By BRUCE DENNILL
Siya Mayola stars as Willy, alongside Kai Luke Brummer as Hally and Desmond Dube as Sam in the new Fugard Theatre production of Athol Fugard’s masterpiece “Master Harold”…And The Boys, directed by Greg Karvellas. Mayola is a writer, director and producer with his own production company.
Live performance is both one of the main drawcards of being a performer and one of the most stressful parts of it. At one point in the process of being involved in a new project do you cross that line?
The key word for me is “process”. As with many jobs, there are the stressful times, but being aware that this is part of the process and hanging on for dear life to the end goal or vision is a must. Always knowing something is a work in progress helps, until it is opening night and you trust that things will click into place while you’re loving what you do. But sometimes life is too short to focus on the negative and let stressful situations get the best of you. You need to relax and try to enjoy this opportunity that’s in front of you. The stage is where the actor develops and hones his or her craft and each new project brings with it a set of challenges, keeping you on your toes and helping you to sharpen your craft.
Do you have techniques to improve either scenario – consistently enjoying the performance aspect (it is a job, after all) or mitigating the stress (of all the issues – from iffy pay to annoying audiences)?
Every project is different and the demands of the character and story will influence your preparation. It’s just about focusing on what needs to be done and not over-complicating things. Also, every crew or creative team is different, and if you’re blessed to work with professional, competent people, it makes things easier. But with each project, there are new challenges and you have to surrender to the process and trust yourself and the team that has been gathered to help execute the director’s vision.
How do you choose projects? What needs to turn you on before you audition for something?
Choosing projects depends on many things. The point or stage you are on in your journey of life as a creative can influence your decisions in picking projects. The material and the team that you’ll be working with also plays a part, as does the character. If you haven’t done something like that before, it’s taking you out of your comfort zone if you are willing to go in that direction. Also, to be honest, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of choosing your projects, as you have responsibilities and financial decisions to make as well. I feel the creative industry leans heavily on teamwork and the desire to always create quality work. Working with great people in an ideal world is the goal.
What are the hooks in a script that you like to hang a performance or the generation of a character on? Depth, dialogue, nuance, reality versus fantasy – what speaks most profoundly to you?
Storytelling is one of the hardest things to do, and if done right, it is a tremendous achievement. I try to find stories that capture reality or express the truest, highest expression of reality on the stage or on film, with relevant themes and story arcs that stand the test of time while also entertaining the audience without being too preachy. I admire stories with great depth and heart where you can find new details every time you sit with the material and unpack it.
The lifestyle of a working actor is a difficult one to square with family life, or a day job, or half a dozen other aspects of a traditional routine. How do you make it work?
To say that I have it figured it out and have all the answers would be a lie. Everyone has different backgrounds, support structures and circumstances. But speaking for myself, I’m trying to make the best of the cards that I’ve been dealt, learning as I go. Keeping on working is a goal, as I’m a firm believer in work begetting more work. Staying busy and taking action or initiative to try make ideas into reality is a must, as is being very professional at what you do in the process.
Shifting perspective into being a creator and taking ownership of your work is imperative in building something sustainable. Having goals and some form of a plan is important, but so is not being afraid to throw away a plan that isn’t working to find something new that works for you early on, while you are able to chop and change. The industry is constantly changing and we must be flexible to some extent too.
Try to place yourself in the best possible environment to be seen and make an impact within your chosen field.
Touring a show can be the holy grail for an actor – long contracts, plus the excitement of seeing new places and performing for new audiences. It’s also arguably the biggest challenge to relationships – distance, communication and so on. Where does it fit in your list of priorities?
Travelling to new countries and experiencing new cultures is always great in helping to expand perspective. I’d recommend it to everybody who has the opportunity to do so. I’m always open to new experiences for work and the appeal of having the opportunity to go perform or film a project in a foreign country is exciting. I’ve had the opportunity to do so in the past with other projects, going to Antarctica, London and Edinburgh internationally.
Within the relationship context, knowing it’s for a short time and communicating that hasn’t caused any issues yet. At the moment, I’m not tied down with many responsibilities that could make travel or working away from home hard.
As a performer, you’re often asked to deliver on a set of expectations – the playwright’s; the director’s; the rest of the casts’; the audiences’… What sort of input do you prefer to (demand to?) have as an actor?
The script is king and it’s our job as actors, with the help of the director, to achieve the clearest expression of what the playwright intended when they were writing the story. So going into the rehearsal process and working with a director with a clear vision on what they want is imperative for me, as is, to the best of my ability, trying to deliver what they have asked of me while also having the possibility of bringing ideas to table to help build the character. It’s a collaborative process.
What other roles do you, or would you like to, play in the industry – now or in the future? Writing, production, direction? And what about each or any of those excites you?
As a creative person with an entrepreneurial spirit, I feel I’m slowly edging into the direction of going behind the scenes or behind the stage more, wanting to create and produce work. In 2015, I started my production company Paxinos Productions with a desire to tell stories that haven’t been told yet and putting on different faces in stories, while creating opportunities for others in the Eastern Cape in the process. Over the last few years, I’ve developed stories that I want to see come alive on the screen. But of course, my first love, always my first love, is acting. Characters I still want to play or theatre projects I still want to do outside of my own personal projects are Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Othello, Sunset Limited, and a biopic playing Steve Biko.