Prince of Theatre

10 Oct 2012 in Uncategorised
Related Shows: The Miser

The stage lights have beckoned Atandwa Kani ever since he was a John Kani’s son couldn’t run ativav from his destiny, writes Christina Kennecly 0 N Twitter, Atandwa Kani refers to himself as “Prince of Theatre”. The handle may be tongue in cheek, but it’s not a million miles from the truth, since this talented young actor and playwright is descended from South African theatre royalty, as the son of the great John Kani. While he may be the progeny of a Tony award-winning actor, the younger Kani, 28, is carving out a niche of his own. He is in rehearsals for Sylvaine Strike’s contemporary adaptation of MoliPre’s “deliciously mean comedy” The Miser, which opens at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre on October 25. He recently completed a short Joburg season of his acclaimed autobiographical play, Hayani, cowritten with fellow rising star Nat Ramabulana and which he calls “our pride and glory”. Next year, he can be seen on the big screen as the young Nelson Mandela in Arrant Singh’s biopic Long Walk to Freedom, slated for release on Madiba’s 95th birthday. Kani jnr relishes working across mediums — he was also in the UK television drama series Wild at Heart and its US spin-off, Life is Wild, but regards the theatre as his first love. Growing up in the Kani household, it was almost impossible to avoid becoming a “theatre baby”. “At four years old, I was cueing my father in his 1988 production of Othello, directed by Janet Suzman,” he relates. “And then, being taken to all these events, functions and openings ... going from falling asleep in this nice, cosy theatrical space to staying awake and understanding shows. You get to a stage where you think, ‘I know nothing else. There’s nothing else I’m passionate about.”’ Trying to “run away” from what was written in the stars, he studied audiovisual production management at what is today the University of Johannesburg. But the stage continued to beckon. “I couldn’t fight it,” he confesses. His father, however, initially refused to sign his application forms to study dramatic arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, having experienced first-hand the hardships that accompany a life in the arts, but Kani jnr was determined to give it a bash. “I realised that it all sat well with me. It was a calling. It was never something I looked for; it found me, because it was where I was supposed to be.” He distinguished himself in Wits productions such as Tom Stoppard’s Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and was understandably nervous when he landed his first professional role after graduating in 2008, opposite his father in The Tempest. To make matters more intimidating, it was a coproduction by England’s Royal Shakespeare Company and Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre, and he was starring opposite South African-born actors Jeremy Crutchley and Sir Antony Sher. “I thought, ‘Why am I here?”’ He needn’t have worried: he aced the role of Ariel, and local and overseas critics were. extravagant in their praise. “I was intimidated once in my life, and that was it.” He believes it’s important for a young actor to “always be a sponge with anyone you work with; just receive and learn and clock in. It’s such an honour to work with people of great stature, and it’s your duty to learn from them.” Far from trying to imitate his father, Kani is intent on forging his own artistic voice. “How can anyone try to be the next John Kani while he’s still here? No one can do John Kani better than him. There’s no.rivalry between us. In fact, he’s so proud of what I’m doing and I’m so proud to have him as a father.” He adds: “I don’t know John Kani [the actor-director] all that well. I met him for the first time in Cape Town rehearsing for The Tempest, and then I met him when he directed me in Othello. “At home, I have my father, who’s a disciplinarian and the most fun man at the same time, who screams at us because the dogs haven’t been fed and the dishes are dirty. That’s the man I grew up with. Then he gets on stage, and I’m in awe at his talent.” Kani is looking forward to featuring in. a revival of Athol lugard’s The Island next year opposite Ramabulana and directed by his father. It was one of the roles (along with Sizwe Banzi is Dead) that earned John Kani and Winston Ntshona a joint Tony award on Broadway for best actor in the 1970s. But, for the younger Kani, success is not about accolades, and he considers the birth of his twin sons earlier this year as his greatest achievement, his most nerve-racking opening night to date. “I think only in retrospect, after death, can you say you’ve been successful in life,”. he says. “To be the best artist I can be; to be generous, receptive, hardworking; to have the discipline to maintain a family structure and friends — for me, that’s success.” ‘It was a calling. It was never something looked for; it found me, because it was where I was supposed to be’ CHIP OFF THE OLU BLOCK= Atandwa Kani at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

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