“Being in the arts has always been part of my life”
Whenever she is on stage magic happens. Tulimelila ‘Tuli’ Shityuwete is one of Namibia’s finest stage actresses. Leading up to the opening of Meme Mia, the biggest musical ever to be staged on Namibian soil, the Economist caught up with the 25-year-old African contemporary dancer, singer and actress who has been in theatre all her life. Meme Mia debuts on 12 April and runs until 20 April at the National Theatre of Namibia. Tickets can be bought at the NTN Box Office and the College of the Arts for N$100. Tuli has been dancing since she was four years old and even though she was a year too young to start, she begged and begged until she was allowed to go.
“I always knew that I wanted to be in theatre so I consider myself one of the lucky few; being in the arts was never a choice that I had to make, it has always been a part of my life. I have known that this is what I wanted to do with my life from the moment I was able to verbally express myself. The first show I did was with my wonderful ballet teacher Jenny Schuster. I was 7 years old and I was a sea turtle. We had to wear lime green leotards and little gold balaclavas and we had these massive shells on our backs. I was unbelievably jealous of the gold fish who had really pretty costumes and were older than us. Looking back, that was where my love of performance started; I watched the video a few years ago and I was so over the moon. I was just so happy to be on stage, I had totally found my calling” she said.
This will not be the first time that the actress is working with Director Sandy Rudd.”I started working with Director Sandy Rudd 10 years ago when we did ‘The Hot Mikado’. I was 16 and the youngest member of the cast by about 4 years. I was just part of the chorus but I was in awe and so happy to be a part of it; it’s really special to be here again, 10 years later in one of the lead roles.
When asked if she identifies herself with the character she plays in Meme Mia her response is, “Not really, but that is the wonderful thing about playing a character. Sophia Costello who I am playing in Meme Mia is a girl who grew up in a single-parent household, she has had quite a sheltered life and is very naive. She is getting married at the age of 23, has never really left her mother’s lodge and has very humble aspirations. I’m probably the opposite of Sophia”, she laughs. My parents are still in love, I left home when I was 18 and have made a life for myself in three different countries. I’m certainly not ready to get married and I have a lot of drive. We are both quite bubbly though and we love our friends and our family fiercely. I like Sophia a lot. If we ever met I think we would be friends”.
Stage performance is a cut-throat industry that this actress balances by total love and wouldn’t trade careers for. “Theatre is not for the faint hearted but those of us who make it make it because we love it. Working in theatre is rejection on a daily basis, criticism and judgement, putting yourself out there, hustling, being poorly paid or even working for free, doing several jobs at the same time, having no social life and perpetual exhaustion. Would I choose to do anything else with my life though? Hell no”, she said
Many will agree with the actress when she says the future of Namibian theatre is bright. “We are in the middle of a kind of Prague Spring of Namibian theatre. In the past five years it has boomed, attendance is up, more and more people are moving into the arts and there are some very exciting young directors, actors, dancers and creators coming up through the ranks. It is a great time to be in theatre. I think there is still work to be done in creating a market for performers; I see no point in training scores of young people if there is no work for them when they graduate but it is coming and creating one’s own niche should never be underestimated. We are coming!”