We chat to two stars from the acclaimed, award-winning South African musical, The Color Purple, about the challenges of balancing motherhood while working in the entertainment industry.
Neo Motaung and Sebe Leotlela, both who performed in the acclaimed South African musical production The Color Purple last year, will be taking part in the upcoming pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. Neo will be playing the role of Mrs Skwashie Mangowashie in the pantomime while Sebe will be a part of the creative team as assistant choreographer.
Both Neo and Sebe were nominated for a Naledi Theatre Award for their performances in The Color Purple recently, but besides working in the same industry, they are also moms to little girls.
Neo has a toddler and has had to tour overseas to provide for her daughter’s future. Sebe is a new mother who gave birth about 4 months ago.
The entertainment industry is a fickle one, but these moms have chosen to take on these roles with aplomb. We caught up with them to find out just how they get it all done.
Is it difficult balancing motherhood with a career in the entertainment industry?
“It has been a difficult journey as I haven’t really been a hands-on mom. She stays with my parents, who have allowed me as a single mom to focus on my career and realise my dreams until she can one day come live with me full-time. I always feel under pressure when I see my daughter. Each time I come home to visit we have to get to know each other again. Fortunately, my family have always kept my presence alive, even in my absence, and I can video call her anytime. Whenever I am offered a new production/work I have to calculate how much time I’ll be spending away from her. However, I usually accept because I love my work and I need to put food on the table.”
Why is your career so important to you?
“I want my daughter to be proud of me. I want her to look at all that I’ve accomplished and know she was my driving force. I want her to know that no matter what your circumstances, you should always do what makes you happy and fight to reach your dreams.”
What valuable insights did you gain through your role in The Color Purple?
“I played the character Sophia in The Color Purple. It was one of the hardest roles I’ve had to play so far – and the most liberating. Sophia is this stallion of a woman who won’t let people dehumanize her and who wants the best for women, especially Celie, whom she takes under her wing. At the time I was playing the role I was still finding my feet as a mom, questioning whether I was doing it right at all. But, whenever I stepped onto that stage to sing “Hell No”, I would have an out of body experience. It was as if Sophia was singing to me, telling me I can’t allow myself to wallow in self-pity, and to say no to the discrimination of being a single mom. It taught me I can stand tall and firm, knowing I am fully capable of raising my child on my own.”
Catch Neo in Jack and the Beanstalk from 2 November to 22 December 2019
“I can’t wait for the pantomime – this will be the first time my child will be able to watch a show her mom is a part of.”
How has motherhood changed your life?
“It has definitely given me new respect for mothers. I don’t think any amount of reading or research could have prepared me for this experience. Raising a child is a lot of hard work, which I hadn’t anticipated. I really enjoyed my pregnancy and was so excited about the prospect of having a baby, but didn’t consider that child needs to be cared for 24/7. Making sure my baby is clean, healthy and fed has given me a great sense of responsibility. I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep since the birth, but it is so worth it. I used to be very independent but now I’ve learned it is ok to ask for help and to rely on other people. My parents passed away a while ago and I lost myself, but having a baby has taught me about unconditional love again. I have a better perspective on life and am so grateful for this experience, as hard as it is. It is the challenge I needed and I’m grateful. Her smile makes everything worthwhile.”
What impact has being a mother had on your career as a performer?
“My daughter is now 4 months old, but before she was born, I made the decision to take some time out of the industry and dedicate the first 5 or 6 months exclusively to looking after her.”
How do you balance motherhood and your career?
“I am about to find out in a month’s time. I will be working as assistant choreographer in this year’s Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime. I am excited for this new experience but I’m also nervous about juggling work and motherhood as I’ll need to be at the theatre six days a week for long stretches at a time. But I have faith she’ll be in the capable hands of caregivers whom I trust. This role is something completely new for me, but I am eager to learn. If other women can do it, so can I.”
Watch Neo and Sebe in Jack and the Beanstalk and in The Color Purple:
Jack and the Beanstalk is presented by Joburg Theatre and Bernard Jay, in association with MNET, 94.2 Jacaranda FM, Your Family and the Mail & Guardian. The season runs from 2 November to 22 December 2019. Tickets are now on sale from R225, with fantastic group discounts available. Call 0861 670 670 or visit www.joburgtheatre.com.
The Color Purple returns to the Joburg Theatre from 2 April to 12 April 2020
For tickets, phone 0861 670 670, visit www.joburgtheatre.com or book in person at the Joburg Theatre box office. Theatre patrons can also book online and pay at selected Pick n Pay stores.
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