MHENDE EMBRACES A SHIFT IN CHARACTER
Actress to explore a ‘different’ female body in latest production
CHI Mhende relishes the possibility of opportunities where she can become something outside of herself.
“It’s not about escaping my own reality, it has to do with enforcing it.”
The actress says for her it is about experiencing a reality where people may be living richer or poorer lives than the one she has.
“There are hungry people, thirsty people – people who are sad and depressed – thirsty within the soul. I will never be rich and wealthy within my own soul if I only live my life and my story.”
And this is why she became an actress. To have the ability to inspire and provide an understanding to people about why she does the work she has chosen to do.
Mhende is well known for her transgender character Wandile on Generations. But in this play, fans will get to see her in a different role as Kat, a woman dealing with the complexities of love with her husband Simon, in the play Chasing Chairs at the Market Theatre.
“It’s a contemporary piece of art and we get to see the two humans navigate their way through life. My character represents the theme of maternity in quite a profound way, something that a lot of women will be able to connect to whether or not they have children.”
For Mhende, having come out of a transgender role and having experienced and played with a male body, shifting into her Chasing Chairs character meant she had to be fully present within her own female body.
“Also to explore a different female body, I am not a mother – there I am playing as a mother and a wife and what that means for me as I create this beautiful feminine energy and character brings me so much closer to the warmth and soul and energy of myself.”
Of her character Kat, Mhende says both of them are full of soul.
“We only know her as Kat. She can be whoever she needs to be, Katya, Katlego or Katarina – which for me represents an unfinished presence of the soul of the woman.”
A preview night for the play was held last Friday and the response, she says, has been very interesting. A lot of women have come up to her and told her how they enjoyed the “weird, crazy energy” that Kat goes through.
Mhende has been performing since age 7, with her first professional performance happening at age 18.
After spending 10 years in Cape Town and dabbling in theatre work while studying, she had her first stage debut in 2010 playing Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.
Her role as Wandile on Generations is about to get a spicy storyline.
“It’s always strange because of the intensity of what Wandile did to audiences and the mind. A lot of people ask me why I am playing a female role (Kat),” she says laughing at the silliness of it.
But the transgender character has taught her a lot about sensitivity and understanding sexuality.
“That’s one of the most profound lessons I have ever been through. Then there’s also seeing how people respond to me – women coming onto me, men being more reserved not understanding what my mind or my body might be and for me, as a young woman, that is a bit jarring and as any young human
My character represents the theme of maternity
you might become insecure about how you appear to people.”
But after taking it all in and looking at the situation in a more psychological way Mhende started to appreciate how she became like a diary to people.
“They opened up to me just because they saw the vulnerability and sensitivity of my character, they almost felt like every time they sat with me or stood with me we were behind a closed door and they could speak to me about their sexuality and identity. I have always been very interested in that because I find that sex is what actually makes us know each other and know ourselves deeply – that’s how we become, create and exist.”
She’s eternally grateful that the role has blessed her with being a sister or “mama” to people.
“It’s the power to know and feel assured that the things I have always spoken about and thought about in my heart are actually worthy and that people do need the support.”
Mhende says Chasing Chairs is a must watch play that is both sexy and soulful at the same time.
It runs until August 6, tickets start from R70 and are available at Webtickets.
SOUL: Chi Mhende will star at the Market Theatre.