Breaking the Generational Curse
A column for our alumni series by Sibusisiwe Mzizi
Where do I even begin to explain the impact that the creative arts has had on my life? The arts has been a protector, a guide, a safe haven and so much more to me since my earliest years on this earth. Even now, as a psychology student, I depend on the lessons I once learned in the drama classroom.
I have always been the quirky, loud and ‘larger than life’ kind of person. However, growing up, I never realized my potential or saw myself as special in any sort of way. I didn't think it was possible for someone who looked like me – literally, a fat African child - or someone who thought like me, to find a place where I belonged. A place where it was okay to be unique. For many of us, the creative arts was that place where we could harness different talents that we didn't even know we had. I will never forget how Chenoa, who was in a younger year group than us, would help out with all the backstage aspects of every performance we did at our school... and it amazes me that this has literally paved the way for her to begin a career in production. Those performances were a place where we would learn to do more and be more, where we were forced to be disciplined in our actions yet free in our minds. Most importantly, it is where we learned to find and believe in our own strengths and use them to catapult us into better and brighter versions of ourselves.
Editor's Note: This video is from my personal archive. Every time I watch it (or even think of it) I cannot help but guffaw. Not laugh. Not giggle. Guffaw. This is only a small snapshot of how our ensemble operated. Nothing but hilarity and family vibes. PS: I can officially confirm that it was indeed her fault that day! Now, back to Sbu...
When I was asked to write this piece for co|laboratory in conversation and focus on how the creative arts has impacted my life, the only word I could think of was gratitude. I am eternally grateful for not turning a blind eye to one the best forms of self-expression I’ve ever known. Although I have not continued to pursue a career in creative work, my career in psychology needs every, single lesson that I have learned from the arts. A classic example was when my drama teacher would stand at the back of the school hall and tell us that ‘Granny Mabel’ at the back needs to be able to hear us just as clearly as the person sitting in the front row. I loved that! And she was right - the same rule applies for any form of public speaking one might find themselves requiring. Whether you are addressing an audience in a boardroom or a lecture venue, or learning how to take and apply criticism or even just being courageous enough to speak out about important issues like mental illness. The creative arts has helped me believe in the most central element of life: me. I know that it might seem silly to some of you, but the truth is that many of us find it difficult to believe in ourselves. Confidence and conviction is a daily struggle. Lauren Noble had to practically force me to sing on stage for our Matric production of ClueDon't - it became one of those defining moments that finally made me accept the fact that I had something else that I was good at. Drama necessitated a lot of introspection: learning to appreciate the things I could do and learning from the things I was not so good at. In order for me to effectively help others as a professional in our mental health community, I simply had to believe in myself and my abilities first.
Whether you're working alone, in a group setting or presenting your own academic research in front of a panel of judges, the lessons you learned from the creative arts will always be with you. You literally cannot run away from them. I often draw parallels with the lessons instilled in us during drama lessons. One such lesson is from the Stanislavskian acting methodology because it was almost a methodology for counselling too: the act of being able to put yourself into another person's shoes (as you had to with your character) in order to fully understand the source of their trauma and their pain. Had I not been exposed to that during my years of studying drama, it would have made my learning experience so much more difficult at university. That is one of the main ways that drama has supported me in my journey through tertiary education and within my psychology degree. It has helped me to understand the barrier between myself and another person's feelings. It has helped me to acknowledge why and how I should separate myself from the other person, just as an one does with a character once the rehearsals and final performances are over.
So, maybe this is more a message for the parents? If you ever find yourself questioning or conflicted about your child's intention to become a part of the world of the creative arts, I hope you can take away one small piece of advice from this blog post: Drama and its associated artistry is so much more than what you see on the surface. You have to be willing to learn, willing to push yourself in ways that you never imagined possible, and you need to be willing to do better each and every time. That is a lesson that everyone needs to learn. So, IF your child comes to you for advice, instead of turning them away from the creative arts, you could embrace their decision and allow them to become part of that world even only for a while. After all, there are far too many children who end up hating themselves because so much of their life is devoted to the effort it takes to be anything other than their authentic selves.
I think what I'm trying to say is that I encourage you be that parent. The parent who fetches their kid at night after a long rehearsal. The parent who screams louder then anyone else in the building when their baby does their final bow. The parent who just has to buy all the feathers and diamonds and sparkles for their child who is playing the tree. The parent who respects their children enough to break the generational curse that might have taught you to misjudge creativity or underestimate arts education in the first place.
© Sibusisiwe Mzizi for co|laboratory | 2021
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