Plettenberg Bay’s Tshisa Talent project has already landed a local winner a movie role, and has hosted high profile judges such as comedian Marc Lottering, Freshly Ground lead singer Zolani Mahola and Idols winner Elvis Blue. But the energetic founder of Tshisa and Lunchbox Theatre has bigger plans to develop talent beyond Bitou’s borders.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPH Melanie Maré
An interview with South is not the only thing on Stuart Palmer’s to-do-list. Barely two days after the finals of the three-month-long Tshisa Talent project, he is back on the planks and rehearsing for a show at the Harare Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe. In the coffee shop where we meet, I am the first in a row of appointments and already the third media interview since the weekend.
“The success of Tshisa and Lunchbox, and a new family, has filled up my life significantly since we arrived here in 2007. It is such a privilege to be able to do it all here on the Garden Route,” says Stuart.
“Tshisa Talent offers performing artists from previously disadvantaged communities more than just an opportunity to develop and showcase their talent. Finalists receive development training in a range of skills that will help them pursue their dreams – including business and marketing skills, fundraising know-how, and singing and dancing lessons. The winners are given prizes that will help their promotion as artists and typically include recording time, promotional photographs, clothing, business cards and more. The whole idea is to empower them to manage their own talent and make a living from it.”
Since the first talent show in the streets of Plett in 2009, Tshisa has had a number of successes. Most prominently 2012 overall winner, Louisa Harker from New Horizons, also won the singing category of the South African Championships of Performing Arts in 2013 and last year secured a supporting role in Regardt van den Bergh’s Uitvlucht.
“While outside successes are great, it is not our primary goal. Tshisa is about helping people to stand on their own feet and to give them confidence and life skills that will ultimately benefit their families and the broader community.”
Born and raised in Cape Town, Stuart has been part of theatre groups since he was ten years old. After school he joined a local amateur dramatic society, did an acting course and landed parts in movies and advertisements.
He travelled extensively before meeting Vincent Meyburgh, a professional actor with a passion for street theatre. The pair developed several shows under the banner of Jungle Theatre Company, which still does drama workshops and educates school children. “Once I experienced the spontaneous and animated response of children exposed to live and interactive theatre, advertising roles and even the occasional movie just weren’t as appealing.”
When Stuart’s daughter Anela was born in 2007, he and wife Rhian Berning, who was raised outside Plettenberg Bay, decided to move here.
Lunchbox Theatre was established soon after to educate, entertain and employ through theatre. The schools programme duplicates Jungle’s work in the Southern Cape and has performed over 360 shows to more than 60 000 children. It also features at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.
Lunchbox Theatre colleague Mncedisi Ncedani suggested open mic shows as a way to identify and grow local talent. The concept was developed into what is today known as Tshisa Talent. “People shout ‘Tshisa!’, the Xhosa word for ‘it’s hot!’, when a performance gets them going, which is the perfect name to inspire performers to captivate and entertain their audience.”
Tshisa enjoyes support from the National Arts Council of South Africa and the attendance of high profile judges such as Marc Lottering, Zolani Mahola, Elvis Blue, Wendy Oldfield, actress Nomboniso Paile and Grahamstown National Arts Festival artistic director Ismail Mahomed.
A Tshisa Talent website, originally intended to promote competition winners, unexpectedly turned into the Tshisa Talent Agency for professional artists when an increasing number of requests for entertainment at functions were received. An additional site dedicated to the talent show is now being developed.
“My next goal is to duplicate Tshisa Talent in Knysna and George, with long-term plans to include the Eden District. We are in discussion with potential role players and hope to see this project grow so that the region’s undiscovered talent can be developed to ultimately employ and uplift entire communities. This is a dream we can all aspire to,” says Stuart.