Meera Me: A tale of love & all its ugly

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By now you’ve probably seen the posters for what is set to be a memorable show. Meera Me is a multimedia experience exploring the journey of one of the cutest couples we know, Modise Sekgothe and Lerato Mbangeni. Qhakaza Mthembu caught up with the two ahead of their show at the State Theatre later this month.

What is Meera Me about? And how did it come about?
Modise: Meera Me is about our journey, how we met, our experiences and the lessons they came with. It’s about the beauty and the dirty of relationships. About us, at our most private, contrary to public perception.

Lerato: It’s about using two modes of storytelling to tell both sides (the positive and the negative) of one six year long story.

Modise: It came about through my writing about us ever since I started writing, and telling our story, perhaps from one perspective. So I wanted to open the stream and see how the entire story could be embodied with both our voices, which at times are in conflict but complement each other beautifully.

Meera Me is part of The State Theatre’s Incubator Programme. What does this mean?
Modise: The incubator program is a development initiative by the State Theatre, aimed at providing a platform for emerging voices. I was invited to be part of it and decided to explore my newest project, which is Meera Me in the space.

In your experience, have SA theatres been supportive of the development of new work.
Lerato: Programs like this one and Playriot are examples of local theatre beginning to take the small steps towards making more room for developing new work. The challenge has been set for productions that have their foot in the door to be so good that there isn’t a second thought from the theatres about whether they should continue developing new work.

Modise: To be honest, there’s a way that the theatre undermines the spoken word, but this is probably because there has not been a strong enough legacy of reputable spoken word productions that can stand as professional works in the space. So, it’s our job right now to give theatre spaces reason to be more supportive and give the art its due respect, a lot of work has been done definitely, by your team and CSP, but more work is needed.

To answer you question, I’m in this program with the State Theatre by virtue of having a relationship with Speak Out Loud, otherwise, this is in initiative that caters for artists based in Pretoria. There’s no program like this in Johannesburg, and I imagine there aren’t many other examples in other parts of the country. Also, beyond the development of new work, what’s important is the development of new artists, most theatre spaces aren’t very open to bringing in new voices, its the same people that they know that get the opportunities.

There is a beautiful photo series published to promote the play. Please tell us about it and Nhlakanipho Nhlapho.
Modise:
Thank you. I would rather not call it a play, that’s a very specific word, its poetry and visuals and melody. Meera Me strives to go against the ideal representation of relationship; it works against the aesthetic and the public image we often seek to maintain when it comes to how we want to be seen as couples.  There’s also the primary theme of how we mirror each other, how we become reflections of each other, which speaks against the tendency of pointing fingers that we all have when it comes to our negative interactions with our partners.

Nhlakanipho Nhlapo is a genius! I worked with him in Children of the Wind first and the way he sees things is amazing, he’s got powerful vision, and there’s so much poetry in what he’s able to do with a camera, as you can see in the images, so I needed that kind of lens, and I thought his was the perfect eye to allow into our deepest and darkest alleys.

All photography by Nhlakanipho Nhlapo.

Modise, this year you won the WNS Innovation In Poetry Award for Metropolar. What did this mean for you as an artist and has it motivated you to keep innovating?
Modise: Sometimes it feels like what we’re doing is worthless, to a certain extent, to the world mostly, but sometimes even to the community itself, this is a very lonely place to be. So there’s something about the message that such acknowledgements send to your subconscious that reaches through and reminds you that something big is happening, and that you’re an important part of it.

It has motivated me to keep innovating, but in a sense the innovative spirit comes naturally from having found the spoken word where it was and as an artist, wanting to take it to where it’s never been, or to do the same things in ways that supersede the previous. We are all instruments of its evolution; it’s just a matter of how much we tune in.

Who else in the spoken word scene is producing innovative work and really pushing the envelope?

Lerato: Vuyelwa Maluleke is doing great things with Black Girl Plotting.

Modise: Mutle Mothibe, has always been an inspiration for me, I have mad respect for his recent exploration of yoga in performance. I also respect Xabiso Vili, I think he has a lot of spirit, Black Boi Be was dope.

Art can be deeply personal, especially when reflecting on your own life and relationships, was it a battle to balance out wanting to put on a show like this while not giving too much of yourselves and private life away?
Modise: As a stripper, undressing is a big part of what I do, but in a sense, this was harder because I can still hide some things in metaphor and abstraction. In this instance we go into the very detail of the experiences and unpack them and talk about them as the actual events, that brings it a bit too close to home, but…we’re trusting, something says we must do this, so, we’re doing it.

Lerato: The point I think for us is to look at how, many times, people in relationships will share their happy stories with the world and social media. That causes an imbalance and it’s a form of dishonesty. Hiding the ugly paints an untrue picture so it was a challenge to ourselves to see if we can really be strippers and honest and tell the whole story.

You are definitely one of the most beautiful couples I know. How did you two meet and what has kept you together over the years?
Modise: Thank you. We met on our first year in varsity. When I saw her, I knew immediately that she would be someone I spend a lot of time with, haha…I stalked her for a few months, until I had enough information for the attack, haha…I had to do my research. What has kept us together is prayer, hahaha…no…not really. I think we’re just very alike, we share a certain kind of dream, about life and about love, and extreme levels of naivety and idealism I guess.

Lerato: I think it’s doing the admin. The dirty feelings work all the time. Like we know we need to talk about all the difficult stuff while it’s new and fresh and get it out the way. We don’t always win but we sure do try.

Do we have enough examples of Black Love? Who are some of the couples you’ve come to love and why?
Modise: We do. I can relate more to people that we know and that are closer to us because in other instances, all we have is a presentation, an Instagram account and a public façade of the relationship, and that’s not real, and this show is exactly about that, about what lies beyond the #bae, hahaha. And how there’s a whole lot of shit that goes down when a man and a woman devote themselves to each other.

Lerato: I think I work hard to make sure that I surround myself with pictures, books, stories etc that depict that so it’s a firm part of my reality so much so that it isn’t an anomaly to me. Just the norm.

Meera Me will be on at the State Theatre on 30 November and 3 December, tickets cost R80. Get all your event details here.

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