Theatre Interview: Siyasanga Papu – Marikana The Musical, Or Commissioning Consciousness

August 17, 2022



August 2022 this year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, which saw the killing of 34 protesting mineworkers by police in Marikana, Northwest. To commemorate the harrowing event, the critically acclaimed Marikana – The Musical returns to the stage of the South African State Theatre.

The Best Musical Naledi Theatre Award-winner reassembles prolific performers Meshack Mavuso-Magabane, Aubrey Poo, Siyasanga Papu (as the Commissioner) Emma Mmekwa, and Mpho “Mckenzie” Matome, who lead a 40-member cast and 13-piece band in unleashing a blow-by-blow account of the events that led to the loss of life at the hands of the police and the miners during the period of the massacre.


Live performance: the thrill versus the nerves – where are you on that curve as a new show starts?

Whenever I start a new show, it’s a bit of both. I’m always thrilled to be able to tell stories, and the nerves come from respecting the craft. It’s about respecting the people who receive my work and the silent prayer of being able to tell stories from an honest place – with the hopes that it will translate.

How do you find a balance during rehearsals or other preparation?

It’s a hard balance to strike, because everything requires time. I find it’s easy when I segment my work and try and give sufficient prep time for all the things I do. An actor prepares: acting cannot be done without preparation.


In a best-case scenario, what are you looking for in a role? What is the main basis for that decision – the script, the people involved, the challenge to your skills, the impact (positive or negative) it might have on your life in general, or perhaps something else?

To be honest, in our country we don’t have the luxury of choosing which role to take or not to take. On a production brief, it is your choice which roles you want to audition for, but the casting director and producers decide which roles best translate to what they are trying to tell. Personally, I love the challenge of a character that is different from me. It pushes me to work harder in order to make the performance authentic.


Acting is often a vocation, a thing you can’t not do. How true is that for you now? Has it changed over the years – for practical, perhaps banal reasons? And how do you, or would you like to, keep your calling front and centre in your life?

I always refer to art as a calling – there is no running from true artistry. I’ve done the corporate thing too, due to the volatility of the industry. One day you have a job, then you’re without. Art will call you out of that soft cushion and you will constantly be reminded of who you are. My calling is art. There just is no running, because I act, sing, sketch and write. It will always be the front and centre of my life, one way or the other.


What are the toughest expectations to deliver on – all the way from the first audition to the end of the run?

My own expectations can be so high. In my mind, I see the character and visualise what it looks like. Then, if I’m afforded the opportunity to see my work, I criticise myself so much!


Tell us about Marikana – The Musical, and what makes your character interesting to play?

I play the police commissioner and one of the widows. These are two very different women that are in play at the same time. One is a powerhouse who dominates through strength, while the other comes from a place of pain. It’s a lot of emotion to show in one show, and the fact that they are so different and that they are both nothing like me makes them fun and interesting to play.