Of Biblical Proportions and Zombie Eyes

Posted on Jan 23, 2018

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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