Nonceba Constance Didi on plunging into her role in Tshepang

Nonceba Constance Didi plays Ruth in Tshepang: The Third Testament, a haunting and uplifting masterpiece of redemption by world-renowned playwright, director and producer, Lara Foot. Creative Feel did a Q&A with the actress about her inspiring role.

You have performed the role of Ruth in Tshepang so many times over the years. Do you always approach it the exact same way or have there been small adjustments/changes over the years?
I have performed the role of Ruth for in Tshepang for the past nine years – since 2009. There have definitely been changes in the way I have approached the role over the years. After all this time, it has become easier to dig deeper into the character and I feel that I have developed so much into the role since I started. 

It must be quite hard to play a role like this, how do you prepare for it? And how do you emotionally/mentally protect yourself?
It most certainly is. At first I used various methods that I learnt while I was at drama school. However, to be honest, none of these methods worked when it came to understanding and playing the character of Ruth. I could never prepare myself for this role. So, I ended up jumping into the character, I had to stop testing and rather just plunge fully into it. When the show starts, I suppose it’s like a meditation – from beginning to end I tune into the flow of the show so that it can take me wherever I need to be emotionally.
     This can be risky and overwhelming at times. I have to protect myself mentally and this can be challenging when I am simply allowing myself to be present in the character. What always works though, is the support Mncedisi [Shabangu, who plays Simon] and I give each other before, throughout and after the performance. Always making sure that the other is okay. I also always make a point of talking to my son after each performance which always brings me back to reality. He is 14 years old now and I am grateful for the wonderful relationship we have.

You have toured all over the world with Tshepang, which has been your favourite venue to perform in or which audiences have you enjoyed performing to?
I don’t necessarily have a favourite venue or audience, but there have been many touching moments over the years – especially when the performance is followed by a Question and Answer session.
     At one Q&A session in Canada, a man in his mid 40’s stood up and opened up about how he was molested by his father. For a man, a stranger, to open up in front of everyone in the audience and talk about what he went through, just gave me the assurance that what we were doing was beyond just telling a story, clearly we were also offering a platform to start a conversation that will eventually lead to a process of healing in our society.
     In another session at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, a woman in her late 40’s insisted on speaking to me after the show. She shared her story of how her father sexually abused her since she was 11 years old. I was the only person she ever told. She shared her story with me as she felt safe to do so.
     The show does not necessarily stop after the curtain call. During the post show discussions with the audience we try, with the help of our director Lara Foot, to advise people on where to go for counselling, amongst so many other questions that arise during the sessions.
     I’m very proud to be part of this production – it gives me tremendous purpose and meaning.

Tshepang is at The Fringe, Joburg Theatre, from 16 – 28 Oct at 20:00, 15:00 and 11:00. Book on 0861 670 670 or via joburgtheatre.com. School groups can also book via Happiness Mnyandu on 011 8776853, happiness@joburgtheatre.com. The production carries an age restriction of PG15.