Theatre 7.11.2014 07:00 pm

Michael Riff Themba is growing up fast

FOREVER YOUNG. Michael Riff Themba plays Peter Pan in this year's Joburg Theatre pantomime. Pictures: Supplied

FOREVER YOUNG. Michael Riff Themba plays Peter Pan in this year's Joburg Theatre pantomime. Pictures: Supplied

Michael Riff Themba’s career has been on a steep trajectory so far. In his first year as a professional actor, he has had roles in Starlight Express, The Coloured Museum and Spamalot – and now he’s Peter Pan in a new pantomime about the hero from Neverland.

How has this early success affected his expectations for the future?

“In an actor’s career, you can only ever try to climb higher, so I’m not sure where I will be going from here and that’s a bit scary,” he says.

“People are still wondering who I am. I want to be known for being someone who makes a difference, not for just being a famous face. My dream is to be a theatre impresario. My biggest concern for my career – and the industry – is sustainability. I want to be creating jobs. That’s the five-year plan.”

In the short term, can he continue his current role?

“You never know,” he says.

“I’m employed for the rest of this year, but not for next year. I’d like a situation where actors can know what they’re doing work-wise two years in advance.”

FOREVER YOUNG. Michael Riff Themba plays Peter Pan in this year's Joburg Theatre pantomime. Pictures: Supplied

FOREVER YOUNG. Michael Riff Themba plays Peter Pan in this year’s Joburg Theatre pantomime. Pictures: Supplied

Themba worked as a musical director (on a production of Sarafina) while at university – another string in his bow and another suggestion that a sensible spread of skills is, for him, essential.

“I’ve always been musically inclined,” he says.

“But it was only when I was doing Sarafina that I found I could be involved creatively, including as a composer. It’s definitely something I’ll be investigating further.”

The beginning of Peter Pan: The Pantomime’s run sees the cast performing on weekday mornings to school children – part of the Joburg Theatre’s overall social upliftment strategy. Was this sort of campaign something that had any impact on Themba when he was younger?

“I was never exposed to theatre in the sense of going to a custom-designed building to watch a show,” he says.

FOREVER YOUNG. Michael Riff Themba plays Peter Pan in this year's Joburg Theatre pantomime. Pictures: Supplied

FOREVER YOUNG. Michael Riff Themba plays Peter Pan in this year’s Joburg Theatre pantomime. Pictures: Supplied

“But at primary school we’d have these roadshows that would arrive and be staged in the school hall. I remember watching Beauty & The Beast and experiencing the magic as the actors played out the scenes in front of us.

“Seeing that in front of you is very different to watching a film. It was an escape for me. I felt lucky to go to a school that welcomed those productions.

“I think that idea could do with more support from government. Stimulating children’s imaginations is so important. With these panto shows, there is interaction with the audience and I can see the kids are in the show. They want you to acknowledge their presence.”

 

 

 

 

 

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