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Springboarding to success

It’s indeed a special experience to be acquainted with a young person’s confidence and zest for life before being formally introduced to them.

The times have changed in the way that the youth is viewed and it has often been said in South Africa that we need to invest in them as our future leaders.

Lebogang Fisher is one such future leader whose unbridled passion for the performing arts has led her to a magnificent precipice of opportunity where she finds herself free to jump into her dreams. The 17-year-old high-school graduate has landed herself the rare opportunity to study acting at the New York Film Academy in the US for two years. The New Age sat down with her to find out more about the life that preceded such an incredible achievement.

Fisher recalls, very non-specifically, her early life in Pretoria with her parents Anton and Nompumelelo and brother Dumi, who, despite being younger than her, had a size advantage during their fights and always left her on the back foot.

“I remember riding my bike with him and playing with him and I remember we’d fight a lot. Even though he was younger, he was much bigger than me so he would always win. He was also much naughtier than I was,” she fondly recalls. One quality she remembers having, which is still evident today, is independence, which could only be manipulated by Dumi who got her to be his sidekick to all his misadventures.

The loving bond between the two siblings was prematurely cut short when Dumi died at the age of five as a result of a freak accident, initiated by an epileptic seizure.

“He died two days after his fifth birthday. We were living in a flat in Joburg and one of our neighbours had a bonfire going. Dumi had an episode and fell onto the fire and burned. “I had chickenpox so I couldn’t go outside but I saw them passing the window but after a while I didn’t see him pass,” Lebogang said. She was six at the time.

After this tragic experience, Lebogang experienced what seemed to be a stunting of emotional expression. Despite battling feelings of grief and guilt, as a young girl she could not find a way to let it out.

“For a while, I didn’t cry and even at the funeral I didn’t cry because I didn’t really know how to express my feelings,” Fisher said.

Following their loss, the Fisher family moved to Bloemfontein where Lebogang would find her outlet for all that she had failed to express and managed to find a way to channel her fragile emotions into something that would still offer her the enchantment every child deserves to be surrounded by. The performing arts provided her with a safe haven from harsh reality, while also comforting her in her loss.

“The next year we moved to Bloemfontein. I didn’t know anybody but I got the opportunity to make a speech in front of the school and then I got involved in playing music and stepping into the skin of other characters in school plays. Looking back, I feel like that is how I expressed my sadness.”

While the family unit was trying to come to terms with the death of a son and a brother, something unusual transpired, which would, once again, count as a major contributor to the advancement of Lebogang’s career in the arts.

Anton and Nompumelelo worked through their grief by directing all their support and affection into her and her interests – something that she still is immensely grateful for.

“My father has always worked particularly hard but I felt like I saw more of him and we’d spend more time in the afternoon just playing together. I remember that whenever I started something, one of my parents were always there. That’s something that still happens. I feel that we became closer,” she recalls with heartwarming endearment.

Along the way, Lebogang would find herself guided by so many mentors while continuing to express more of herself through acting and music. She always credited her brother with being the charismatic, gregarious one but her experience of losing him set free in her the ability to connect to people through acting, something she could not do before.

Not one to be consumed by a sense of self-importance she would take on small roles, even as an extra, until she got the opportunity to stand on the front line. She discovered that she loved acting even more. It was however an arts and culture teacher at primary school whose passion ignited her own.

Another invaluable lesson on her journey would come in the form of chess, which her father taught her to play – yet another example of the contribution her parents made to the journey that is sure to set her on a course bound for triumph.

“That’s one of the things we did in the afternoons after Dumi died, he taught me how to play chess. I have a real appreciation for being able to logically process and follow steps in order to have a positive outcome in order to win. So I don’t mind being in the back, even though I really like being in the front.

“You have to start somewhere, and you have to know what it’s like to let someone else have their moment because when you have yours, you’ll understand what it means to get there,” Fisher said.

Her mother beams with pride when she talks about her daughter and how she was determined not to force her into a direction she thought was more suitable. “She is focused with her acting. Sometimes, I will help her run through her lines and she is very finicky. I always just wanted her to do what makes her happy.”

Seven years ago the family was blessed with another son named Nkosi who now also gives her a different set of experiences to incorporate into her characters. His wish, however is just to see his sister in a Spider-Man movie.

The profound purpose of the family’s loss came to reveal itself in the most moving way when the casting directors for the New York Film Institute came to South Africa last year to recruit young talent. After being alerted to the opportunity by her agent, she prepared two contrasting one-minute monologues for the audition. Her dramatic monologue came from the movie Steel Magnolias, which portrayed a mother burying her daughter – something she knew all too well.

“I approached it in the way that I thought my mum would have approached the way my brother died. Also, even as a daughter and even as a sister I could relate. I saw first-hand what it’s like to bury your child and so it was so much easier to let the pain out and let it come through in the performance,” she said, with an uncanny maturity.

The irony the Fisher tragedy would come to reveal is that the death of young Dumi served as a divine intervention to facilitate the heights Lebogang was to reach. One could almost say that experiencing his death is what made her defining audition so sincere.

In a most unusual fashion, the school chose her straight away and Lebogang found herself at the beginning of the life she has always envisioned for herself. When taken at face value, someone as young as Lebogang doesn’t seem to have much of a story to tell and maybe that’s true.

She might not spend much time telling her story, but more importantly, she lives it.

She has managed to endure the thorns of something painful and create something beautiful, not only for herself but for all those watching her.

She hopes to take the best from her experiences and training abroad, and plough it back into South Africa as she feels that not enough is invested in finding new, young talent.