Pioneering: Making Good on the Vision
Harare, March 13th 2013 | Danai Gurira
The need for training in the dramatic arts in Zim has always weighed heavily on my conscience. There is such a palpable passion for the arts, committed artists, just never quite an environment where talents can be nurtured to their fullest bloom. The vision is to cultivate a new approach to the dramatic arts on Zimbabwean soil, to bring about not only the highest level of training but also a new environment of professionalism for the work that is at hand. Patience and I recognize this is a long term goal, that we are at the very foundational level of what we envision. The desire to bring the best experts in their respective fields to Zimbabwe and have them not only teach but design curriculum goes hand in hand with the ultimate goal, to create a world class dramatic arts conservatory that runs on Zimbabwean soil. The influence of my alma mata, the great Tisch NYU Graduate Acting program is going to reign supreme in how I approach this growth. Zelda Fichandler, arguably one of America’s greatest dramatic artists, the founder of the Arena Stage and possibly of American Repetory theater as a whole; recreated that program into the formidable leader in Acting training it became twenty odd years ago. Her approach, which I will continue to study, was to create a mindset, a philosophy, an approach to the craft and then carefully bring in instructors, from all different realms of the dramatic arts, who espoused that same philosophy and understood her vision and goal for the artists they would develop. She then selected over several years, a very particular type of artist, one with a raw ability and a fearlessness in their creative pursuit. She then invested in each and every one of them deeply and specifically.
From that came a generation of American actors that are recognizable to the industy, not only for those qualities, but for several other skills; with the ability to play leads in Shakespeare in the Park to helming multiple award winning TV shows to creating TV shows, plays and films alike. Her legacy speaks loudly and clearly for itself. As one of her artistic offspring, I can attest to the affectiveness of her strategems. I remember auditioning for her, one of my monologues I dared to do with a complete Zimbabwean accent, performing a Southern African character. She read my statement of purpose, and perused me with deep curiosity. She asked me about my obvious focus on Zimbabwe, not only in my performance but on the page. I explained I had hopes to bring my people’s stories to larger audiences, to cultivate the arts more in my own country. I was sure I was sunk. I was sure I was going to lose her right there. After all, she was searching for the next big Hollywood star surely; not someone who wasn’t even thinking about Hollywood at this early stage where dreams were given their space, even the most outlandish. Instead, she nodded, and looked at me with a wink in her eye and said, “Some of us must be pioneers,” I nodded, stunned and relieved. I went home and researched her, and realized she was the pioneer of all pioneers and in me she saw something kindred. I feel that freezing Chicago morning day so long ago is coming full circle in Almasi.
Pioneering a new path in Zimbabwe’s dramatic arts is something I said I would do a long time ago, and now I am tasked with making good on my vision. Zelda’s approach led me and many others to celebrate our true voice, to face the things that get in our way and learn how to disengage them, or at the very least engage them much less. It taught us how to care far too deeply about the work to be bothered with ego, our own or anyone elses’ and that collaboration and cooperation were not at all the same thing. And she taught us, most importantly perhaps, we are able and capable creators, we never need wait by the phone, we always have something to do, somewhere to be, we are the storytellers, without us, what can possibly be accomplished? As I embark on making good on my words, on appeasing the nagging calling in my heart to pass on all I have received and more to the Zimbabwean dramatic arts realm I hope to leverage her wisdom, as well as her very affective strategies. I know the journey ahead is a long and perhaps challenging one but if I can do just a fraction of what she accomplished in the US, I will consider my pursuits for the Zim dramatic realm well and fully met.