South Africa exports a lot of products, but not enough; as can be seen by the country’s negative trade balance. One of the commodities exported regularly is the amazing talent that South Africa has produced.
Forget about the brain drain, the talent drain is so much greater; young musicians, artists, actors, singers moving to different parts of the world to make a living. This occurs because, as is the case with brain drain, South Africa is not harnessing the talent, not using it to its full potential and not creating enough opportunity for young actors to make a living.
Moving to a different country is not an easy feat, no matter how successful you are in your field. Despite the fact that South African actress and singer, Mary-Anne Wright, had already achieved much and had written, directed, designed and starred in the successful run of Once Upon a Boundary Line at PopArt, Johannesburg, it was challenging (and, in some cases, almost impossible) to enter and make it in another country. It is like going underground and trying to tunnel your way through darkness. Then there are a couple of stars that rise up on the other side, stars like Charlize Theron, Heinz Winckler and Connell Cruise. Behind each of those “overnight” successes lies a story that can become a movie script in itself.
When Wright was selected for a musical theatre conservatory and received a talent-based part-scholarship, a journey began which she could never have anticipated. The first step after enrolment was to find accommodation in a foreign city, halfway across the world, paying in dollars while earning rands. The day of her flight, the accommodation organised fell through, but driven by her dream she decided to go anyway.
The theatre community in New York rallied together and on the way to the airport, the phone call came. She had a couch to live on, where she resided for two weeks, making lifelong friends. She then finally settled into a residence, The Markle. The next year was one of intense training, learning a lot despite having an Honours equivalent in Performing Arts from WITS. It was a life filled with dance, singing, acting and creative writing, but also a life of living on two-minute (Ramen) noodles and living in a basement apartment without windows after her lease at the residence was up.
In the second semester, due to her incredible achievements at the conservatory, Wright received a grant from a South African family trust and her life in New York began to improve. Concluding her studies she immediately entered the theatre life in New York and took up a position at St Luke’s theatre. She was suddenly surrounded by supportive people who took on the role of the family she left behind in South Africa.
Despite this position, Wright was still free to express her other talents. She was featured as an artist in an art exhibition at the Ryan Centre as part of the Hell’s Kitchen Painters, where three of her works of art were exhibited. She wrote, produced, directed and designed Things Unseen, which was performed by Mariana Bravo and Ashleigh Ware in the Dark Festival at The Tank Theatre in Time Square. The show returned as part of the Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s Winter One Act Play Festival, adding Camilla Crawford as assistant director. Things unseen featured an original song, written and composed by Wright. This song was eventually recorded and turned into a musical video, which is to be released soon.
During her time in New York, Wright also wrote a full length production called In the Wake, which is expected to be presented in New York City through the Theatre for the People later in 2015. Furthermore, Wright was approached to write and star in a short film called Remnants; filming will commence early in 2016. Painting, drawing, writing, directing and producing aside, Wright made a success of her acting and singing career in the Big Apple too, having starred in various productions, including being selected to sing the lead in an All that Jazz group number as part of the Conservatory Showcase.
This laid the foundation for many other roles, such as the lead in a JD Lawrence production, Jury Duty, performed at BB King Blues Club and Grill. She also played Ruth Otis in the Boston Tea Party Opera, performed at the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival and Audre, a French resistance fighter, in Hazard a little Death as part of the Planet Connection Festivity. Wright was also involved in immersive theatre with the world renowned theatre company, Woodshed Collective, was a South African representative for Empire entertainment for a Bloomberg corporate event and performed Shakespeare.
Currently back in South Africa for some well-deserved rest before taking on the next phase of her career in the United States, Wright ponders on the many opportunities that await her. She has big dreams and considers the hardships suffered during the first year in New York as paying her dues. Her advice to other artists who want to expand their horizons is to be certain that the entertainment industry is the only career option for them. If there are any alternatives and you could live without being on the stage, taking on this challenge is probably not the right option. For those who cannot imagine another life, it is important to stick to your dreams and not find your self-worth in the opinions of other people, even directors. If you are going to make it, it is important to know who you are and where you are going.
Wright is a big talent who has achieved much in her career to date. South Africans should keep a close eye on this young lady; she will definitely be the next South African ambassador out there on the global stage.