Alumni Showcase: Marcus Desando

Marcus Tebogo Desando: The Man and His Work

We are joined today by The Da Vinci Institute’s Masters alumnus and Doctoral candidate, Marcus Tebogo Desando – the outgoing CEO of Arts & Culture Trust. Now, newly appointed as the Director of Prince Claus Fund (Amsterdam). He is a constant fixture of South Africa’s cultural and operatic scene.


(Image supplied)


In briefly tracing back the origins of Marcus’ artistic journey, he began as a chorister, thus an operatic singing career inevitably ensued, usually a path not abnormal among choral singers, especially here in South Africa. As the years passed, Marcus started to consider charting a career path in operatic stage directing, following advice from his mentor Prof. Angelo Gobbato, to which he moved apace and, over-time, an artistic occupation he became renowned for in the country.

He was first an assistant to local and visiting international directors, where he proved his creative mettle and accordingly, became a staff director at Cape Town Opera. In his own words, Marcus accords that, “in time, I moved into the full occupation of directing operas where I had a strong belief in transporting and translating opera to our current context, whether through the subject matter or its representation.” Further, according to Marcus stage directing naturally led him to work as an administrator of different companies within the arts industry.

It may have been the tremendously enlightening influence his work had on him at various performing arts institutions, such as, Cape Town Opera and, later, The Black-Tie Ensemble (the erstwhile name of Gauteng Opera) – mostly by way of artistic-related leadership assignments – that Marcus further polished his understanding of the very craft of theatre-making and operatic singing (teaching) which he is so effective at.

Perchance, such an understanding is key for someone who continues to this day with his involvement in nurturing vocal talent and providing mentorship to future arts practitioners and entrepreneurs. It is not surprising at all, therefore, that Marcus in recent years has been reinventing himself as a leader, paying ever-increasing attention specifically to arts development and the leadership aspects thereof in South Africa.

In fact, as a Masters’ degree holder from The Da Vinci Institute, Marcus did a research study centred, as he concedes, “around leadership regeneration in the performing arts in South Africa”. Further, Marcus says, “[t]his was done with the hope, after completion, to then be able to formulate a framework that would contribute to the successful reimaging of leadership in the cultural and creative industries. This led me to my current position as a development agent, so to speak, for cultural and creative industries”.

Marcus states that the master’s research journey, which he found challenging but thoroughly meaningful, further proved and cemented his “tenacity, patience and love for conquering challenges.” Marcus accords that, “working through my master’s degree was like a period of re-discovering what my true purpose in life was, and the journey further allowed me to grow as a creative; certainly, as a leader and mentor. The Davincian way of study was also remarkable as it elucidated the pathway and propelled me towards self-discovery.”

Marcus owes his academic strides to his love for education. Teaching, which is also one of his major strengths and passions, does come naturally to him. A consequence of his dedication to life-long learning.

Having embraced teaching and learning in his life, Marcus does coach artists when his administrative duties require a little less of his energies, thus enabling him to impart some of his hard-earned knowledge and expertise. In fact, he has had the honour of being invited by the University of Stellenbosch, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Cape Town’s South African College of Music and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Opera Studio and Choral Academy – as a guest lecturer.

In theatre, by contrast, Marcus’ luminous gift is on par with the rest of his other talents; the ability to conceptualise and foresee, with great clarity of vision, how his preconceived stage designs and directions could potentially turn out.

One critic, after having seen an evening show of the opera L’Elisir D’Amore produced by Marcus in 2016, had this to say in earnest about the production: “It is a charming production directed by Marcus Desando, with a fabulous set … The set is interesting in that it is a 20th century or even contemporary village square.  It places emphasis on the timelessness of this story.” Furthermore, the critic argued that “[o]ne test of whether a performance is good or not is whether I enjoyed it or not.  I had a marvellous time. I have not seen this opera performed live and it was a treat. I left the theatre smiling, and I am smiling now as I recall this.”

That, therefore, is a compliment to the artistic prowess of Marcus. The fact that almost nothing escapes or seems beneath his sharp theatrical eye.

At some point along his artistic path, Marcus’s artistic gifts have been recognised several times. Firstly, Marcus was once a Naledi awards nominee for Best Actor in a Musical. Further adding to Marcus’ increasing recognition and celebration of his work, his opera production of Rigoletto was recorded and televised by SABC 2, a result of the success of his brilliantly conceived production.

Ever on the move, in the year 2015, Marcus brought operas of South African origin and composition, in their varied historic perspectives, to the audiences of Johannesburg (Soweto) for the first time from Cape Town (where they were well-received during their world premiere and run in 2010). Media not to be missed, the Daily Maverick’s Brooks Spector at the time referred to Marcus as “Gauteng Opera’s determined impresario” for having spearheaded such a great project.

In recent times, following the nation’s hard lockdown period with its stringent rules on mass gatherings in theatres and other venues, Marcus the impresario opened the Jo’burg Theatre 2020 season with a refreshing production, which he produced, a continuation of his theatrical curiosity and pellucid stage directing skill. By popular demand, earlier this year, Marcus’s show made “its spectacular return to the Joburg Theatre after its highly successful debut season last October.”

The other thing about Marcus is that he is a man with almost ceaseless plans, of course, and as we indicated, he is perpetually moving about. We enquired about his future endeavours, in his capacity as both arts administrator and stage director. Maybe nothing has yet been confirmed on the latter, but the former as an administrator, Marcus is the newly appointed Director of Prince Claus Fund, an organisation that is based in Amsterdam.

In its press release, Ila Kasem, Chair of the Prince Claus Fund Board, was quoted stating that, “Marcus is the embodiment of the spirit of the Prince Claus Fund. As an artist, Marcus has a cultural background to understand other artists and the importance of their development. As director of a South African development organization in the field of arts and culture, he understands the role the Prince Claus Fund must play. Both as an artist and as director he has shown vision, ambition and the leadership skills required to lead the Prince Claus Fund into the future.”

When asked about this appointment, Marcus shares enthusiasm: “I am very excited to inform The Da Vinci community that I will be moving on to this new opportunity as it promises to allow me the grace of contributing to the arts and culture globally”. Marcus remains the buoyant self that he is and continues to share his voice.

He advises our students, in his earned privilege and capacity, as one of our remarkable alumni that, “as much as most thoughts have been expressed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that yours are any less valid. So, I walk with pride knowing that my contribution has a place in the world.” In conclusion, he reminds us “that the best journey is one taken with honesty and integrity.”

An avid reader, Marcus is currently perusing two books, one called Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, and another one by Nathan Harris entitled The Sweetness of Water. In his leisurely moments, Marcus admits that his tight schedule does make him feel inundated at times, and therefore, “I try and sleep as much as possible. Besides my current employment and studies towards my Doctoral Degree at The Da Vinci Institute, I also have a private singing school or studio. In addition, I am currently doing an online course on programme management as well. So, sleep it is.”

The indefatigable element in Marcus Tebogo Desando and his tenacity always re-emerges. The Da Vinci Institute is proud of him, and may his path be filled with fulfilment and success in abundance!