Saturday, April 16, 2011

My journey in theatre so far…

It is every playwrights dream in Zimbabwe to break into the Harare International Festival Of The Arts theatre program,, and more so as this festival is regarded as an international arts platform, and also drawing huge international audiences where one might possible grab international opportunity.

I remember when I wrote my first theatre script sometime back in 1998, which I gave to the now defunct Sadala Amajekete Theatre group.

I must admit that then I didn’t know what HIFA was. I was only aware of Inxusa, the arts festival pioneered by Amakhosi in Bulawayo, and run by Cont Mhlanga, which I also wanted to break into but failed to do so as Inxusa ceased to exist before I was ready. I was only able to break into other Amakhosi Theatre programs later, the National Amateur Theatre program, which is also now no longer in existence, but I will talk about that later.

Why did I write that first play in 1998? Let me try to remember. Then I had been writing prose and poetry for a long long time, and some of it was beginning to appear in our local Sunday Newspaper, and then the artistic director of Sadala Amajeke Theater, the late Clever Biggie Chimwanza, noticed that and he approached me and asked me to try my hand at writing for theatre. Never underestimate the power of your local community newspaper to also throw opportunity your way.

This was the beginning of my long engagement with theatre, which also had its ups and downs like any other human endeavour, which has finally led me to the HIFA stage. Of course there is more ahead in theatre, but I will talk about the now here.

When I wrote that first play in 1998 for Sadalala, I didn’t even know how one structures the play script, for reading and writing are two very different things, and I had to scramble and start re-reading other play scripts, how scenes were divided, and how the storyline is kept unfolding without losing the interest of the audience.

I finally came out with the manuscript THE TIME OF TROUBLE. The play was about the coming of the Ndebele people to present day Matabeleland, and led by Mzilikazi. I must say Sadala Amajeke really let me down on that play. They only managed to put on stage the first scene, which they went around showing as a teaser of their upcoming play by a new playwright going by the name of Christopher Mlalazi. But I must admit that even that one scene caught the attention of theatre lovers – it was as hair-raising as any good play could be.

I waited for many years for Sadala Amajekete Theater to complete and master the whole play and stage it – and they totally failed. They kept telling me that they were still rehearsing, ‘and if you want you can come and watch it.’

I would go to the rehearsals, and find the rehearsal room full, of both actors and people from around the rehearsal centre attracted by the play, for, like I said, the play was a stunner – everybody so much wanted to see the it fully staged. Ishmael Muvingi, one of the greatest actors/singers/dancers from Bulawayo, who is now touring the world with Siyaya Arts, was still with Sadalala Amajekete then, and he was the spine of the rehearsals coming up with breathtaking performances.

Five years later, and nothing had still been done with the play, it was still standing literally with – that one scene that was the talk of town. I must say I had become a disappointed man then. These guys had been holding up my growth in theatre for so long.

And then came another break. Sometime in 2003 Ishmael moved from Sadalala to Umkhathi Theatre, which was a wise move indeed because Sadalala were just wasting people’s time. Umkhathi Theatre is also more professionally run by their Director, Matesu Dube. When Ishmael moved to Umkhathi, he asked me to write a play for his new group along the lines of THE TIME OF TROUBLE, and I quickly scripted THE SOIL OF THE SON for them.

This play told the story of Shaka the King of the Zulu, from his birth to the time he became King, and stops there. Traditional plays fascinated me then, especially political traditional satire, because most of them ran a parallel with the political situation of Zimbabwe, and also had a universal appeal. And this new play was a completely different take from the movie Shaka Zulu starring Henry Cele that was a hit during those days, as it concentrated more on attempting an psycho –analytic investigation of Shaka’s childhood, and the reasons why he became the bloodthirsty conqueror at adulthood. I was reading Sigmund Freud during those times also.

Umkhathi Theatre were fast and efficient, and within a short time the play hit the stage, and became an instant hit in theatre circles in Bulawayo. I remember vividly one performance at Girls College in Bulawayo during their Culture Week, where I had invited Brian Jones and Jane Morris of amaBooks, my present publishers. The play received a standing ovation from the audience, and so too at Bulawayo Theatre. Ishmael Muvingi had directed the play and infused in it traditional music and dances that made it into this stupefying quasi musical drama that transported even me the writer to that bygone era of the Zulu Kingdom.

I became totally hooked into theater.

From there I wrote two plays for the Amakhosi Amateur Theatre program, THE SUN BEFORE, and AS I AM. And then I wrote another one for Umkhathi Theater, titled NKULUMANE, which was another traditional play about Prince Nkulumane, the son of King Mzilikazi of the Ndebele.

At this time I was also active in short story and poetry writing, and both were beginning to be published internationally, but I will not write on my literature exploits here.

And then in 2008 I co-wrote THE CROCODILE OF ZAMBEZI with one of Zimbabwe’s most prolific and award winning playwrights, Raisedon Baya, which was awarded the OXFAM-NOVIB PEN FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AWARD at the Hague. This was my first award in theatre, although I had been mentioned in several in my prose work at that time.

I was now in full gear, a runaway train hurtling along.

In 2010 I opened my first play at HIFA, titled ELECTION DAY. The play went on to be nominated in three categories at the 2011 National Arts Merit Award – Outstanding Theatrical Production, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It finally scooped two awards, the Outstanding Theatrical Production and Best Actor, which was a highly satisfying achievement indeed. The play was directed by Eunice Tava.

Election Day tells the story of a dictator from an unnamed African country who is losing at the polls during Presidential Elections, and all those around him have panicked and want to flee the country, at the forefront his wife and personal advisor, but the dictator is refusing to flee, saying he wants to be buried on the soil of his country. Unknown to everybody, he has an ace up his sleeve.

I first wrote Election Day as a short story which was published in the Edinburgh Review of 2005, and later adapted it into a stage play in 2007, and it got into the stage in 2010.

And now I am back again at the 2011 edition of HIFA with another play titled COLORS OF DREAMS. This play, which I hope will be as exciting to audiences as the writing process was to me, is another socio, economic and political satire. It tells the story of two families, a former money changer and his wife, and a school teacher and his live in girlfriend who is a prostitute. Both couples have been affected by the collapse and removal of the Zimbabwean dollar from the money market, and now a rumour has come into town from the money changers ‘highly placed’ connections. This rumour galvanises these two families into a trail of dreaming about their future and that of the nation.

It is April of 2011 as I am writing this article, COLORS OF DREAMS is under rehearsal at HIFA 2011 right, and I am already thinking of another play for HIFA 2012,for it is said once you start a fire, keep blowing on the flame…

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