Born in Durban, South Africa, and raised in New York City, Nondumiso Tembe, a multi-award winning singer, songwriter, dancer, writer and actress, who has extensive theater, film and television credits, is the first South African actress to obtain a master’s of fine arts in acting from the prestigious Yale School of Drama.
“Growing up I went back and forth from New York to South Africa, so I like to say I got the best of both worlds,” Tembe insists.
She also insists that as the proud daughter of two of South Africa’s most successful opera singers and trailblazers, “people just assumed my parents either influenced or pushed me into the business. But it all unfolded quite naturally. They taught me that the world was my oyster and I could do anything or be anything that I wanted if I would just work really hard at it.”
So growing up Tembe worked hard at trying to achieve all her dreams — no matter what they might be. “I wanted to be everything from a ballerina to a bus driver to an astronaut. I think I was very fortunate that I knew when I was very young that I had special gifts and that I had been blessed to have parents that always supported me.”
Because of her parents’ many accomplishments, Tembe says the standards were set extremely high, so she took pride in the fact that she was the first woman of color to graduate from the Yale School of Drama.
“But I took pride even more so in being the best at what I do,” she explains. “So the work that I do tends to be the best I have to offer. And as you know, the higher and higher you go in your profession, you tend to become more and more the only person of color in that room or in that space.That’s just the way it’s all worked out.”
Tembe’s theater background is extensive and has led to many of the awards she’s received over the years, including The Best Leading Actress in a Musical award for her appearance in the groundbreaking South African Musical “King Kong,” as well as a Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her portrayal of Susan in David Mamet’s provocative play “Race,” among others.
Some of Tembe’s other proud moments include singing for Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration at his home in South Africa, as well as her powerful tribute performances at the United Nations UNESCO in Paris.
Today, the multi-talented performer makes her debut at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival appearing as Cleopatra in “Antony and Cleopatra,” running in repertory with “Private Lives” through Aug. 4 on the Main Stage at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts on the Center Valley campus of DeSales University.
With all that she does Tembe says she doesn’t prefer one thing over another.
“I see them as all a part of me. It’s sort of like being a mom and having several babies. How do you choose your favorite? They’re all a part of me. They’re all an expression of myself, an extension of my creativity, and way to make a contribution to the world,” she says. “I think it’s such a blessing to be a multi-dimensional artist and to have many different tools in your tool box. And to be able to reach people in more ways than one is just wonderful.”