The Power of Our Stories

I am from Vryburg North West where the overwhelming weight of the sun hangs onto your back, the womxn carry grief silently in their hunched shoulders and your uncle is either a hero or foe.

Champion toffees colour the memories of my childhood. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s red stoep at 6 years old, desperately gnawing through an Original Champion toffee. Needless to say, my jaw never quite recovered!

I’m a South African actor, writer and theatre activist who is passionate about changing the world through storytelling. I have always been incredibly proud of where I’m from and that’s where I draw most of my inspiration.

In 2016, I won the prestigious Brett Goldin Bursary – a post graduate course designed to fine-tune actors who are committed to expanding their knowledge and acting ability at The Royal Shakespeare Company (Stratford).

After returning from RSC, I wrote, performed and produced “The Swan Song” – a coming of age solo theatre piece in which the character wrestles with the metaphors of death and love – via my company, Maru Factory (Pty)Ltd.

I chose to speak authentically, allowing my character to slip between Setswana and English. In many ways, this switch between languages became a theatrical device reflecting the tension between the world I am from (my home) and where I find myself each day.

I won two Kanna South African Theatre Awards for the production and am incredibly excited to tour the show both nationally and internationally next year.

Swan SongNeo Baepi2017
Image Credit: Neo Baepi

At the start of 2016, I led an incredible team of artists in the production of a story I authored to help young girls of colour everywhere find their voices. The journey of The Girl Without A Sound snowballed from a free, downloadable book that reached more than 2000 downloads in its first week to hard copies that found homes in the hands of little black girls around the country.

Actor illustrated
Illustration Credit: Thozama Mputa

The book’s early success culminated in our winning the Superbalist Top 100 of 2016 competition and I pledged to use the momentum to translate The Girl Without A Sound into more South African languages. Together with South African national literacy campaign Nali’Bali and KaMatla we did that and more.

From 1 August 2017, the isiXhosa and isiZulu versions of Girl Without A Sound were made available online alongside their English and Sestwana versions.  

I have been incredibly blessed to have had the most inspiring mentors/teachers in my fields of work. I played Ayanda Khalipha in John Kani’s production “Missing”. I remember walking into the Baxter Theatre for the audition and being incredibly anxious to see Susan Danford (who played my mother) and John Kani (who played my father)  at the audition, along with Janice Honeyman (director).

Travelling the world with that production and with that faction of my theatre family has been so rewarding.

I am also wildly inspired by Nadia Davids. She is an extraordinary writer and I was fortunate enough to recently be cast in one of her play “What Remains”. The production was directed by Jay Pather who teaches and inspires me immensely, particularly in how he actively creates space for stories that otherwise wouldn’t be given a platform.

I strongly believe that we all have something to contribute towards building a better world, that a single story can impact people and that we all need to follow our own paths and take back power through crafting their own narratives.