26 April 2023 | Story Nonkululeko Nxumalo | Photo Supplied
Drama graduates
Theatre maestros Boitumelo Riet and Lelethu Tshangela. The two friends received their Bachelor of Arts Honours (Drama and Theatre Arts) degrees during the UFS April graduation ceremony.

Among the many exceptional students who received their qualifications during the University of the Free State’s (UFS) April 2023 graduation ceremonies, are theatre maestros Boitumelo Riet and Lelethu Tshangela. The two friends graduated with Bachelor of Arts Honours (Drama and Theatre Arts) degrees during the Faculty of the Humanities graduation ceremony on 22 April 2023. Overcoming considerable struggles, these two graduates’ remarkable talent and hard work have led them to become recognised and acclaimed theatre artists.

During their studies, Riet and Tshangela worked together on a production called Ziyakhala ke Manje, which won the Best New Young Artist Award at the Vrystaat Arts Festival.
"Winning the award was unbelievable, considering that rehearsals and scheduling didn't go as planned. We had to start afresh and get the play ready in two weeks," Tshangela said. 

"It was a beautiful surprise. The award felt like a deep acknowledgment, respect, and celebration of the entire cast's artistic investment," Riet added.

Riet and Tshangela were also part of the production team that toured with the Standard Bank Bronze Ovation award-winning SwaRingana to the National Arts Festival. Their work, developed as part of the coursework in the Theatre-Making programme, has been recognised nationally, and has been invited to perform on professional platforms.

Additionally, Riet shared the stage with fellow graduates in The Suit, a contemporary theatre adaptation of Can Themba’s iconic short story, which won the Fresh Vrynge Award at the Vrystaat Arts Festival in 2022.

Tshangela helmed Ukhetho, which won top honours at the Kovsies Multilingual Mokete, and was selected as one of the debut productions at the newly formed Mthonyama Arts Festival in the Eastern Cape. Both artists were recognised by the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts as the Best Theatre Making students at the end of their undergraduate studies.

Passion for performing

According to Riet, she inherited her artistic inclination from her mother. Together they engaged in various playful activities such as singing, dancing, and storytelling. These activities sparked her love for entertaining from a young age, and she always knew that she wanted a career that would allow her to express herself in impactful ways and positively influence her community.

For Tshangela, her passion for performing also started at a young age. She enjoyed singing, but despite initially not considering drama as a career, receiving an acceptance letter from the UFS to study Drama and Theatre Arts reminded her of the joy she had felt during a school play. “It felt natural. It was like I could do this every day, portraying different people and telling stories. That acceptance letter became a sign of my destiny,” she highlighted.

Both suffered the loss of a parent during this time and faced considerable financial challenges due to limited funding. However, these resilient women persevered, excelling, and coming into their own as phenomenal and now award-winning theatre artists and academics.

Plans for the future

Looking ahead, Riet plans to continue creating radical and relevant theatre, writing poetry, and performing on notable stages. Additionally, she aspires to establish a storytelling centre.

“I’m planning to direct, produce, and perform more professional theatre productions. I’m also looking to travel overseas, further my studies to PHD level, but most of all, I plan to open a theatre company where I can introduce the craft to my hometown in the Eastern Cape,” Tshangela said.

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