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Climbing a Mountain

It Was Just Like Climbing a Mountain

Harare, January 23rd, 2018 | Farai Siebert Mabeza
 


 

The way my year started should have been a sign of things to come. To mark the beginning of 2018 I went mountain climbing (it was my first time and I instantly got hooked); My hike early on the morning of January 1st, 2018 took me up the Jenya mountain range in Mutasa district. It had everything; fear, anxiety, the adrenaline rush, and ultimately pure exhilaration. When I got to the top of the mountain I wanted to stay there forever.

It was amazing how each step of that liberating experience would come to mirror my experiences at the Almasi African Playwrights Conference. I really didn’t know what to expect when I got the call because most of theater was mostly uncharted territory for me.

My first day at the conference felt exactly the same way I had felt when I was standing at the foot of the mountain, intimidated. The same waves of thoughts went through my head again. I wondered if this was a good idea if this was going to be more than I could chew. I thought about the humiliation I would feel if I failed to complete the hike. And when the conference got underway, it felt the same as the climb itself. At times I felt like giving up, at times I doubted myself. I doubted whether I was really up to the task. And at a certain point, just like I had done when I was going up the mountain, I turned my head to see where I had come from. Unnerved but encouraged by the steepness of the slope and how much I had covered, I knew there was no going back. I couldn’t turn back. I had to keep going, daunting as that was. The mountain had to be climbed, the play had to be done. I had signed a contract. It had to be fulfilled.

The conference to me was probably an equivalent of a boot camp even though I have never been to an actual one. At the end of it all, I believe I came out a better writer. The criticisms, the suggestions, the encouragement all helped me dig deep into my soul. It was hard but it was worth every single drop of sweat, every wink of sleep lost, every bit of frustration and temper lost. There were moments of laughter and moments of inspiration. It was great learning from every single person who was part of the conference. The stage managers; the actors; the director; the dramaturge all gave their all and it was amazing to share the experience with them. And a special thank you to Alice Tuan, Danai Gurira, and the whole Almasi team. Great experience! I look forward to the future with energy and hope. Asante Sana!

 
 

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Stuck in the Mud

Stuck in the Mud

Harare, January 23rd, 2018 | Rudo Mutangadura
 


 

Afew years ago I attended a meeting in Chitungwiza. There were four of us in the car; all women. We parked the little white Vitz in the make-shift car park and went into the meeting which lasted two hours. And then it rained. After the meeting, we all piled into the car and tried to leave. The engine was running, the wheels were turning but the car would just not move. The building was on a wetland and the makeshift car park was now a veritable swamp. No matter how hard I put my foot on the accelerator, that car would not move on from the spot on which it had been parked. Before, I attended the African Playwrights Conference hosted by ALMASI during the first two weeks of January; my play had been responding to me like a little white Vitz stuck in the mud.

When I wrote the play, I wanted to communicate about the impact of money on the power dynamics in marital relationships. I had attended a gender workshop and I was impacted by what I had discovered there. While I was writing however, there was a series of xenophobic attacks against foreigners living in South Africa and so I decided to set my characters in both Zimbabwe and South Africa while I thought through this issue. My intention had been to structure the play in vignettes so that I could tell the stories of many women as possible. My thoughts were floating around ‘For Colored Girls’ by Ntozake Shange but unfortunately I had never watched the choreo-poem on stage and I could not find the book. I did what I could from snippets from YouTube and produced a first draft. I knew immediately when I finished it that I needed to move the play on from where it was but I could not figure out what the problem was. The more I stepped on the accelerator, the more the wheels turned and took me nowhere.

The first thing that happened at the African Playwrights Conference was that the Dramaturge, Alice Tuan, brought a copy of ‘For Colored Girls’. I was surprised that she instinctively knew what I was trying to achieve. I suppose that is the result of experience. Bringing the book helped to foster a relationship of trust and was a major first step in getting the wheels of the play out of the mud. Reading the book helped me to realize that I need not be bound by the conventions of setting and scene numbers. Alice suggested I replace all of them with titles and that was one of the most freeing decisions made for the play.
During the course of the two weeks, I worked with a Director and seven actors. Things always sound different when they are spoken out loud; especially by professionals. While hearing the play read was helpful, what was most helpful was being paired with a Director who treated the play with respect and approached my characters without judgment.
This is process helped me to realize that when something is stuck, sometimes what it needs is people who know the most effective way to get it unstuck. That’s why I would definitely recommend for any playwright who wants to move their work forward. And you know what the most amazing part was for me? I got to keep the copy of ‘For Colored Girls’ by Ntozake Shange.

 
 

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Of Biblical Proportions and Zombie Eyes

Of Biblical Proportions and Zombie Eyes

Harare, January 23rd, 2018 | Patrick Miller
 


 

I took part in the previous Almasi African Playwrights Conference as an actor, so I knew there would be sleepless nights of rewrites. Nonetheless, after having gone through the playwrights conference as a playwright, I can safely conclude that knowing something and experiencing something are worlds apart.

Day one was great, it was a breeze, I thought I had it all together, I thought I knew my writing style and all that jazz. Next day, it was my turn to hear the cold read of my play The Prophet, oh what a cringe fest it was for me. From punctuation errors to lines that did not make any sense when read aloud, heaven help me! Talk about “first draft” mistakes, yet the version that was read was not the first draft of the script. Watkind?! Now came the “first thoughts, what struck you the most” segment, earth open up and swallow me!

Oh yes, the team had lots to say, ideas on what the play was about, blah blah blah, but, the thing that struck me the most was how everyone was respectful of my work regardless of the confusion that was in that particular draft, the people were curious, they wanted to know more. They were open, receptive, and engaged with my play genuinely interested. The questions and the (soon to be dreaded) notes for the playwright saw me effortlessly tumble off the pedestal I had placed myself on over the years.

When I started my 2018 Almasi African Playwrights Conference journey, I went in knowing a lot; I really thought I had my ish together. I tumbled off my pedestal; fell into Egyptian Darkness, confusion of biblical proportions. I didn’t know anymore. The questions and notes relentlessly kept on coming. There was a time I was ready to throw in the towel. I could not figure out how to connect the dots, how to answer the questions in my story. I became frustrated, if my hair had been any longer, I would have pulled it out.

As I circled around issues in the story I was uncomfortable going deeper on, the sleepless nights wore on and I progressively started looking like a zombie. Oh, I could hide the zombie strain by freshening up but Zombie Eyes do not lie. I began wearing shades even indoors so naturally everybody knew I was in travail. What a difficult birthing it was to bring forth new drafts of The Prophet.

In the quest to cut away all things that were not my play, to find those epic stories that were buried deep underneath the language, the set, and sermons, I went down to a dark place within me, a place of hurts, sorrows, contradicting values, hellfire even and I brought out things in the script that were screaming to be released. Had I not been given the director and cast that I had, I am uncertain if I would have managed to break out of the darkness, find the light again, and hear the birds. Indeed the circle rises together.

Through the ministrations of the dramaturges, I discovered things about my writing that I would not have been able to do so had I resisted their encouragement to keep searching for the truth of my play, to cut down to the bone and find the spine of the story. More work is to be done but I am somewhere where I can say yes, there’s a good script somewhere in there.
At the public reading of my play, I believe I had a Red Sea moment. I stepped out of the darkness the day before the reading. I cannot begin to describe the feelings that went through me as the cast received the final draft of the conference. The birds sang, the sun was shining, I could see the land of promise, alright… I will never forget that Friday evening when my script was read. I was surrounded by friends and strangers, all had their expectations, I was anxious. I wanted to run away lol but I am glad I did not. The cast went into the script like never before. They brought it to a place where I walked out of my own play because of the depth of emotions in a particular scene were just too much for me.

I wrote the play, did several rewrites, sat in countless rehearsals and yet that evening it was as if I was hearing the play for the first time. At the end of the reading, I broke down to tears; there was such a release. I haven’t figured out what that moment signifies but I do know that a shift that took place that night. Thank you Almasi Collaborative Arts!

For now, I am not going to make drastic changes to the script. I will return to it later, willingly dive into the confusion of biblical proportions, and embrace the zombie eyes as I find the wilderness again, headed to a new promise land.

However, I honestly would love to see The Prophet go to full production soon, who knows, maybe as a musical with original songs.

Until then, ekse, it’s all lekker!

 
 

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My Edinburgh Experience

My Edinburgh Experience

Edinburgh, August 23rd 2017 | Gideon Jeph Wabvuta
 


 

In February of 2017, I was informed I had been selected as one of the ten fellows of the inaugural Georgetown Lab of Politics and Performance. This lab is comprised of ten fellows from all over the world: Cambodia, Palestine, Syria, Colombia, USA, UK, and Zimbabwe. The vision of the lab is to support us fellow in our work and help us find ways to collaborate amongst ourselves in the realm of politics and performance.

The highlight of the lab experience thus far has been the meet-up at the Edinburgh Festival this August. The festival was our first meeting amongst the fellows and we were teamed up with another group who were global cultural fellows from the University of Edinburgh. The eight days I spent there were the most eye opening as the group contained doctors, artists, economists, administrators, etc., all there were there to delve into various topics. It was fascinating to see how people in different professions viewed performances differently and how they understood the shows.

Outside of the circle of the conference, we spent time watching as many shows as possible, some brilliant and some that left more to be desired, which led to some fascinating discussions. One thing that will definitely stay with me forever is the scale of the festival. I could not have imagined how big an arts festival could get even if someone had told me what to expect. The shows are literally happening everywhere; in churches, bars, open spaces—everywhere around us, there was art being made! What strikes you the most is the vibe- it’s almost palpable and you can sense the excitement as the streets are filled with people handing out posters and fliers to their shows.

I can safely say the Edinburgh Festival is one experience that will stay with me for a long time, and through the lab, I got the opportunity to meet a group of amazing and intelligent people who I hope to collaborate with in the future. I am grateful to Almasi for giving me the opportunity to come to USC, which helped me gain the skills that got me into the Lab in the first place! There is already a buzz about the lab fellows collaborating on a show that will be at the festival in 2018. Who knows, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it happens, but with the help of these great collaborators and my Almasi team, I know it will be a wonderful growing experience for me as an artist.

 
 

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I Learned to Quiet My Fears

I Learned to Quiet My Fears

Harare, August 5th 2017 | Elizabeth Zaza Muchemwa
 


 

Directing the staged reading of Widows was a satisfactory process for me. My understanding of the play grew the more time I spent in the rehearsal room, seeing the play in the actors’ eyes as they engaged with the theme and issues dealt with in the play. Choosing to work on Widows was not an easy decision to make. In this multi-layered dramatic piece whose issues are as universal as they are specific to a particular part of the world, I worried about the possibilities of leaning too close to the experience of others in my community especially in the post reading discussions and whether I was equipped with the skills on how to navigate such a delicate terrain.

However, with each rehearsal day, as the actors shared ideas and new discoveries were made, I learned to quiet my fears. What struck me the most about Widows was Sofia’s strength and the collective power the women found in speaking with one voice in a society that was ruled by brute force. Using symbolism and representation, the playwright unpacks war, exile, inequality, militarism and totalitarianism. And through this effort enabled the play to speak of brutalized childhood, the endlessness of time, the uneasy relationship people have with peace post a brutal conflict and the cyclical nature of injustice when not addressed.

While the play tells one about human suffering and the dehumanization of a society by war, it serves as a beacon of hope for people still living in societies governed by fear.

 
 

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Give Us Space!

Give Us Space!

Harare, March 19th 2017 | Gideon Jeph Wabvuta
 

 

The story of Mbare dreams began two years ago when Robert Egan came to Zimbabwe to conduct the first ever Almasi African Playwrights Festival (AAPF). Little did I know that two years later I would be performing my original play in Albuquerque New Mexico at the Revolutions festival. I didn’t think much of it when Juli Hendren, the Artistic Director of the Revolutions Festival, approached me and expressed interest in me participating in the festival this year.

However, a few months after our meeting, Juli emailed me again to my surprise, and thus the real conversation to bring Mbare Dreams to the festival began. Robert Egan, my director, was roped in and in no time we were at work rewriting the show, readying it for the festival. It was a struggle to say the least to be back on stage as for the past two years I had been focusing on just writing and directing. The pressures of grad school didn’t make it any easier but we pushed on.

Monday the 13th of March, we landed in Albuquerque and went straight to rehearsal. That became the routine, rehearsal from 10am to 5pm, then home, where I would take a brief rest only to resume rehearsal the next day. I can safely say it was one of the toughest jobs I have ever done. The support I had from my director Robert Egan, Michelle Joyner, the wonderful staff at Revolution, Kevin, Eddie, Star, Alexis, Barbara, all of them were a constant support throughout these three days. It would be a lie to say I didn’t question my abilities whilst going through this process because I did, as day and night I was destroyed both physically and emotionally.

Thursday, 16th of March was the first performance and I found myself going through my paces before the show and always feeling overwhelmed- here is a boy who a few years ago would never have imagined being here. The show went well and afterwards the love that was showered on me by the festival itself will forever remain with me. The comradery with all the young practitioners from Uganda, Sudan and all over the US will always stick with me. I left the festival on a Sunday and all I could think about was: when you give us space to tell our stories, we will tell them and tell them well.

My gratitude goes to a lot of people and organizations, namely Almasi Arts for its constant support and for sending me as its representative at the TCG conference. If I hadn’t participated in the conference, I would never have gotten this chance. As always, I am in such debt to Robert Egan for being my fearless director and never giving up on me. Juli Hendren for inviting me into the Revolutions family and lastly the whole Tricklock Family- for making me believe fun and arts do exist in the same sentence #ReptilianLounge.”

 
 

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