ON THE STAGE: HAYANI!
YOU would imagine that the children of famous parents might think twice before launching themselves into a life of showbiz. After all, they would inevitably have witnessed the lows alongside the highs, the critical panning of a performance that pours cold water on the glamour and kudos, and the periods of work drought that alternate with the times of plenty.
Plus, thanks to the explosion of tacky tabloids and showbiz blogs, there’s the added bummer of having your every move, your every bad-hair day, your every topless sunbathing sojourn scrutinised, pored over and documented for the world to see.
Yet popular culture is littered with examples of "celebutots" who follow mum or dad into a life of acting or singing. Internationally, one only has to look at the celebrated Redgrave and Barrymore acting dynasties; Judy Garland, Vincente Minnelli and Liza Minnelli; Rosemary Clooney and nephew George Clooney; Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher and Carrie Fisher; Ryan and Tatum O’Neal and, of course, Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus.
Locally, the entertainment scene also heaves with famous parents and offspring: Johnny and Jesse Clegg; Judy Page and Kim Kallie; Thandie and Lorraine Klaasen; Andrew, Janet and Daniel Buckland; Abdullah Ibrahim and Jean Grae; Oliver and the late Sam Mtukudzi; as well as Khabi Mngoma, Sibongile Khumalo and Tshepo Mngoma.
We also have the makings of our own distinguished Redgrave acting family in the form of married thespians Louise Saint-Claire and Michael Richard, whose children, Sarah and Jeremy Richard, have also chosen a life in the theatre.
With the glut of "Broadway babies" around, does it follow that creative talent resides in the genes? Or is it, rather, a curious combination of nature, nurture and masochism that leads them into the realm of gruelling rehearsals, life on the road, grubby dressing rooms and patchy periods between contracts and pay cheques, not to mention dodgy promoters and producers? Perhaps what makes the slog worthwhile is simply the dizzying thrill of the opening night, the exhilaration of applause and of a job well done.
This train of thought was sparked by a remarkably self-assured performance by Atandwa Kani in the play HAYANI!, which had a short run at Wits last week. As the son of the great John Kani, a Tony Award-winning theatre, film and TV actor and playwright, it must have been a daunting prospect to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Yet the younger Kani, who made his international debut alongside his father in The Tempest, has forged his own strong acting identity: melding his dad’s trademark gravitas and stage heft with a magnetism all his own. It’s no exaggeration to say he has the rare ability to mesmerise an audience.
He is definitely not peeping out from daddy dearest’s shadow or riding on his coat-tails; here is a talent that is singular and special and deserves its own spotlight.
Kani wrote and performs in Hayani! alongside his friend, the equally impressive Nat Ramabulana, who received a Naledi Award for his role in Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys and dazzled in Craig Higginson’s The Girl in the Yellow Dress. He can also be seen in M-Net’s soon-to-be-axed high-gloss soapie, The Wild.
The self-referential play, Hayani! (which means "home"), documents the actors’ individual journeys toward self-acceptance and belonging, and starts out as a nostalgic, lyrical love letter to youthful memories. The vignettes, told in a visceral, physical style, gradually edge towards a more profound examination of the experiences, often painful, that shaped these kids growing up in a newly minted democratic society as they struggled to forge an identity while straddling urban-rural, white-black, family-society divides.
Ramabulana hails from Venda royalty, and Kani is certainly descended from acting royalty. Together they symbolise our next generation of extraordinary acting luminaries. They are electrifying and exciting to watch, and great things unquestionably await them both.
And maybe, just maybe, we are actually fortunate that our stage actors are not treated like celebs or rock stars — even though they really should be, given that their abilities are generally far superior to those whose primary talent is grabbing gossip-rag headlines. But at least if the scandal-mongering media leaves our thespians alone, it allows them to focus on their craft, for our selfish enjoyment.
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