Tariro Felicity Mavondo is a Zimbabwean-born, Frankston raised multidisciplinary storyteller, spoken word artist and actor based in Melbourne. She has performed in Melbourne Theatre Company, Belvoir Street Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company as well as Red Stitch and Hayloft Project productions.
Tariro wrote and performed in Home directed by Charles Williams winning Best Australian Film at the Australian Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival in 2016. Lead female actor in short film Arrivals, Tariro was awarded best actress at the NYC PictureStart Film Festival in 2015.
Tariro Mavondo talks to The Street ahead of The Faithful Servant season.
YOU USE DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES AND PROCESSES TO TELL STORIES. DESCRIBE SOME OF THESE AND HOW THEY BRING OUT THE PERFORMER IN YOU.
I tell stories using multiple disciplines. I’m particularly interested in telling new stories that have something significant to say or stories that are not part of dominant narratives. I also really like combining disciplines like spoken word/ performance poetry with movement song and music to explore my own personal narratives and mythologies. I have found that this form of storytelling enables me to fully expressive myself and my artistry.
HOW HAS YOUR ZIMBABWEAN HERITAGE INFORMED YOUR WORK AND PRACTICE?
I thinking being Zimbabwean Australian has shaped my craft both consciously and subconsciously. Growing up in Frankston in the 90’s meant I didn’t see myself represented or reflected on Australian screens or stages so I partly became an artist so I could tell my story (which really now belongs to the fabric and history of this landscape), and make myself and those who look like me visible in the public space.
Traditionally Zimbabwe has a long history of poetry and music and dance and art was used as medicine. I think on a cellular level my muscles and bones carry these wisdoms. Just like stories are passed down from generation to generation I think my love and gift for telling stories is in my blueprint.
WHY DID YOU TAKE ON A ROLE IN THE FAITHFUL SERVANT?
I took on a role in The Faithful Servant because I really appreciate that Tom Davis, the playwright, has something important to say as a writer. I like that in this play he is looking at Australia’s relationship to Africa through foreign aid and throwing up a whole lot of questions but not necessarily providing answers which empowers the audience to think about the themes and issues he raises for themselves.
I also like that my character Caroline is African Australia. It is unfortunately not that common to play someone not too dissimilar to my own cultural identity so this is a real treat.
Also The Faithful Servant is epic, almost Shakespearean or Chekhovian in its scale, unusual for a new contemporary play and this is a big acting challenge which is hugely satisfactory as it is highly demanding on every level. Furthermore I like what The Street Theatre is about and the vibe of this place. It’s a risky play which I think has the potential of big rewards.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS IN BRINGING CAROLINE IN THE FAITHFUL SERVANT TO LIFE.
I am a very kinaesthetic actor, meaning I need to move text to bring words to life. It’s been a privilege working with Caroline Stacey – a director who is very accommodating of the fact that all actors have a different process. So I move every action that my characters make on every line and then learning lines for me is muscle memory, working on the floor with the other actors repeatedly feeding it into my body so that it becomes second nature.
Also really being clear about what the differences between me and my characters are is really useful. This enables me to find them physically in my body because of course they do not have the same mannerisms or idiosyncrasies as me.
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?
Being grounded, living and breathing the play and knowing it better than the back of my hand. I do have particular personal warm ups that I like to do but they are top secret!
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW WE CONTINUE TO ADDRESS DIVERSITY ON OUR AUSTRALIAN STAGES AND AMONGST OUR AUDIENCES?
Addressing diversity on our stages and in our audiences continues to be something we as the industry keep needing to dialogue about. It has to happen at every level. That is having more artistic directors running companies employing more diverse artistic associates, directors, writers, creatives, actors.
Committing as an industry to colour blind casting as the code of conduct when auditioning actors for roles so that the conversation is less about whether it’s believable to have an Indian father and an Indigenous daughter and more about the skill level that any given actor is bringing into the room.
I also think as an industry we need to take more risks in general and stop hiring the same people as much, give other people a fair go.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
The spoken word/ performance poetry scene in Melbourne is exploding there seems to be a poetry gig on every night sometimes more than one that’s really creatively exciting being part of that.
After The Faithful Servant, I will be part of a web series called Shakespeare Republic where I will perform a Shakespeare monologue in a contemporary context putting a very different spin on how it’s ever been performed previously and I’m looking forward to that.
I will also be co-directing a new Australian work written and devised by Western Edge Youth Ensemble about climate change that will have a short season at Malthouse later on in the year.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I’ve just finished ‘We Need New Names’ a masterpiece written by Zimbabwean/American playwright NoViolet Bulawayo. It is a compellingly unapologetic poetic telling of the events that took place in Zimbabwe in 2008 through the eyes of the protagonist Darling who is a young girl, and her friends. It is a brilliant novel that is highly political but palatable and accessible to all readers.