MoMo Matsunyane’s Eyes On The Prize
Enthralled about her future, MoMo Matsunyane was six years old when she first experienced the thrill of being on stage. She began acting professionally at the age of 14 and has never looked back.
After several previous Naledi Theatre Award nominations, Matsunyane has recently won two awards for Best Supporting Actress in the Musical (Hlakanyana) and Best Production of a Musical (Hlakanyana).
Coming from a family of artists, which includes her father, Neo Matsunyane, who is a director and her aunt Kgomotso Matsunyane who is a radio and TV personality, she says that this has not always worked in her favour. “It didn’t serve me in the beginning because it seemed like every time I was at an audition, and I would say my name, even before I would act, I would always get reactions. Perhaps some people felt that I felt entitled because of who my family is or because of their personal relationships with my family, so it didn’t necessarily serve me in the best way. Instead, I had to really fight to carve a name for myself. “
As an actor, a director, a playwright, and an educator Matsunyane has a lot of acts that she needs to keep in balance. She adds that although she is a great cook, loves to swim, enjoys paint by numbers, and meditates, the one skill she has yet to master, is that she is unable to ride a bicycle. She laughs as she remembers being cast in a show that required the actor to ride a bicycle.
When faced with the challenge of depleted energies, Matsunyane works on her mindset. “I often find when I’m in the shower, doing my affirmations, changing how I think about something when I’m not in the mood. Instead of I have to go to rehearsal, I change it and start saying things like I get to go to rehearsal, I get to go to play. I get to work with other actors, and I get to create. Being able to play is very important to me, so even at my lowest, I always remember that I get to do this, because it’s a privilege and an opportunity that I do not take lightly.”
Matsunyane constantly draws on her father’s zest and passion. “I watched him work at home, late at night when preparing to go on set, as a director. I would see him doing all the pre-production, the preparation, planning all his shots, and I saw first-hand the effect that this had on the cast and the crew, simply because of how committed and disciplined he was. I’ve always respected that, and I always vowed that I would want to be known for the work that I’m doing, rather than for my behaviour.”
A further achievement for Matsunyane is that she is the 2022/23 Director of the Zwakala Festival, which entails curating the festival, and facilitating the acting, directing and scriptwriting workshops. The winning group will perform at the Market Theatre in October, and Matsunyane will mentor the director in preparation for this run.
Matsunyane says that she has noticed a downward trend where years ago, shooting a 26-episode series could take months, allowing for thorough production on set. “The last time I shot, it felt that the tendency now is that everything has become sort of sausage factory produced, and so a series that would have taken us 4 months to shoot for 26 episodes is now being squeezed into something like two weeks which is putting a lot more strain on the actors and crew”.
She asserts that the industry is also being infiltrated with a lot of unskilled and untrained actors who might be social media personalities or ‘influencers,’ where one is now being asked at an audition to state the number of followers you have.”
Because of this, Matsunyane points out, “It seems like talent is taking more of a backseat than before. We now have a lot of social media-based people who are being placed in the front lines of acting. Given how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am, I find that very unsettling and disheartening.”
As someone who has been outspoken about issues in the industry, Matsunyane has repeatedly felt that she was being side lined and subjected to a certain amount of gatekeeping. She adds that one of the wins of social media has been the rise of platforms like YouTube and TikTok. “Here there’s no gatekeeping. You are at liberty to produce whatever you want, which is so liberating, and it gives people an opportunity to play, and to be in control of their narrative artistically. “
A further concern that Matsunyane raises is that the current industry is very segregated. “I’m not seeing us really integrating in the theatre spaces. It would be nice if our worlds could meet more so that we fully represent South Africa in its diverseness and multi-cultural hot pot. “
As an educator at the Market Theatre Lab from January to June 2023, Matsunyane remarks how much she loves to teach.
“I think it’s a privilege to be able to help other people to reach their fullest potential and so when we speak about things like purpose, I think beyond my acting the other purpose is really being able to help other people realise their dreams and help them grow as well.
“In the teaching realm, I find younger people turning to me for mentorship. Because I felt snubbed when I was a young aspiring actress, I have vowed to commit myself to this and so I have very close relationships with a lot of my students. A lot of them I refer to other people for working opportunities and I think it’s important to have relationships with younger people.
“Younger people remind you of the fact that things change, and you need to upskill and grow. There is something that is so magical when you allow and give people the tools to grow in the craft, and so I guess in the future I foresee myself having a MoMo Matsunyane Foundation, where I empower young men and women.
“A lot of young people have a lot to say and although I’m young too, there are younger people that I’m interacting with that don’t feel seen or worthy, and that come from broken homes. I think one thing I really owe myself and part of my gift is my ability to really bring people together and to make people comfortable enough to share. I think that’s definitely one of my priorities and that’s something I hope to impart before I die.”
Matsunyane’s advice to young actors is that they should get training and agents whilst remembering the importance of call fees and rates. She feels that if someone is not willing to pay them their worth, then it means that they were never meant to be in that particular production.
She recommends the value of a financial education. “You know Black people, we invest in life insurance and funeral policies, but we don’t invest in experiences, in travelling, travelling the world, meeting all kinds of people, investing in stuff that will have worth and value in the future for you.
As she goes from strength to strength and always keeping her eyes on the prize, Matsunyane says, “I am definitely going to Hollywood. If I can make a film with Eddie Murphy and Kevin Hart and the three of us are the leads for this film, I’m going to pee in my pants.”