Gideon: My American Journey
Harare, January 29th 2017 | Gideon Jeph Wabvuta
Plays are some of the most underrated forces of change in the world. When you have to read a number of plays a week, this realization kicks in as you are taken from one world to the next, being immersed in different cultures and different voices. I am constantly trying to tap into that which makes a play still speak to me even though it is seemingly distant from me in culture, language, and so many things. Being a playwright at USC, I came into the program with so many fears: are people going to understand my work? Am I going to live up to what I think I can be? Will I be able to handle the workload? I repeatedly asked myself these questions throughout my first semester in USC’s Dramatic Writing program, which I began the summer of 2016.
Crazy enough, I decided the first play I was going to write was a historical fiction play set in Zimbabwe in 1978. As soon as I finished outlining it, I panicked, realizing how much I was going to have to explain, how much exposition I was going to have to give. My very first class reading made all my fears disappear as I realized that as long as you create three-dimensional beings with real problems, in real situations, everyone will relate. Yes, you might have to explain some things, but people will get it! Indeed, it is a far cry from Zimbabwe where I know I can put as much Shona as I want in my plays and people will get it, and that was a constant battle. How much of my own language do I put in my plays without confusing people? That is an answer I don’t have yet except I just put it whenever I feel it’s necessary, I just let the story lead me and, in no time, I find myself writing a two-page Shona monologue which always leaves me wondering, “who in the heavens is going to read that!”.
It hasn’t been all peaches and cream, it’s a constant struggle to adjust to life in the States and realizing that I am away from home and I need to earn my stay here by constantly giving it my best. It’s a constant struggle trying to maintain my voice amongst a brilliant group of writers with whom I share classes, who have the ability to write circles around me, but the support they are constantly parceling out is of the utmost importance. One actress, I met years ago, told me about how grad school was beyond just being in class and learning, it’s about growth. Growth in your craft and, most of all, growth as a human being, taking in as much as of the world and letting it feed into your work. It feels like you step away from all the bustle of class and just stand in the middle of a freeway and let the noise of the cars fill you up then you go back to your writing having learned something. It’s an experience unlike anything in this world, where tears are common and expected, where breakdowns are met with love and support, where arguments and fights are constant but also met with so much love. I can safely say I have grown as a person by just being around my cohort and reading their work, having them read my work and curling up together when the pressure becomes too much. I love what I do. Yes, I may hate it at times, but I know without a doubt, I am in the right place and thanks to Almasi, I am able to continue this journey for years to come.