Saturday, November 17, 2012

The State of Theatre in Masvingo (Zimbabwe) through the Eyes of David Dzatsunga - Siya Cultural Theatre

After travelling through Mashonaland East and Manicaland provinces Grace Maguri and I finally reached Masvingo late at night on the 8th of January 2008. Early the next morning on the 9th of January 2008 we hooked up with David Dzatsunga, director of Siya Cultural Theatre.

“And obviously the thing that has to happen is change; political change. If there’s a change in our political dispensation, if we have a new way of looking at life, a new way of looking at ourselves as a people, a new way of appreciating diversity of opinion, until that happens, I don’t see that being easy for us to build a vibrant culture of theatre” (Dzatsunga, 2008)

Samuel Ravengai:       Obviously theatre is not as vibrant as it was in the yesteryears. Tell me how it was in the yesteryears and how it is like today.

David Dzatsunga:        In the yester years, we are talking about the late 80s and the bulk of the 90s. It was possible to run a club. You could go out and hold performances in schools, colleges and other institutions. You could also get funding from NGOs. You could be commissioned to do productions. Some NGOs involved in some outreach work, and even government departments, used to hire us for Theatre in Education campaigns like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, family planning and things like that. So really, there was a diverse source of funding which made it possible for us to maintain a full time theatre arrangement where we all pay our actors and actress. They were reasonably happy and did not see any need to seek alternative employment. And, then of course, we could perform anywhere we felt like. Basically, that was the environment that we operated in then prior to the period that I was talking about.

SR:       What went wrong?

DD:      Probably the umbrella word is politics. With all these development to do with the land reform, the advent of the vibrant opposition party, the MDC, and the various pieces of legislation that have been described as rather draconic. The environment in fact, immediately became rather stifling for theatre practitioners. There was POSA where you were saying now you couldn’t just automatically find yourself with a gathering of people without explanation to the authorities. There was AIPPA sometimes we were told that our plays needed to be censored and the relevant ministry needed to know what was in our plays. And then the schools themselves were not very open. They could not independently give our groups slots to perform to the students. They needed some clearance either from the National Arts Council or the regional directors, or such authorities. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to access institutions which used to sustain theatre clubs. For some time, we went off the bill because the problem now had to do with the NGOs Bill which I think had provisions that regulated the funding of organizations. So it became very difficult really, to access these NGOs and as a result we discovered that we could not get out productions commissioned by them. Resultantly, we could not pay actors as constantly or remunerate them meaningfully, and so we did not run rehearsals. Actors increasingly became hungry, and with the hunger we had a lot of conflicts within the actors or among the actors as a result of misunderstanding of the cause of our distress. It was like the blame game where we are now saying, like what has been happening in certain political situations where you blame this tribe B for your poverty. It’s all politics. So we ended up having all these conflicts in the groups, and naturally, the groups disintegrated. All actors started moving away from the town going to South Africa. Like in our particular kind of place, you have South Africa as a lure for most young people. So we have quite a number of our actors just migrating to that country. Others tried to go into chikorokoza, as we call it, so they would just come into town spend the whole day in a queue, buy some sugar for resale and things like that. And in our case also we have Harare-Beitbridge highway which is quite lucrative for some youths who have the energy to go out there at night and probably buy fuel from long distance haulage trucks and things like that. Foreign currency deals. Some of them made it as a result of that. They became better off than they were as theatre artists, and it has become very difficult to bring them back into theatre because there really is nothing on the ground to show that there’s hope for theatre in this particular place.

SR:       Now that’s why you come to the conclusion that theatre is not as vibrant as it was in the 80s or early 90s so to speak?

DD:      Yes, largely because there were many theatre clubs competing for a name. In this town alone, small as it is, you could have five or four theatre clubs, and there were always theatre clubs sometimes mushrooming and dying. But there was a vibrant theatre industry to the extent that you could actually say unionise. At some time we thought we could unionise theatre as artists in order for us to be able to bargain meaningfully with the other stakeholders for example, those who were commissioning us and those who were giving us jobs.

SR:       Now, you raised a very important issue which wasn’t an issue in the 80s and 90s, the rise of a vibrant opposition political party. And you are saying it has got a bearing on this death of theatre in Masvingo and probably at national level. Would you like to explain how that brings about that scenario?

DD:      I believe that with the rise of that development, what the ruling party, or the government rather, I think became paranoid because this party had a lot of urban support. And as a consequence, there was need to legislate against any perceived support or activities that may be deemed to support this opposition party. Government now wanted to control information dissemination because it was not going to be possible now to simply write what you think, put it on stage and perform it to an audience. And it became increasingly important to government to make sure that the content and movement of information was in their control. So I believe again that’s where AIPPA comes in, that’s where POSA comes in, that’s where all these other instruments that have been legislated come in to control the movement of information. Or even the NGOs bill, government was now of the perception that most NGOs had their sympathies with the opposition, and most of the NGOs that supported theatre were in one way or the other involved in governance.  And theatre as a tool for information dissemination naturally requires that you gather people, and gathering people becomes something that is threatening to the government.

SR: Now, would you like to be more particular, especially as it regards to Masvingo or theatre groups that you know that were directly affected by these pieces of legislation? Do you have any particular examples?

DD:      An immediate example would be our own club, SIYA Cultural Theatre Club. Our thrust as a club, and my thrust as a writer, has always been protest theatre. We are saying ‘okay we have plays that try, from our own perspective, to mirror the society as we saw it and to probably put across what could be considered controversial issues’. We deal with things to do with corruption, elements to do with land and all these things that concern people’s lives and which people talk a lot about with regards to their own rights. We have times when we worked with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation. We had a play that we had done, Tafi, which is short for Tafirenyika. That was in 1999 where we were looking at the plight of the ex-combatants before they became aligned to the ruling party. But we were simply looking at the fact that there was neglect of ex-fighters, and some of them had actually degenerated into hoodlums of the city and most of them were victims of corruption in high places where you find that the leaders in power were deliberately neglecting them. We are simply looking at neo-colonialism per se. So in that play we were commissioned by ZimRights to perform that play. We took it around the province then in 1999. I remember during those days we always had the CIOs as guests of our performances. They were always around, following us around.

SR:       Did they in any way physically, directly or indirectly try to stifle you?

DD:      No! They were just there. You would feel that their presence was not welcome because it was intrusive. And you could tell that they were trying to intimidate us by simply being present in their dark glasses, quite conspicuous all the times. So you wouldn’t feel comfortable in that kind of situation, especially if you were knowledgeable about their track record.

SR:       We all know what they were doing, particularly during the 80s early 90s.

DD:      Ya, ya! Personally, I also happen to have had that kind of experience. I happen to have been arrested by them at some time. During the days of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, I was perceived to have probably campaigned in a class room. I was taken to their offices, close by here. I spent about three days in there. I was interrogated intimidated, humiliated and so forth. But I’m saying I have that prior experience. But I continue writing because writing is a dream, so you cannot censor yourself. The moment you want to be insincere, you find yourself failing to really bring out the artist in you.

SR:       Let’s come to your writing. Apart from Tafi which you did in 1999, what else did you do?

DD:      Voice which we did in 1992. It dealt with disability awareness. But it was political as well, the politics of disability if you like. I wrote the one titled Sungai Dzibate. It had to do with the ESAP, the whole question of ESAP where the president was urging us to tighten our belts.

SR: Anything else?

DD:      In 1993 I did one that entered for National Winter Festival, under the auspices of Masvingo Drama Circle, titled Nhamo/Troubles. We were collaborating. My school was collaborating with Masvingo Drama Circle and I’m sure we won the Dominic Convent Trophy for developing Zimbabwean theatre.  The National Winter Festival as you would know was mainly an elite festival, mostly for the whites. We entered it as a community theatre production that was then adapted to a proscenium arch stage.

SR:       Now, you seem to be silent about 2000 to 2008. Could what you’ve been talking about partly influenced that lack of vibrancy, liveliness of theatre?

DD:      Ya! From 2000 onwards it became very difficult to bring actors together, that was the major impediment.

SR:       So can we say for you it’s a dry patch, 2000 to 2008?

DD:      Ya, it’s a dry patch. I did a bit 2000. I’ve done a few works here and there but really, it’s the lowest ebb of my career.

Grace: After Nhamo/Troubles what other productions do you have?

DD:      There are quite a number. I do have scripts for some, but some were just improvised by the actors when they were on stage. I can write them anytime, whenever I want to script them. I did one which is Idler’s Corner. Idler’s Corner is based on the days when we had the Daily News and The Herald. It’s looking at media polarisation, and the politics that is being played in the media.  You have characters on both sides of the political divide, each trying to justify their own, why they support this side and not that side.

SR:       Now, have you performed this?

DD:      We performed it here at the Charles Austin Theatre, again at the National Winter Festival. We were asked by the Drama Circle to come and perform as guests. But we have also performed it for audiences here, in and around Masvingo, mostly between 2000 and 2001. ... I have also done Matroubles which is looking at the youths and HIV/AIDS.

Grace Maguri:            (interjecting)   Can I ask about other drama groups that you know? You now are talking about your personal experiences. But what have you also seen about other drama groups? Are they any drama groups that the establishment has used?

DD:      Not that I know of. I know there have been drama clubs, but mostly the establishment does not like using drama clubs. They would rather use dance clubs. ...So when you try to perform at their events as a drama club, they are not comfortable. But if you are going we have Heroes Theatre Company here.  I wouldn’t say they support the establishment, but what we have discovered is that because they dance Imbube and other dances. They are from Bulawayo actually, but they came and settled here.  They do get jobs to perform at national events and for the establishment here and there, simply because they sing and dance. But for those of us who have a mind and who would like to say things, it’s not easy to then find a stand to perform on these events. So that’s what I can say. I can’t think of a drama club that has really endeared itself to the political leadership of the province on the ruling party side.

Grace: What’s your way forward?

DD:      Personally, it’s very difficult to see under the current environment how best we can go forward. I know it will really take a lot to bring actors back to the rehearsal room and back onto the stage, because really unless there’s funding coming from elsewhere, not really to believe that can be channelled towards an effort to build an audience, until that is done. I don’t see theatre really reviving out of the efforts of the artists here on their own. The artists need some help, they need a helping hand. They need to be brought back on to the stage.  There are there. Even today, if you were going to say you want a production and you want us to do some work for you, it wouldn’t take me a day to gather artist who are rotting in the townships there and come up with a production. It’s not a problem as long as there is an incentive. It’s a question of saying you guys there’s so much money for you, let’s do this. So really, I believe that the only possibility for the revival of theatre especially in this town lies in some Good Samaritan probably coming down here to fund some activities. That may then convince artists that there’s life.

SR:       Or probably when the economy improves.

DD:      And obviously the thing that has to happen is change: political change. If there’s a change in our political dispensation, if we have a new way of looking at life, a new way of looking at ourselves as a people, a new way of appreciating diversity of opinion, until that happens, I don’t see that being easy for us to build a vibrant culture of theatre.

Samuel Ravengai (Interview inside my car: Masvingo CBD)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Maninzi Kwatshube Shocks Zimbabwean Theatre Audiences with Mabaso’s Black Threat

Samuel Ravengai
A second year University of Cape Town drama student, Maninzi Kwatshube, brought a moving piece of theatre to the Savanna Trust hosted festival, Protest Arts International Festival (PAIF). This is the fourth edition of the festival and it ran under the theme ‘Imagining and Re-Inventing the Future’. When Maninzi heard about PAIF, she thought there was no better opportunity to protest against African notions of beauty.

Maninzi collaborated with Nkule Mabaso, a fellow UCT Fine art student, who made the braids (which Maninzi used as part of the props) for her BA project. Maninzi took it upon herself to create a performance using the material that Mabaso had provided. Maninzi played Rapunzel, a character who represents Nkule Mabaso. Rapunzel is trapped in a desolate and unforgiving environment. She explores the female experience of the city, negotiating the fragile balance of fear and survival, of wanting to be desired and the fear of being desirable.

Zimbabwean audiences are ‘haunted’ by the ghost of previous performances at Theatre in the Park. All performances that come to this venue, with a few possible exceptions, use dialogue together with other performance forms such as dance, mime and song. On 27 October 2012, Zimbabwean audiences brought with them the residue memory of those previous performances, which they obviously wanted to use to appreciate a new performance coming from South Africa, Black Threat. However, they had a rude awakening when they were confronted by a performance that began and ended without a single word spoken. Maninzi, playing Rapunzel, never mimed, danced or sang. She chose to be a slave to the properties that adorned the set.

Black Threat proposed new distinctive conventions, that is rules imposed by the performance itself and hence unknown to the audience. The beauty of distinctive conventions is that they add a new experiential memory for future use. In this new theatre, at least to Zimbabwe, it is no longer the story/plot/action, but the ‘game’ that becomes the generative matrix. In Black Threat, the game involves applying makeup, wearing a wig of braids and playing with it till it infuriates Rapunzel. The audience left with a number of questions. What was it they had just seen? Was it theatre or not? What kind of theatre? Can theatre take place without recourse to the spoken word?

In the performance Rapunzel’s hair represents all the repressive elements that hinder her femininity on the one hand and on the other hand, the hair functions as the gross bodily extension that is meant to increase her attractiveness. The hair also functions as a tower of conceit and self-hatred from which she must escape as her hair keeps her imprisoned in a cycle of self-hatred and ill-confidence.

When the audience got into the venue, the performance had already begun, contrary to tradition where a performance begins after the audience has settled. Rapunzel, played by Maninzi was sitting on an African reed mat applying makeup on her lips, eyes, face, body and legs. Faint warmers illuminated this figure in the centre of a theatre in the round.

The door leading to the set was made of plaited braids. Each member of the audience touched these braids as they entered the space, giving the braids a ritualistic significance quite unsettling for religious audiences. The braids extended to the ground and wound around an opened makeup box revealing all the paraphernalia, from which Maninzi occasionally drew more makeup.

There was a pre-recorded audio playing from a computer which was visible on set and operated by a person visible to the audience. It was a chat between Nkule and Nkanyisile which was recorded in one of the University of Cape Town residences. They were talking about African and Coloured identities as they were defined in the 1950 Population Registration Act. What came out was the segregation amongst Coloured communities. The standard preferred identity was the Coloured with straight long hair typical of population groups with Malay blood. Coloureds with black parents were ‘othered’ in both Coloured and Black communities. Nkule and Nkanyisile laughed, cried, complained, despaired and celebrated in the background. No visuals were used.

While the audio chat was going on, Maninzi pursued action of a different type, not based on satisfying a want, but playing a game with braids and pants hung on the line. When her figure was fully illuminated, she set facing the entrance and applying more makeup. She knelt down, head on the ground, in what seemed like a prayerful gesture and began to worship the braids. She did it a few more times and ended the routine with a burst of energy which loosened a loop and released the braids from the door.

 The rest of the performance centres around Rapunzel fashioning The Black Threat (title of the mass of artificial dreadlocks) into a dress that she climbs into and lounge around in, and admires her beauty and desirability until she realizes that is she is trapped and needs to escape but there is no escape, and so she exhausts herself fighting the towering dress she has built until she is free but only to start all over again in different spaces that represent different ills. The things that make a city more familiar and less alien are not the concrete or other physical markers, but the relationships and the people and the associations we make with that place.

It was an excruciating experience where an object of adornment turned into an object of horror and torture. A member of the audience sitting just above me couldn’t hide his exasperation and shouted ‘women are in trouble!’ I felt the urge to stand up and relieve her of the weight she was carrying, but remembered it was a performance. At that moment, another shocking experience happened. Maninzi decided to take off the cloth wound around her body. This revealed her whole body with only a brown tight pant covering the essentials. This was quite unsettling for a conservative Zimbabwean audience. The closest, a performer came to nudity was when Tinopona Katsande took off her g-string and threw it on the floor as she maintained her position inside the blankets, while playing in Noel Marerwa’s Hot Water Bottle. Maninzi dressed up in pink bra and pants in full view of the audience. She put on a leopard skin coloured trousers and matching high heeled shoes. She started modelling in this costume nearly falling on several occasions. She seemed to attack all symbols of African feminine beauty. Hair and its connection to attractiveness plays a large part of how black women project themselves out to the world and into the future. The underlying implications of the fake hairs that they adorn and the unconscious or conscious desire to resemble white women in order to be seen as attractive and socially acceptable is problematised.

Maninzi finally decided to put on a matching top, but with each attempt, the long braids prevented her from wearing what she wanted to. She tried several times and realising the futility of the exercise, she started stripping again violently. She turned the makeup box upside down scattering its contents all over the set. She removed the braids and threw them in a heap together with the high heeled shoes. She wound a cloth with ethnic colours around her head leaving the top part revealing her trimmed African hair. The blouse could now fit her body. The audience sensed the end and clapped hands bringing closure to the show.

The idea was to refocus on the ‘traditional’ ideas of beauty and its construction; how black women define their attractiveness through foreign standards which effectively ‘other’ them.  Was this theatre, the audience wondered? Mabaso calls her piece ‘contemporary performance’, while others call it ‘live art’ or ‘performance art’. Theatre of a physical nature has been taken as ‘contemporary dance’ and relegated to dance spaces such as 7 Arts in Avondale. This has limited its scope of penetration in Zimbabwe. Lloyd Nyikadzino is now involved in various workshops to train Zimbabwean theatre makers in the art of physical theatre. Stanley Mambo, through Conquered Plans has attempted to mainstream physical theatre. Ravengai has already directed Tirivangani and is currently deconstructing Magwa’s Njuzu [Merman] to create theatre of a physical nature. Maninzi’s Black Threat has introduced a new creative vibe that could see Zimbabwean theatre moving into a fundamentally new direction.  




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From the Squalor of Shanty Towns Hopley Farm Thespians Theatre Company rises to the Occasion with Tirivangani

Sometime in July 2012, I received a call from Noel Marerwa, a Harare based playwright, inviting me to direct a play he had just penned called Tirivangani. He had given full rights to a squatter camp based theatre group, Hopley Farm Thespians, to perform it and the group had begun rehearsals in earnest. I was reluctant to direct it. Soon I started receiving calls from the leader of the group, Yvonne Bosha, wanting me to see their work in progress. I was still reluctant to be part of the production, less for snobbish reasons than for financial rewards. I finally agreed to a meeting in the CBD with two members of the group and Noel Marerwa. I was touched by the plight of the group and I immediately agreed to work with them for nothing. I only agreed to conduct rehearsals at the University of Zimbabwe Beit Hall if the group could avail itself to that space. I thought the group would give up on me. From the squalor of Hopley Farm, performers were immediately exposed to the splendour of the Beit Hall with its raised stage, wooden floors and glowing lights.

Background to Hopley Farm Thespians Theatre Company
Hopley Farm, where Hopley Thespians reside, was officially designated a settlement area in 2005 to accommodate former residents of Porta Farm who were evicted during Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) in May 2005, although a number of people were already living there informally. The operation, which was carried out in winter and against a backdrop of severe food shortages, targeted poor urban and peri-urban areas countrywide. In a critical report released on 22 July 2005 the United Nations (UN) estimated that in the space of approximately six weeks some 700,000 people lost their homes, their livelihoods, or both (AI and ZLHR 2006)

Porta Farm squatter settlement was itself established in 1991. In 1991 thousands of people living in informal settlements around Harare were forcibly evicted by the Harare City Council, acting under the direction of Ministry of Local Government and Housing, and moved to Porta Farm, a plot of unused agricultural land on the outskirts of Harare owned by the City of Harare. The forcible relocation of people to Porta Farm was part of an exercise to “clean up” Harare ahead of a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held between 16 and 21 October 1991. Alfred Musabayana, who plays Tirivangani in the play, was collected from Mbare bus terminus together with his mother when he was a little boy and moved to Porta Farm. Marlene who plays Shandirai/sangoma/housewife was collected from Mafakose while Yvonne Bosha who plays as aunty was collected from Epworth. All of them were children at that time.

Those relocated to Porta Farm were told by Harare City officials that their stay there would be temporary and Harare City Council, with the assistance of central government, would permanently resettle them elsewhere. While some were resettled by government at Dzivarasekwa Extension in 1992/38, the population of Porta Farm grew over the years as new people – many made homeless as a result of other forced evictions around Harare – moved to the area. At the time of its destruction in 2005, Porta Farm, was home to between 6,000 and 10,000 people (AI and ZLHR 2006).

Following the destruction of Porta Farm many community members were forcibly relocated,
first to Caledonia Farm Transit Camp and then to Hopley Farm, where they were left with no shelter and almost no means of accessing food. Initially the government refused to allow the UN and humanitarian organisations to provide assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Hopley Farm.

Sometime in 1999 CHIPAWO, World Vision and Inter-country Aid sponsored an arts festival at Hopley Farm. One of the benefits of the arts festival was the release of a creative vibe which led to the formation of Hopley Farm Thespians in 2004. When formed, its main focus was on the use of applied drama and theatre to solve day to day problems of the Hopley community such as health and sanitation, encouraging children to go to school and some such developmental themes. After scoring a number of successes within the community the group thought of becoming bigger by handling more global themes that would appeal to a wider audience outside their community. For the reason that Hopley Farm Thespians Company has chosen to go global, they can no longer be critiqued through the lens of applied theatre theories. Applied theatre assumes that all theatre originating from an underprivileged community is for social development and, therefore, concerned with rural or community projects with a revolutionary ideological leaning.

Tirivangani followed a different model. It did not follow the travelling theatre approach where a company takes theatre to the people as was the case the universities of Ibadan, Makerere, Nairobi, Malawi, and Zambia. The travelling theatre group might or might not organise workshops for and hold discussions with its audiences; the important point is that the audiences – who are the community – are not involved and do not participate in the playmaking process. It also did not follow ‘the outside team workers approach’ where a group of people goes to a community, stays with that community, listens to and observes the people’s main problems and concerns, exchanges opinions with the people and then goes back to base to make a play on what was seen as the major themes arising out of the discussions and observations. The resulting play is then brought back to the community – written and acted by people from outside. Neither did the theatre company use ‘the participatory approach’ where a theatre group comes to the community and listens to the community’s problems and discusses them. However, instead of moving away from the community to evolve and make a play around the issues arising out of the community, the group stays with the community with whom it makes the plays. A much higher level of community participation is when the community itself takes the initiative to create theatre and invites people outside their community as was the case in Kenya with the Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre (KCECC).

Hopley Farm Theatre Company simply operated within tough commercial framework of urban economies by hiring a professional director (who however, discharged his duties free of charge) and a professional playwright. The UZ department of theatre arts did not charge the group for using its facilities in order to encourage more of these synergies in future. The reasons for these choices are several. It was hoped that performers would see immense possibilities while working in a relatively modern and complex production facility such as the UZ Beit Hall. The show was performed to an intellectual audience at the University of Zimbabwe on 26, 27, 28 September 2012 in the evening and 2 October 2012 at 1pm and 7pm. After every performance there was a post-performance discussion with a predominately theatre trained audience. The cast was appreciated generously and this served as a confidence booster to a cast with a shanty town background.

On the 1st of October, the ZBC News crew caught the performance of Tirivangani live at the Beit Hall and conducted interviews with cast members and the director. On the 8th and 9th of October 2012 Tirivangani was on the headlines of arts and culture news on ZTV and radio. This is the kind of exposure that the theatre group would not have achieved had they worked in their Hopley farm habitat.

Tirivangani is set somewhere on the Zimbabwean plateau in the 1890s. The story unfolds by following the exploits of a local hero called Tirivangani, played by Alfred Musabayana. He is a gifted hunter and warrior who is well known for commanding his impi to defeat neighbouring warriors who occasionally stray into his territory to steal animals trapped on his snares. Like the biblical David, he has killed a lion, a leopard and occasionally killed buffalos for food. His strong indigenous belief is tested by the arrival of a white missionary played by Morgan. In his first encounter with the missionary he refuses to be proselytised and defends his traditional religion with much wisdom. However, news reaches his aunt, played by Susan Sibanda, that he had an encounter with a foreign religion. She comes to give him comfort and to encourage him to marry a woman, as this would give him even more courage during battles, since he would be fighting to return home to be with his family. He finally marries Shandirai, played by Marlene Mazodza.

When it becomes obvious that Tirivangani might defect to Christianity, a territorial spirit, (mhondoro), again played by Marlene Mazodza, comes in style, charging Tirivangani never to letdown his people by converting to Christianity. The mondoro performs a ritual where she sprinkles Tirivangani with a concoction to fortify him against any temptation. This supernatural encounter is supposed to consummate with the ritual murder of the first person Tirivangani encounters on his way through the forest. Interestingly, the first person he meets is his biological mother. He makes three attempts at her life with each attempt ending in hesitation. Because of the pressure of this possibly horrendous murder, Tirivangani collapses. When he gains consciousness, he is confronted by the same missionary with the same message of repentance. At the moment of agreeing to be converted, her aunt arrives just on time to dissuade him from Christianisation. A duel between the missionary and aunt ensues with each calling Tirivangani to Christianity and traditionalism respectively. This conflict is played in dance form until Tirivangani again collapses without making a decision. The play ended with a thunderous applause from the audience.

Although the theme of tradition versus modernity is archetypal and somewhat tired, Hopley Thespians had a fresh take to it. Instead of relying on the dominance of the spoken word as other dramas have tended to do, their nucleus of performance was the body. The body was the main carrier of the message through a combination of dance like movements, dance, stage combat and elements of physical theatre. The performance was therefore symbolic as opposed to realism.

Even though the play is set in Zimbabwe of the 1890s, nothing in the setting or costume realistically depicts these given facts. The performers wore brown skin tights and had their faces painted with ethnic colours. The stage was bare suggesting that meaning was to be conveyed through the body rather than realistic detail. What is encouraging is that the audience was able to follow the story from the beginning to the end. This is, perhaps, the new direction that Zimbabwean theatre is taking. The play will go to Theatre in the Park on  a date to be announced and will thereafter start a tour of universities and colleges in and around Harare before going national. I would give it a rating of four stars!

 Samuel Ravengai

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Life and Work of August Strindberg

Dr Samuel Ravengai
Paper presented on the 4th of June, 2012 at the Gallery Delta, to celebrate the centenary of August Strindberg’s death

I am privileged today to talk about a playwright, novelist and essayist whom I was introduced to by Robert McLaren and have found a pleasure to teach to my students since 2002. August Strindberg’s play Miss Julie (1888) resonates with Zimbabwean contemporary discourses of gender, racial and class prejudice. For that reason, we found Miss Julie a relevant text to critique these discourses and the text has been produced in various formats at the university and by various community theatre groups. Today is a momentous occasion for Zimbabwe, in that we join hands with our Swedish friends to celebrate the life and work of one of the greatest modern dramatists in the world – August Strindberg. He influenced his contemporaries and will continue to influence more generations to come. Ibsen, for example kept a portrait of August Strindberg on his wall and he said of him: ‘I am an enemy of his – but I cannot write a line except when this bold man with his mad eyes looks down on me’ (Bentley 1947: 160). An older Bernard Shaw spoke of the ‘giants of the theatre of our time, Ibsen and Strindberg’ (ibid) and gave his Nobel Prize money for better translations of the Swedish genius.

 August Strindberg: Contextual Background – Modernism
For a very long time, Europe was ruled by monarchies. Revolutions that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries replaced monarchies with democracies led by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie inherited the art and culture of the old monarchies through appropriation of illusionistic theatre developed since the time of Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. August Strindberg, together with other playwrights who were not satisfied with the status quo, began an artistic movement that we call modernism today. However, Strindberg occupies a special position in the modernist movement as summarised by Eugene O’Neil:

Strindberg was the precursor of all modernity in our present theatre... Strindberg still remains among the most modern of moderns, the greatest interpreter in the theatre of the characteristic spiritual conflicts which constitute the drama – the blood – of our lives today (Bentley 1947: 160)

Modernism has come to mean different things to different scholars and sometimes conflates with avant-gardism and post-modernism (Whitemore 1994). However, in this article I am using modernism to refer to an artistic movement that began at the end of the 19th century in the West and extended into the second half of the twentieth century. This artistic movement, also called the avant-garde fetishised the notion of newness, originality and innovation in order to overhaul the formularised and consumption oriented generic formats of playwriting associated with western illusionistic theatre. The innovation and attack on western bourgeois theatre by mostly young playwrights such as Andre Breton, Tristan Tzara, Antonin Artaud and others was achieved in different ways in different countries and, therefore, took different forms from the 1880s to the 1970s. The historical avant-garde (Lehman 2006, p. 48) or early theatrical modernists (Stone-Peters 2006, p. 208) of the late 19th century, for instance touched on thematic outlaws such as sex with such plays as Ibsen’s Ghosts, Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, the Lulu plays, Wilde’s Salome, Schnitzler’s La Ronde, Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession. For writing and performing against the grain, they were banned and/ or fined in Europe and the United States when censorship laws were still operational (Stone-Peters 2006). Some modernist plays attacked bourgeois tastes by revolting against God where a messianic hero kills god and tries to take his place as in Ibsen’s Brand, Strindberg’s To Damascus, and Shaw’s Man and Superman, among others. The presumed death of God became the source of creativity for the absurdist movement. During the late 1950s modernism developed another form which Lehman (2006, p. 52) calls ‘neo-avant-garde’ which denounced the Aristotelian dramatic action and plot, but still depended on speech as the dominant sign system. This became absurdism epitomised by luminaries such as Beckett, Ionesco, Adamov, Adrienne Kennedy and Pinter among others. Modernism developed as Dadaism, surrealism, expressionism, constructivism, futurism, absurdism and symbolism in different parts of the West and Russia. Modernism, as it is used in this article covers dramatic texts and performances that followed these approaches to theatre making or a combination of each of them.

 August Strindberg’s Life
August Strindberg was born in 1849 and died in 1912 at the age of 63. After a long illicit union, Strindberg’s father finally married his mother. Strindberg was, therefore, conceived out of wedlock. This moral stigma which was further exacerbated by his mother’s lowly origin followed Strindberg through his life. For this traumatic anguish, Strindberg rebelled against his mother. At the same time, however, Strindberg had a Freudian ambivalence, in the sense that he was violently attached to her. This Freudian complex never left him and he never became a complete individual. When his mother died, Strindberg ‘was not to be comforted. He shrieked like one drowning’ (cited in Bentley 1947: 166). The lowly origin of his mother was to find artistic space in his play Miss Julie (1888) where he changes the roles and makes the man, Jean, the character who has lowly origins. Miss Julie is the aristocrat. However, sexually, Jean is the aristocrat because of his virility. Even though Julie may be the mistress in the class struggle, Jean is the master in the sex war.

The events that followed after Strindberg’s mother’s death reveal the similarities of human cultures. In Zimbabwe, a widowed man must mourn his wife for one year before he marries another, although the period of mourning is double for women. Similarly, Strindberg criticised his father for becoming engaged before the expiration of the mandatory year of mourning. He prophesied misery and ruin on his father and went on to unreasonable lengths. He refused to kiss his step mother at the wedding. He then developed a dislike for women which saw him marrying three times, all of them ending tragically. In the public mind of his contemporaries he was a lunatic genius who never left off beating his wife. Several of his plays draw on the problems of his marriages.

Due to the fact that his life is found in his works of art, Strindberg can be aptly classified as an existential writer. His life and work is one. He writes himself through life and for that reason he is like Kiergaard and Nietzche. In their plays, self-dramatisation plays a significant role. In Strindberg’s plays The Ghost Sonata, he features as a character, Hummel, (Old Man). This self-dramatisation is a technique that features in Dambudzo Marechera’s plays in Mindblast and Scrapiron Blues.

Despite all this negativity about his life ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’, August Strindberg was a believer. He did not hide his spiritual values even in his work. In his play There are Crimes and Crimes, a Parisian playwright deserts his child and her mother for another woman. The child dies. The father feels guilty and at the end of the text to the last act prepares to die with his new lover. But Strindberg has prepared the way for a different ending ‘salvation is the answer to suicide’ (cited in Bentley 1947: 175). Strindberg went on parading Christianity and even asked that the bible should be solemnly laid upon his corpse.

 The Work of August Strindberg
August Strindberg wrote fifty five volumes and these can be classified into three categories. The first category consists of Strindberg’s occasional works such as translations, essays and treatises. This is also where we find his autobiographies, which, as we have seen above, provided the raw material for his artworks. The second category consists of novels which attempted to impose order and form upon the chaos of his experience. The last category consists of Strindberg’ central achievement – his plays.

 Strindberg wrote either chronicle history plays or fairy plays. In terms of style, Strindberg’s best plays fall into two groups – the naturalistic plays favoured by the French director, Andre Antoine, and expressionist/symbolist plays which can be associated with the German director Max Reinhardt.

 As can be seen for the foregoing, Strindberg was popular with the French and Germans. In the 1880s and 1890s Strindberg was very much in the swim in France and German. He visited Antoine’s Theatre Libre and was much impressed by the brief one act plays of the French dramatists, which very much influenced his form in Miss Julie. Strindberg resolved to reduce the conflict to its directest manifestation – one person mentally struggling with another as we see in Miss Julie.

 But Strindberg did not make his mark in America, and this is not a reflection of his lack of genius. The intelligentsia in England and America were predominantly radical, but Strindberg’s radicalism was slightly against the the western feminist grain. He was considered morbid, antifeminist, reactionary and religious. At times, he was too pious for the English and American radicals.

What is Strindberg’s place in the history and future of drama? Strindberg was an epitome of knew thinking of the 19th century. He epitomised the century’s knew beliefs, illusions and attitudes. We credit him for fulfilling and destroying (in Christ like style) the dramatic laws of the 19th century. He is the father of modern drama. With the rise of Western feminism and its inherent hatred of men, Strindberg is going to be invoked even more vigorously in future when the future man fights back matriarchy to regain his lost ground. On this prophetic note, I thank you.

Friday, May 11, 2012

HIFA Theatre Signs off with Miller’s I Have Sinned (2012).

Samuel Ravengai
Peace Mukwara, the director of I have Sinned
Of course Arthur Miller never wrote a play with the same title. I Have Sinned was penned by Zimbabwean young and upcoming playwright, Patrick Miller, who is currently a BA theatre arts honours second year student at the University of Zimbabwe. Its last performance at HIFA 2012 kicked off at 1540 on Sunday 6 May at the Standard Theatre and ended an hour later to a thunderous applause from the audience. I Have Sinned was directed by Peace Mukwara, who has just rejoined the University of Zimbabwe Theatre Arts Department as a masters student. It was not by accident that the director chose performers whom he had previous interface with. He cast Tatenda Mangosho, his ex-classmate, as William and Chiedza Chinhanu, a fellow student at the UZ, as Natasha.
The story centres on an as yet undisclosed source of distress in the family. William is mourning and in depression, in what used to be RJ’s bedroom, comprising a single bed with white bedding, a single cabinet and chair. When the lights illuminate this first acting area, they reveal a young man, William, with long Afro hair mourning and sulking after his cousin RJ commits suicide in suspicious circumstances. Family members, his father Neil, his mother, Lear, and his sister, Natasha, come to persuade him to let go of the past and move on with his life through much prayer and counselling. This is not helpful at all since William would like to get to the bottom of things to find out the reasons for RJ’s debt and his suicide. William digs through heaps of paper and discovers that his late cousin RJ had received a loan of $16,000 which he is unable to link to any source.
Patrick Miller, the playwright of I have Sinned
The playwright, Patrick Miller, is successful in creating suspense in the sense that he does not disclose the information, but only reveals what is vital to move the story forward. When the lights fade from the first acting area, another set of light hits the second acting area comprising a floral couch covered with a coffee velvet cloth, a pine coffee table and a chair. This is the family living room. Here family members argue over the best way to help William out of this depression. Neil, who is also a pastor of the local church, challenges his wife Lear to reveal where she was getting the money to sponsor the late RJ. Lear does not want to reveal this information as she was stealing the money from church coffers where both of them were pastors. Lear’s position is that she was paying RJ to keep quiet about what we get to learn later that Neil sexually molested him. Mark, the church congregant, is the only sober person in the family. As a family friend and loyal member of the church he is steadfast about the importance of prayer to help William deal with his depression. The only dark spot in Mark’s life is that he knows Lear was paying RJ, but couldn’t reveal this piece of information to William, except when William proves that Lear has revealed it to him. All this information is revealed by the playwright in bits and pieces keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

The only problem with the story is that it does not move away from the folkloric and religious tendency to moralise at the end of the story. Most Zimbabwean plays of the 1970s and 1980s, especially those written in African languages, end with a characteristic didactic ending. Our modern audiences require making their own choices and don’t want to be given a readymade solution that is moral and didactic.

The director had a logical understanding of space. Although there was an open space between William’s room and the family living room, the director created non-diegetic space where the performers walked through the imagined corridor and obeyed its conventions throughout the performance. The depth, breadth and length of the house were made clear through movement which respected established boundaries.

Although the director clearly understood the importance of tempo and rhythm to his production, he concentrated on acoustic rhythm and paid less attention on visual rhythm. There was a clear sense of blocking revealing motivated movements, but everybody moved slowly like they were dragging weights on their feet. This slow movement was consistent to every performer and gave the performance a dull visual rhythm. Still on the same subject, some beats were far too long and did not require the time that they were accorded since they did not add anything to the story. The ending of the performance, for example, has family members praying and speaking in tongues. This needed cutting and tightening to give the performance pace.

Acting was believable and psychological. Performers worked on elocution and did not depend on microphones like the previous production of Bonnie and Clyde from Manchester, United Kingdom in the same intimate theatre. Perhaps Africans have a natural ability to project their voices without the aid of technology. Charles Matare came across as a seasoned performer. He had depth and handled the part of Neil convincingly. Matare comes from the community theatre tradition of the early 90s and that experience came to his aid in handling the part he played. Lear, Neil’s wife, was played by Sarah Masike whose acting career began with training at Reps Theatre. Her most convincing performance was when she played the seduction of Mark, played by Derek Nzinyakwi, who received his training from Theory X, an offshoot of Over The Edge Theatre Company. Derek was equal to the task of playing ‘holy’ against the most appetising temptation. He played stiff when aroused by Lear, but at the same time remained sensitive to the feelings of his lady pastor to protect her from embarrassment. While William played his depression convincingly, the director allowed him to play on two notes – high and low. In that regard, he was not able to play the various permutations of depression that his role demanded. This could have been his failure to clearly delineate the various beats in his speeches or the director did not point to the problem early enough in the process. Chiedza Chinhanu played the minor character, Natasha, and did it just good enough. Perhaps, in future she needs a more challenging role.

While all other areas of performance could pass on any stage in the world, the area of relationships needed more attention and was the least successful. The audience stretched their imaginations too far to accept the director’s proposals. The cast needed to analyse these relationships and find ways of playing them visually.

Despite this setback, this show was well produced and the audience got value for their money. I had the opportunity of reading some of the comments in the feedback journal and found that most audience members enjoyed the show. The British Council should continue to support such new works.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Zimbabwean Theatre and Censorship: Views from Walter Muparutsa

By Samuel Ravengai
Walter Muparutsa was a fierce defender of freedom of expression. He did not only talk about it, but demonstrated it in action by directing plays which tackled tabooed subjects. He engaged with authorities and state security agents to convince them that they were not following the law by denying citizens the right to express themselves. I interviewed Walter Muparutsa on the 10th of April 2008 about the subject of censorship and freedom of expression and this is what he said:
Walter Muparutsa (WP):        It came to a point where a lot of the artists were not allowed to voice their concerns. But the audience who went to see their performances was empowered. So Jonathan Moyo and all the people in government know how to exploit the arts for it to be consumed by the electorate. The electorate (rural) is less informed because there is no information in the country. The government holds back information from the electorate. So Jonathan Moyo being minister of information takes advantage of that situation by exploiting the arts using galas and performances to promote the land reform programme and the establishment.

Samuel Ravengai (SR) :           Now, you were talking about the issue of organizations that inject money into theatre groups in order to further their agendas. Did you say it was a problem?

WM:    It’s just like the government. The government is an organization. It brings money to the artists but with a hidden agenda and they abuse the artists. If an NGO or any other organization has got agendas they will bring an idea like HIV/AIDS. Those are given terms of reference. They have been commissioned. You are given guidelines. This is how you perform the thing.  Of course, you use a bit of creativity; in fact with the right person, the writer and then the person who is got to direct and the artists who are going to act the play you can come up with a good product. However, because that organization is not a straight forward thing, they want an instructional thing which causes people to take a certain line of thinking. In most cases this causes problems. For example the donor may come up with the idea that HIV/AIDS on its own does not kill.

SR:       But in a democracy isn’t it allowed to do that?

WM:    What I’m saying is this, the artist is to blame. Generally the artists using their creativity should not do that, if they don’t want to be compromised in their creativity. If you say it’s democratic, okay it’s democratic but the thing is this, in order to make an informed decision, you ought to be really grounded in whatever things you’re doing.  A lot of the artists have been used at galas for propaganda by Jonathan Moyo. Those guys were out there just to get bread and butter. It was to go and get money. They didn’t think about the effects of their messages to the population. For them it was simply doing things blindly and so forth. But then the thing is, at the same time, the artists can turn around and say it’s my democratic right, I can do what I like. This is why you find a person like Andy Brown; he’s one of the most prolific musicians in this country. His whole career collapsed. If he was forced, then it’s something else, but if he did it through his own free will, I don’t know; we have somebody whom I think is an intelligent person.

SR:       Let’s come back to the issue of What They Said What They Got. I believe you took part in it together with Raisedon Baya. But when you put that kind of creativity you find yourself having problems with the authorities.

WM:    This is a case like the HIV/AIDS commissioned play. You’re trying to tell the nation that there is a thing called freedom to access information. The people of Zimbabwe have a government which controls information. They are draconian laws to control the flow of information. We are saying how can people be informed? How can they best make informed decisions and choices in a situation where there is only one paper you can read. Other papers are banned. That play highlights the way police actually administer AIPPA and POSA. You can actually see that it was wrong.

SR:       Why do you say that?

WM:    It’s wrong in the sense that they are denying people the right to information. Your constitution clearly says that but look, this is where the problem is. This country got into problems because there was no opposition in parliament. To oppose was considered unpatriotic. The fact of the matter is Zimbabwe became a de facto one party state. Now we are saying that because it’s a one party state, you’re forcing people to agree to things that they don’t want.  If you want to be honest, would you say in parliament the bills introduced were exhaustively debated before they became law? No! Ravengai!  If you went there one day to listen to the debate to any piece of legislation you’ll feel very angry. Because, in fact, the whole thing is a comedy. It’s a farce. They were not serious. And for over all these years, they were never able to be serious because they always destroyed the opposition.  If you say anything contrary to ZANU PF you’re an enemy of the state, you’re a reactionary. You cannot even get to discuss or debate anything here? Now the thing is this; how can you even, in terms of the laws they enact get to say the laws are fair.

SR:       Now, let’s talk about What they Said What They Got.  Now, in Harare were you given space to do this play?

WM:    Right. What happened is this, with What they Say What They Got Global Arts was given six provinces to operate in. Rooftop promotions were in Harare Province, Mash East, West and Central. Global Arts had Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North, Mat South and Bulawayo metropolitan province. So here in Harare when What they Said What They Got was being done at Theatre in the Park, it was very dangerous because every night state security agents came to watch it. Their presence destroyed debate to a point where you always felt that it inhibited free discussion. Now this is the problem throughout Zimbabwe. You cannot fully freely express yourself, your own opinion, because if you said something that’s contrary to the ruling party or the government you are an enemy of the state. At certain times I have been told mudhara (old man) what you are saying will get you hurt. You ask them ‘who doesn’t allow it? Who has got the right to tell me that it’s not allowed?’ Then somebody says ‘we know you think that you are safe, but one day things will be difficult for you’. Now, how can you, a citizen of this country live in fear? So What They Said What they Got, to be very honest with you, was something that was sort of an affront to the establishment. We have got a situation where we are saying free the airwaves so that people can have the freedom to receive information from all sides. You have even a situation of the Censorship Board which is restrictive.

SR:       Did this play go to the Censorship Board?

WM:    To be very honest with you, I’m not quite sure. When Rooftop Promotion first did the play, I don’t know whether it sent the copy there. Because for me the version that I did was the revised version which we even had to discuss with the actors at the workshop. The first one which Rooftop did, which I managed to tour with got myself into all sorts of problems. I don’t think it went to the Censorship Board. 

SR:       Normally the government gives theatre some kind of space at Theatre in the Park, but once you take the production outside Harare you create problems. How was it like in Bulawayo?

WM:    In Bulawayo Metropolitan province it was fine, no problem as long as it doesn’t go to Amakhosi. Anything that is associated with Amakhosi you got a problem, because Amakhosi has been stigmatised as anti-government. What actually happened was this, when I first went to stage this play at Amakhosi. The police came and I was in the same place. They came and they didn’t consult me. After the staging of the play the discussions didn’t quite happen as normal.

SR:       Did you perform the play in the townships of Bulawayo?

WP:      I had problems when I went into the townships. There had been an incident in town. The people in Bulawayo don’t like ZINWA. The Bulawayo municipality is predominantly controlled by the opposition. Now, ZINWA came there to try to force this down their throats and there were running battles in town. In the meantime I wanted to stage a play at Stanley Hall. Then that’s when I had problems because the details came there, they stopped the play. The audience was already in. 

SR:       Really? Tell me exactly what happened at Stanley Hall.

WM:    Stanley Hall. Posters were put there. They came in, and once they were inside, just about two to three minutes before the play started, because at the same time as the people were getting in, we also had to give them literature on the state of information gathering and dissemination in the country, a published thing which has not been banned. So these people came, the police details and this person (police officer) is very very well known in Bulawayo. And they say he actually shoots people. Zenzo and Mark knew him for that. He came in. He says to me, ‘what is this that you are trying to do?’ Then I said ‘this is my work. I’m not trying to do anything. I’m staging a play’. So he says ‘have you got clearance to stage a play because under POSA you must have one from National Arts Council’. Of course National Arts Council knew that there‘s a play from the Censorship Board. You get clearance from the Censorship Board. However, even if the Censorship Board gives you a performing certificate, the police can still come and stop the play because they say the regulatory authority at that particular area can stop the play. So they said that, ‘under POSA you can’t do this’. But I know that plays are not mentioned under POSA so I went there. They said, ‘no, no, get these people out of this place’. I refused and I said ‘I’m not getting them out. I’ll leave them here’. They said ‘come to the police station’ and I said ‘let’s go’.  The police said ‘move’ and I said ‘no no I’m driving, get in the car’. So I drove them to the police station. We got there and they went in to tell their seniors. They left me outside and they later called me inside.

WM:    Ya!  So he says ‘what are you trying to do?’  I said, ‘I’m not trying to do. That’s my work. I’m staging a play’. They said you don’t have clearance under POSA to do a play. I told them that it was not a requirement under POSA just like churches and so on. Here it is in the law. I actually read that. Now the particular officer didn’t know anything about Censorship Board. He didn’t ask about Censorship Board. It was just POSA. He told me that I could not do that play and asked me ‘why are you giving out the books to people to read?’ I said, ‘is there a law prohibiting people from reading material? Look, anything that’s published, that if you go to a library you can read it, can be circulated in the country. If this was something that was anti-establishment they would have stopped it. So you don’t ask me’. They said ‘where do you come from?’ and I said ‘friend I think what you are doing now is harassment. I am doing my work and why are you stopping me from doing my work. Under the constitution I’ve got a right to do my work’. He said, ‘let me tell you this, you cannot stage this play without clearance from the regulatory authorities. So you get it. You stop what you are doing. You go chase those people away from the hall’. I said, ‘I’m not going to chase them because in the first place I am the one who invited them there. I can’t go there and chase them.  You can go and chase them’. They retorted, ‘if you are going to do this play, we are certainly going to arrest you. It was at that point when I told him that ‘what you are doing is exactly what Smith was doing’.

SR:       Just like that?

WM:    Yah.  I asked him if he knew where the name Luveve came from and he said he didn’t know. Now it’s called Luveve Secondary School. It was a technical college. We stopped it during the 60s. We did several riots because there was a bad system governing the country and that thing is now a secondary school. If what he had done was done during the ZAPU organised riots there could have been an ugly incident. You don’t provoke people. I want to tell you something. I’m a nationalist, for your own information. What you are doing is very wrong, this is wrong. This is not what the people went to fight for. You’ve gone back to the Smith days. This is wrong. They said, ‘anyway, I have heard what you are saying. Go and stop the thing’. I said ‘then tell your boys to go stop the thing because I’m not going to stop it. So the officers were called inside and were told ‘this man is called Walter Muparutsa’. I told them that I had another show which I was supposed to do before returning to Harare. They said ‘all the shows which you are going to do here in Bulawayo, as long as they are not cleared by the regulatory authorities (officer commanding Bulawayo Province) you are not going to do any show’. So all the subsequent shows were stopped. Then I thought to myself, if they allowed me to do a show at Amakhosi, I should go back and do another show at Amakhosi. But there was real trouble there. MMPZ then said ‘no Muparutsa you can’t do it because these people are really out to get you. There’s trouble there. Riot police will come’.

SR:       Did you stop when the Media Monitoring Project asked you to?

WM:    I couldn’t. Because even the officers from MMPZ, Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, they were in Bulawayo at that time. And when I was actually at the police station, they phoned me asking if I needed legal assistance. I said no, I didn’t commit a crime I don’t need legal assistance. I’m talking to these people who don’t understand my work. And I was saying this openly while they were within hearing range.

SR:       Now let’s go back to you as theatre consultant for HIFA. Did you any problems with plays that you had earmarked for HIFA from the authorities?

WM:    Look I worked for the Rhodesia Literature Bureau. First of all, I worked for Smith’s government in the information department. Within the information department we worked as reader translators, when you more or less translated the policy statements. And then from there I was moved to the Ministry of Education. Then at that time the Southern Rhodesia Africa Youth Tribunal was formed. We were the first people to work there because these people wanted to separate black development, in those times. They said you Africans should write in your own languages and develop them. We were not encouraged to write in English. So the Literature Bureau was actually there to encourage African authorship. So for most of the playwrights one would write those things translating chapter by chapter which we sent to the white officer who read these things. If a foreman beat up a white person the policy stipulated that a white person could not be beaten by a black person and we were asked to change it. We laughed about it.  People don’t know that I’m coming from a long history of struggle between governments and the arts. So with all this experience with governments right from Smith to Mugabe there are ways of avoiding these people sometimes. You take a script to the authorities and they tell you to remove this chapter and that or the whole four pages of a script. To beat the system you take out the controversial parts and send it to the authorities. Those people are very old so they read the doctored version. Some of them are very good friends of mine.

SR:       Is that what you did with Heaven’s Diary?

WM:    Yes! I removed certain pages and then sent it. I went back to the actors and told them, act the play as it is. Then it went.

SR:       Was it HIFA 2005?

WM:    2005 I think 2005 yah!

SR:       Tell me more about Vagina Monologues.

WM:    Vagina Monologues had lots of problems. They said it would not be done. It was the title that shocked a very conservative establishment. But biologically, every man who is on earth came through that opening but people are ashamed of talking about it, or even mention it. It becomes a problem to those people. But it’s really … look when God created human beings, there was nothing to be ashamed of.

SR:       Did it go to the Board of Censors?

WM:    Yes and they said remove this and that part and I complied. Then I took it the performing company and told them to act according to the original version.

SR:       Now I heard there was some kind of trouble with the church. What was the trouble about? Isn’t it true that the play was staged at the Dutch Reformed Church or Standard Theatre?

WM:    The Reformed Church is also one of those very conservative institutions. So I mean they were not quite happy about it but it was staged. And yet that was the only play that had three performances full houses because of the title. But not that the play was fantastic or anything. No it was just an ordinary play.

SR:       Now, let’s go back to the issue of National Arts Council which you said controls theatre.

WM:    Yah, we once did a play called Padare/Ekundleni when I was still working with Davis Guzha at Rooftop Promotions. It was quite a big play. We had 50 actors, five from each province. So with the ten provinces, it was 50. When we opened, we invited National Arts officials. They came. We even had the National Arts’ logo on our banners, poster, the lot, everything.

SR:       How long ago was that?

WM:    2002. I remember I left Rooftop 2002. So that’s the time Jonathan Moyo was on the scene. National Arts Council was invited. They were our partners in the play which was national. It was all about the essence and the importance of having debating platforms. Now the whole issue of debating platforms in a democratic state, even before the whites came was there. It was a wonderful platform where everybody was given a chance to voice their concerns at the tribal council. Now the thing is Padare/Ekundleni had problems. When Jonathan Moyo heard about it he wasn’t happy. This whole play was written by Cont Mhlanga. It was a commissioned play but the idea in essence came from Rooftop Promotions and Cont was commissioned to write the project. Later on the officials from National Arts Council came. They blessed the opening and so on. During part of the day, the NACZ officials received a letter from the information ministry telling them to completely disassociate themselves from that play. We don’t even want you to be part and parcel of that play. Chipangura ran away. We then had to engage Chipangura in a very serious discussion. And then of course being much older than Daves I could see that Chipangura was behaving like a civil servant. And the thing is that it became dangerous. It was very very dangerous, because 2002 was volatile politically. That was the time Padare had to give actors survival tactics where they would stage the play. But it was dangerous. One of my actors from Chinhoyi was severely assaulted in Chinhoyi.
SR:       What had happened?

WM:    Each province had five actors who went round the province.

SR:       Like What they Said What they Got?

WM: NO! What They Said What They Got was not as intensive as Padare. Padare was intensive. And we staged it at the most dangerous time which was actually a mistake. You shouldn’t do things like that, it’s better that you get time to go and … because some of these plays they are more of civic education plays than anything.
SR:       Now, apart from Chipangura disassociating himself from this play how did other stakeholders respond?
WM:    Ha! We were actually playing cat and mouse game with the police throughout the whole production. We had to go to Mutare. The group in Mutare was stopped and then they were told that they should produce their director and producer. So I went there with Daves Guzha to Mutare. It was very dramatic. We got there and then there was this PISI

SR: Ya I know these guys Police Internal Security Intelligence (PISI)

WM:    We told the officer that we were from Rooftop Promotion. He asked us what our core business was and we told him that he had invited us. He said our play was not right and I asked him if he had seen the play. He said he hadn’t seen the play but a friend of his from Chinhoyi had phoned them to say there’s a play which encourages people not to send their grain to GMB. We told him to go and see the play first before wasting our time. He asked why we were doing plays that criticised the government and I asked him again if he had seen the play. I reminded him that I came from Mutare and that I was a very responsible person.  ‘I don’t go around causing problems like a thug. No! My job of doing plays is an honourable job as far as I’m concerned. Since you have got contrary views, I’m saying go and watch the play. Tonight it will be at Africa University. Then you can call us back’. He declined and told us that artists always want to cause problems. 

SR:       So how did it end?

WM:    We told him to go and watch the play.

SR:       Did he go and watch?

WM:    I don’t know if he went. But these people just carried on. Wherever they were refused permission to perform they would stop and go to the next place because we had a lot of venues dotted throughout the whole country. Well what they did was you know, you get to a centre, you drum and you sing as actors. People come.

SR:       Now, do you still have the statistics of how many performances were stopped?

WM:    Ha No! We we, we managed I’d say it was almost like a 98% performance. 2% stopped. But then you see it was all like guerrilla warfare.  How do you train actors to survive in a hostile environment?

SR:       On that note Walter, thanks. That was nice.