Mutendera’s life as a ‘thespian’

PRIVILLAGE Netsai Mutendera loved television from an early age. But little did she know back then that it would become part and parcel of her working life in future.

BY TINASHE MUCHURI

At 30, she testifies that, indeed, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

“I grew up in a household where we were allowed to watch television. This is the period when ZBC-TV was still the in-thing. When watching it, you would say I want to be like that one,” Mutendera wistfully recalled.

Her earliest inspiration was to come from the likes of Elizabeth “Katarina” Taderera of Mukadota fame.

“I liked the idea that at a young age, she (Katarina) got smaller roles and started getting bigger roles as she got older,” she said.

Mutendera started off with fairy tales during her first grade class at Louis Mountbatten, securing roles in plays such as Good Luck and The Emperor’s New Clothes.

“One day, my mother found me imitating the characters I would have seen on television. If someone visited me home, you would hear mother telling them that, ‘she is in her bedroom with her imagined friends’. That did not mean they approved us to take theatre as a career. They loved it as a hobby rather,” she said.

Mutendera recalled that her parents always supported her in all the stage works where she featured and during Allied Arts, school drama and house drama competitions.

They were, however, against her taking acting as a career in future. This was so deep-seated that at one time, her father disowned her elder sister, Priscilla, after she had taken up theatre as a
profession.

“He only came when my sister played a role in Taka and he went around bragging to people that his daughter was on TV,” she said.
In 2002, Mutendera joined the Jasen Mphepho-led Patsime Edutainment Trust, where she said became professionally grounded, as they toured the country doing plays on HIV and Aids.

This opened up avenues for her and she worked with other theatre productions such as Ndiripo Kana Muripo as well as outfits that included Savannah Trust, Zimbeli Productions, and Vhitori Entertainment.

Her journey was not rosy, but was littered with obstacles.

“The older guys in the field are reluctant to give you space to get in there and the other problem is that it is male-dominated. They feel threatened by a young female director. If you are a woman, the general rule is that for you to make it, it’s not your talent but it’s about who you sleep with,” she bemoaned.

“Although many people don’t talk about it, this practice leaves behind talented people opting for easy lays.”

Against such a backdrop, Mutendera has crafted her work around women’s issues because she felt the sector gives women small parts that are not empowering.

“I feel most women who made names in the film industry don’t seem to give back to fellow women what they have learnt so I feel disconnected to look up to them,” she said.

Theatre has afforded her a chance to see Africa, touring Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa, where she finally met her inspirational icon, Ntshieng Mokgoro, the creative director of Olive Theatre Productions and International Women’s Theatre Festival.

“This extraordinary woman has shown us that we can do it. I was there last year, performing my play, What Makes a Woman. This year they will have their sixth anniversary celebrations. It is an inspiring experience. Artists came to enjoy art. Poems and stories are told. Plays are staged celebrating women,” Mutendera said.

She is so passionate about art that if she dies and is afforded an opportunity to return, she would still choose art.

“Because with art I tend to appreciate life more and see more than what life is to an ordinary eye. Being an artist gives me freedom to play different characters and allows me to touch people’s lives differently with each role I play,” she said.

The thespian has featured in plays like Election Day, When Angels Weep, Looking into the Bliss, In Living Colour, Rich List, My Big Fat Shona Wedding and Sunrise.

Her theatre performances earned her three National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) Outstanding Theatre Actress nominations, but it was her performance at the Sadc Theatre and Dance Festival in 2010 that will forever remain etched in her memory.

“I was chosen to perform my play Ebony and Ivory for the World Football Cup at the Great World. I was overwhelmed. I don’t even have the right words to express my feelings, very emotional,” she said.

Two years later, she was part of a Zimbabwean team that travelled to Sweden, featuring in The Comrades, written by one of the Swedish iconic writers, Stenbank, as a Zimbabwean team to celebrate his 100th year commemorations.

“This trip opened me up. It made me broaden my mind. I discovered that we have great talent here, but we lack facilities. If we had facilities, our arts could have gone far,” she said.

Mutendera has won all the Stanely Makuwe 24 hour Theatre Challenge Awards with her play Skies in 2012, the 2017 Stanely Makuwe 24 Hour Theatre Challenge Best Director Award with her play The Storm.

Her debut short film won the 2016 Best Short Film from Zimbabwe at the International Images Film International.

Mutendera has since 2012 teamed up with her sister Priscilla to found their small, but growing theatre productions by the name Sista Sista Entertainment, which grooms young girls and women in the arts.

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