HerStory International Theatre Festival: Napo Masheane’s Homecoming

“Clearly there’s no theatre in this country where I can ask to do something like this and they say no. But I was like ‘I want to do it at Soweto Theatre’. I was born at Bara (Baragwanath Hospital) my grandmother’s house is here (Naledi) and at this is Soweto Theatre in the middle. It’s a homecoming,” Napo Masheane tells Spot-On.

The multi-award winning creative-producer, playwright, director, poet, and performer, Napo Masheane sat down with Spot-On for a chat inside Soweto Theatre as rehearsals for her inaugural HerStory International Theatre Festival take place days before opening night.

Telling Women’s Story

The HerStory International Theatre Festival is a platform for women practitioners (and/or those who identify as women plus LGBTQIA+) from the African continent, diaspora, and the world. The festival had its opening night this week and the festival will run until Sunday.

Masheane’s work has a way of bringing women together through the stories she tells which are inspired by women from different walks of life. These include women in her family, those in the industry and everywhere else.

One of the strong inspirations for the HerStory International Theatre Festival is Masheane paternal late grandmother who lived in Soweto. “She passed away when I was in my first year at a Drama school and she never saw me in my glory. But in the spiritual realm, I feel like she exists big time. Like when I’m sad, I always see her [in my dreams]. I’m always between her legs and she’s pulling and plaiting my hair telling me things will be fine” Masheane says.

Covid19 On Creatives

The renowned performer found herself needing those words of encouragement during the pandemic in the last two years where artists like herself couldn’t work due to lockdown restrictions. “For the past two years theatres were closed, festivals were cancelled, and we were really struggling as artists battling with unemployment, mental illness-depression- some people lost their assets and people even died and are still dying. This is our church; this is our space but not having a sense of that is painful. I was really at my lowest, for the first time I was asking myself ‘everything I’ve worked for, for the past 27 years, is it worth it?’”

Friends who are in the industry from different parts of the world encouraged her during the difficult period and reminded her who she is and the massive role she plays. “You know when you hear those kinds of words, it’s like somebody igniting something in you and giving you purpose,” Masheane says.

The Storyteller: Napo Masheane. Photo supplied

The festival is the first of its kind will be a colourful and layered artistic program of theatre works and performances by women – for women – with female creatives covering various issues and/or topics relating to artistic theatre presentations, spoken word, storytelling, dance and choreography, musical renditions, inspiring masterclasses, and thought-provoking dialogues that look into the role of theatre within the landscape of the 21st century.

Despite not having a budget to host the festival, Masheane has received overwhelming support from the art community. “All of them, from 17 countries and more, were like just tell me the date, the venue and the time,” she says.

The Accessibility of Theatre

Theatre is often seen as to be elitist and no in touch with the people from the ground but having an institution such as a The Soweto Theatre in the township speaks to the accessibility of theatre, and great theatre at that. “The pricing of it and also making it as if it’s exclusive. Theatre is special because it’s accessible, it’s not special because it’s for a special group of people. Until we also as theatre managers or makers, integrate our community into our spaces, it means we are on our own.”

For more information about the festival or where to get tickets click here