in the script and because there is no repertoire of black writers in South Africa, we can still write our own story. I am writing Malefu, they have an idea but I am giving them the story and I am giving them the character.” On her approach to embodying the character, she says “I think that an actor will always be a co-creator and contributor. If you think otherwise then you can’t do this job because even if they gave you a complete script, you will have to bring something different. Actors are dream-catchers. Somebody dreams the story, we catch it and turn it into reality.” The character is driven by the actor who is controlled by the person. She emphasizes, “When I get a new character to play, the only way I can stay relevant is to always do my best work.

As we get ready to wrap up our discussion, Motshegwa shares yet another nugget of wisdom, “We are here because of the craft. Honour it, deal with the business but finish it on your terms. Do the work because that is what people will remember. We are not servicing ourselves but the stories of the human being and spiritual journey in this life and that’s why when you get into character you must push yourself. Try playing something that you haven’t played, do something you haven’t done. Be uncomfortable. Let the character shock you.

In gratitude to Motshegwa’s awe-inspiring presence and priceless advice, I leave this sit-down ready to seek opportunities of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. The first of these is my first CSI initiative to extend what I know and others more experienced than me to those less fortunate. On Saturday the 8th December, from 10h00 – 15h30 at the Creddiple Headquarters in Randburg, myself in conjunction with Credipple present Half a Corner Kouch: Part 1 – Unpacking Performance. Amongst Motshegwa as one of the speakers are Casting Director, Obey Muchupisi and Director, Zolani Pakhadi; this non-profit charity event aims to inform and educate young aspiring artists about the performance sector in the TV & Film industry.

Through social media platforms, we have been running an online competition where 30 youth stand a chance to win an opportunity to be part of the discussion between myself and the speakers by attending the event.

Follow my social media platforms to keep posted on the charity event!