Student Profile: Phumzile Sitole

Phumzile Nelisiwe Sitole is my full given name. A name I love watching Americans try and pronounce. I am an international student here at Columbia, from South Africa.

I draw all my strength and fuel from my country, from its people, its perseverance, its cultural fertility and the influences of my family and friends and art that have shaped me. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and my first recollection of acting creeping into my focus as a potential career path was during my High School years at St Mary’s School, Waverley, particularly under the guidance of Barry Strydom. He had mentioned University of Cape Town’s Theatre and Performance program, one of the country’s best college conservatories for theatre, as something I should look into after graduating from High School. I auditioned, I was accepted and I’ve never looked back.

The biggest influences that still trigger such visceral responses from me when contemplated were passed on to me under the instruction of Mandla Mbothwe, Jay Pather and Mwenya Kabwe. Three artists that completely injected into me the essence of what I believe theatre to be—a magical sphere that requires of the human being no less than their heart and soul’s truest arrival at the different doors that characters lie behind. After graduating from UCT and working in the industry for a year and a half, the pool felt tight and my desire to be plunged deeper into the craft sent me on a hunt to source some sort of funding to get myself to the USA in order to audition and ultimately pursue an MFA in a country known very well for its extraordinary theatre and film industry. After standing by traffic lights with friends, sending out flyers and emails and videos and the like, begging, pleading, praying, persuading—it has now been close on two years and my gratitude to all those involved with getting and keeping me in this program is truly endless.
The rewards, mostly intangible, have been life changing and career-shifting. I’ve enjoyed being challenged by work such as Sarah Kane’s Blasted and 4.48 Psychosis, I’ve reveled in the toughness and expansion of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and more recently Macbeth. A highlight has been working on a devised piece with Aaron Morton based on a South African anti-heroin Nongqawuse, a physical theatre piece, told both in Xhosa and English woven into the experience of a South African and an African American who try to identify with the idea of ancestors or a spiritual ‘invisible’ world that influences them every day. Lastly, I am currently working on an adaptation of a piece by Samuel Beckett, called Embers, in which my character is trying to find access to the fading memory of her father by speaking to him by the seaside.
The hardest part of this journey was losing my dad in a tragic car accident. I would have thought that the extremity of such a loss would be enough to ‘give up’ on this program, the distance from home, the lack of family as support, the sheer shock and unsteadiness would be ample reason to return to my home country, perhaps heal for a while, perhaps return a year or two later. However, the strength to continue with my degree, mostly God given, was also passed through me from the support of my classmates, lecturers, family and friends and the work itself. After graduating, and perhaps working for a year or two in New York, I plan to go home for a while as well as explore other countries in Europe. I think there is so much to be gained in travelling to other countries where your passion is theirs as well and witnessing how it works for them and what jewels could be passed on. As I gather, I am always mindful that the country that sowed into me, is the same one I plan to return to and sow back into. But first, to complete the course...

South Africa’s ex-president Thabo Mbeki said in a speech once that: “Those who complete the course will do so only because they do not, as fatigue sets in, convince themselves that the road ahead is still too long, the inclines too steep, the loneliness impossible to bear and the prize itself of doubtful value.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Available Date(s): 
Thursday, April 16, 2015 to Friday, May 15, 2015