Updated: Aug 21, 2020
"Our job as artists, we believe, is not to make changes in society. We don't have the ability to do that. We reflect life. We are the mirror of the society to look into. Our job is to raise questions but we have no answers."
The stage is both an escape and a mirror to human interactions. Performing arts allow one to explore, share and exchange human experience in a pure and unrestricted way. The playwright expresses themselves freely on a script, allowing actors to fully immerse themselves and bring the characters to life. That's the magic of the stage. When the performance is great and the emotions are laid bare and raw on stage, it evokes feelings from the audience that few words can express. My admiration for performance artists knows no limits, and it begins with my obsession with the creative space.
Warona Setshwaelo was born in Gaborone, Botswana and she grew up in Ethiopia, Swaziland, USA, and Botswana. Her mother being from South Africa, she's spent a lot of time in South Africa as well. Being the daughter and granddaughter of human rights activists inspired her outlook in life. Growing up, her parents were her heroes, and through them, she recognized the power in having a firm stance in what you believe in and taking action. She applied that same notion for herself, to achieve her dreams. Warona went to theatre school at Virginia Tech, in the USA. Armed with a Bachelor's Degree in Theatre Arts, and a short stint with the National Players at Olney Theatre in Maryland, she set sail for Botswana where she then participated in the first-ever Big Brother Africa competition show where she finished fourth out of 12 contestants from 12 different countries. The show was the African version of the popular international show franchise Big Brother. Big Brother Africa 1 was produced in South Africa and broadcasted live, for 106 days. The show had very high ratings with a large audience from 14-16 African countries tuning in live to watch the housemates, every day. Big Brother Africa ran for 9 seasons.
Warona is an exceedingly talented artist and a remarkable performer. She is passionately committed to her art and in case you have been wondering what she has been up to since her Big Brother Africa days, the answer is; Busy. She has been busy pursuing a flourishing career in acting, both on stage and screen. She is based in Montreal, Canada, where she lives with her daughter and partner. She has been living in Montreal for over a decade.
Warona has worked in several theatres in Montreal such as Tessri Duniya, Repercussion Theatre, Geordie Theatre, Black Theatre Workshop, The Segal Centre, Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, and Royal Manitoba Theatre Company in Winnepeg, to name a few. She has now built an impressive resume for both screen and theatre. Her talent has allowed her to explore both mediums with stunning precision, to make her mark. Her most recent performances were in Small Mouth Sounds at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts and Bang Bang, a Kat Sandler production at the Royal Manitoba Theatre. This production explores everything from police violence to systemic racism, but at the heart of it is the appropriation of stories. Her performances have had rave reviews. She is currently working in a French television series called, M'entends Tu. The show will be on Netflix, dubbed in English. She dubbed the voice of Fabiola.
Her performance in Bang Bang..below
In 2019 Warona Setshwaelo received a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Performance for her part in Reaching for Starlight, at the Montreal English Theatre Awards (METAs).
Below is her performance as Odette in State of Denial..
Warona's movie/TV roles include but are not limited to; Deadfall (2012), White House Down (2013), Quantico (2016), Death Wish (2018), On The Basis Of Sex (2018). She also did the voice of Tahira in Assassin's Creed Origins, the video game. She did additional voices for the same game in the next series all the way to Assassin's Creed IV. She was also the voice of Larae Barrett in the video game, Tom Clancy's The Division as well as the voice of Dr. Grace Maddox in Tom Clancy's Ghost Rekon Breakpoint.
Warona currently sits on the board of the Quebec Drama Federation, as well as it's advocacy committee. She sat on the board of ELAN (English Language Arts Network) from 2015- 2017. She gives back to her community as a coordinator of the Artist Mentorship Program at Black Theatre Workshop, since 2016.
Question & Answer with Warona Setshwaelo
Who is your biggest influence in Theatre?
I have a few artists that inspired me at very pivotal points in my life. John Kani was my inspiration to become an actor in the first place. His Othello is the best I have ever seen!
I had 2 acting teachers, Patti Raun and Bob Leonard. They taught me so much and had more confidence in me than I had in myself. Canadian theatre artists like Donna Michelle St Bernard and Djanet Sears also inspire me. Donald Leungo Molosi is a bright star and light. His never ending pursuit of truth and art is very inspirational!
Which stage production do you wish to be a part of?
I would really like to do something created in Botswana. But if I had to choose something already written, it would probably be We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, formerly known as Southwest Africa, from the German Südwestafrika, from the years 1885 to 1915 by Jackie Sibblies Druiry. - Wait, is this the actual name of the play?😯
Yes😄, long name. Please google it to make sure I got the full name right. The other one would be A profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun) by debbie tucker green (she spells her name in small caps).
How would you describe a normal day on set, before a show?
Being on set can be enjoyable, but it's always a lot of sitting around waiting to shoot too. I'm mostly staying hydrated and napping or going over lines in my trailer. For theatre, there is more prep; doing warm-ups and eating light. Preparing to be on stage for 2 hours takes a lot of mental prep too.
Screen or Stage; do you have a preference?
I think video games are my preference! 🤣. I love all acting mediums, to be honest, it's hard to choose. I love to do voice work too, but motion capture for video games is the best combination of theatre, voice, and film acting in my humble opinion.
Musical theatre; Yes or No?
I can't sing, so NO to performing in them. They are not my favorite style of theatre, but I have A LOT of respect for the people that create and perform in them. And of course, I do have a few favourite musicals of my own!
Two random facts about you, please
- I grew up in 5 countries but I only speak one language fluently.
- I have a cat. This was a difficult decision to make as a Motswana 🤣 but my kid really wanted one, so here I am.
- I'll give you a third fact; After my divorce, I had no job and no support system since I have no family here in Canada. I also had a 6-month-old baby. I considered moving back with my parents but decided to tough it out. I cleaned houses for 3 years to make ends meet. It was humbling but I wouldn't change it for anything. I learned a lot and grew from that experience. Now I can say I'm "living the dream", 🤣. I have to remind myself that because the dream is still a lot of hard work. I work full time as an actor and part-time as a mentor to theatre artists. I recognize how very lucky I am.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced as a black woman in acting, and how would you like them to be addressed?
OMG, how much time do you have? 😅 From lack of parts to hair to racist written works, and general ignorance, it can be A LOT. I had to cut my locks off after a hairstylist ruined them on the set of White House Down. In the early years of my career, two white actors decided to draw a picture of a black man hanging from a noose and left it out in the green room where everyone could see it. Those kinds of racist attacks and harassment have to be addressed at all levels. I have been involved in advocacy in the arts my entire career. I have seen a lot of change, but we still have a long way to go.
Recently, with the newest crop of senseless deaths of Black and Indigenous people, and the protests that have followed, a new movement called #inthedressingroom has emerged, uncovering some of the racist practices in theatre. It seems to have inspired a wave of change that I hope will be consistent and not disregarded at any point. Either way, we continue the fight, right? A Luta Continua.