MHENDE EM­BRACES A SHIFT IN CHAR­AC­TER

Ac­tress to ex­plore a ‘dif­fer­ent’ fe­male body in lat­est pro­duc­tion

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - MPILETSO MOTUMI mpiletso.motumi@inl.co.za

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.

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