Themba Stewart on mastering all the arts of the theatre

07 February 2016 - 02:00 By Margaret Harris

Themba Stewart, production and venue manager for the Magnet Theatre in Cape Town, talks to Margaret Harris about his work What made you want to do this job?I was always interested in giving life to stories, so I studied theatre-making, which encompasses everything from writing, directing and designing to the technical application of these ideas.When I started professionally, I realised that I could not afford to hire a production manager, so decided to do that work myself. It helps to be able to do many jobs for theatre to be a viable occupation. Production management gives an overall understanding of the industry, from creative, to technical, to administrative. Luckily, I found that I was adept at managing productions; it was a niche that needed to be filled in the industry.story_article_left1Take me through a typical day when you are working on a production.I open and ensure the space is clean for the performance; check that all set and technical aspects are working; make sure the actors have arrived and warmed up; give time calls from an hour before the show; check that the front of house is ready for patrons; give stand-by calls; open doors and introduce the show; call the cues for the show and run it; shut down all the equipment once the performance is over; close the theatre; and write a daily report, which I send to the production crew.What did you do before working at the Magnet?I studied theatre-making at the University of Cape Town and then worked as a production manager. I was also part of the team that organised and auditioned the performers for the fan parks during the 2010 World Cup. And I was the production manager for the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts, running multiple live-art festivals around Cape Town.I have travelled extensively with shows, both nationally (Grahamstown, Joburg, Durban, Hilton, King William's Town and Clanwilliam), and internationally (Spain, Brazil, Japan, France, the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands).How did you become part of the Magnet Theatre?I was taught by both Professor Mark Fleishman and Jennie Reznek, directors of the Magnet, and have been inspired by their shows, which are always poignant and current. The first show I remember watching in Cape Town was a Magnet Theatre show called Onnest'bo. The show stayed with me and gave me a taste of what good storytelling could be. After I graduated, I asked Magnet if there was a job open, but they had nothing. A few years later, once I had started making a name as a manager, they offered me freelance work to run a show. This developed into touring with their shows and eventually working full time as production manager.story_article_right2What did you want to be when you were a child?I am not entirely sure. I liked to play and create, as most children do, so theatre seems to be the perfect translation for that. I did break apart machines and lamps to see how they functioned - maybe that is the base for my technical affiliations. I also wanted to sing, but then my voice broke and I lost that drive, but it brought me into performance, which is exactly where I should be.What qualities do you need for your job?Patience, flexibility, on-your-feet troubleshooting abilities and being able to always have a calm demeanour.What advice do you have for young people keen to follow a career in theatre?Determination and discipline. The hours can be long and demanding. You also need to be willing to work hard and with enthusiasm in order to be appreciated for your talent. And you need to just get involved in any way you can in a theatre space. You should also enjoy being in and watching theatre...

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