Harare, October 31st 2016 | Kudzai Sevenzo
Reading “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage for the first time, was like a slap on the face. A slap I probably needed. The play, with its powerful yet flawed characters, shook me out of my complacency and shocked me with its brutal portrayal of the effects of war on women and society as a whole. I was challenged as an actress/playwright by the importance of telling pertinent stories from Africa, particularly stories that show how women and girls become so vulnerable in wars. When one member of a community is violated, ultimately the entire community has been violated. Lynn Nottage tells a beautiful yet harrowing story of friendship and war, greed, and compassion, despair, and hope, giving both villain and hero, a vulnerability that unites us all in our humanity.
Rehearsals started Monday, in the middle of a heat wave in Harare with temperatures soaring to a record high. Not ideal weather for rehearsals, but this did not deter the actors at all. We sat around a table and started our first reading of the play. It was refreshing to engage the actors after the reading, as they were very engrossed in the story and came up with some wonderful insights on the rich and sometimes complex characters.
I tried my best to ask more than to tell, and allow each actor to explore their individual characters, including their back stories, which was really exciting! After each scene, we discussed the characters’ objectives, obstacles and how they would achieve these goals. I encouraged actors who were in the same scenes to listen to each other, in order to react rather than to just read in order to be on the same page, which is the temptation with staged readings!
By Wednesday we were now exploring the physicality of different characters as most actors were double cast (some had up to 3 characters). After warming up, actors went on stage and started rehearsals behind music stands, now fully exploring their character’s posture, voice, and accents; which was so much fun! There was something really special about watching actors move away from being seated behind a desk to seeing them engage in movement and play on stage.
Our next challenge was pace; understanding when the pace changed throughout the play, and keeping the momentum in scenes with long dialogues, a task the actors gladly took on, although it was rather grueling.
By the time we had our last rehearsal, I was really pleased with the progress the cast had made. The musical aspect of the play was made richer and uniquely Zimbabwean by choosing the mbira, which Zaza graciously agreed to play whenever it was needed.
We had some great feedback from the audience during the talk back session. I thoroughly enjoyed directing Ruined and working with such passionate actors who are committed to their craft. I learned this one thing; every voice matters in raising awareness on the plight of women and girls whose voices cannot be heard or whose stories don’t make it to the main news.