Home » Arts & Culture » Bring Back Our Theatre, Bring Back Our Voice

In Zimbabwe, theatre has been one way of self-expression that has given people relief in a tightly-controlled media environment. The closure of ‘Theatre In the Park (TITP), has however led to a narrowing of the available performance space. Waza blogger Kundai Maranya believes that there are creative alternatives, if only the local industry were more enterprising.

I vividly remember my first time at Theatre In The Park (TITP) at the Harare gardens. I was a journalism student who had been fortunate enough to land a freelancing gig for one of the leading independent newspapers, and this was my first assignment in theatre coverage.

The play I went to cover was one of the few independent productions allocated on the Rooftop Promotions calendar. It was titled Protest Revolutionaries, a Vhitori Production written and directed by social activist, protest artist and actor, Silvanos Mudzvova.

This was at a time when revolutions that toppled dictatorships in North Africa were at their peak, though everyone was hush hush about the issue.

All you could hear were whispers, as people were still skeptical about the freedom of expression that had come along with the Government of National Unity (GNU) 3 years before.

Free expression

It was this play that was bold enough to juxtapose the situation in North Africa to our local context. It suggested how Zimbabweans could rise, the same way the Egyptians had, and take back their nation from years of oppression by the Mugabe regime.

I was heart-broken when the same venue, which staged plays that inspired people to come to action, was closed a few months later after a squabble between Rooftop Productions and the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF), the venue’s owners.

A voice of reason in a nation where, even today, everyone watches what they say in public in fear of persecution, was silenced.

TITP was a perfect platform in championing free expression and human rights aocacy. The closure of the seventeen-year-old venue in 2012 left a void so big that, three years later, theatre in Harare is struggling to reach its audience.

Hard hit

Theatre practitioners were also hit badly by the closure of TITP. Most of them left their practice to seek fortunes in other sectors. And Mudzvova, after unsuccessful trials in film-making, found himself out of income.

He is now a second hand cellphone trader at the infamous Ximex Mall in Harare.

There have been talks of constructing another TITP venue just a few metres from the old one. The idea is still a dream we have waited long to see materialize.

Judging by Rooftop’s public statements, the venue could have been up and running over a year ago, but I guess things are not going according to plan, leaving us with only Reps Theatre, which I think is very elitist in terms of the productions it shows.

It is not much of a protest art venue, or an indigenous story telling platform- a good reason why theatre lovers from the other side of town (ghetto) would rather wait for the new venue to enjoy good shows.

Alternatively they wait to see as much theatre as possible during the annual Protest Arts Festival and the Harare International Festival of the Arts.

Alternatives

But we do have other art venues around town. True, they do not focus on theatre, but if one is really driven to showcase their play they could really get creative and transform the available space into what they want it to be.

To me, theatre is much more than high-tech staff or a space that is fully dedicated to the arts. It’s about telling a story meant to inspire some reaction towards the betterment of society.

Growing up, we used to have theatre productions coming to our schools, and charging a few cents or empty beverage bottles as admission fee. They could use any space available- even shades under trees- as stages, but they still achieved the ultimate goal of theatre.

In the past decade or so, theatre was taken to the streets in the city centre, and some really exciting stories were told, and fresh talent discovered, but slowly this is all vanishing.

Creative solutions

Now I just wonder, do we really need to wait for this big ‘professional’ venue, or what we need are passionate practitioners who are up to task?

Is our ‘professional’ theatre too good to conform to the prevailing situation, or are the practitioners just too lazy to innovate and make do with what we have?

There are venues like Book Cafeacute, always open for new ideas as far as art is concerned. Yes, it is predominantly a music venue but we have seen other forms of art like standup comedy and poetry being introduced and nurtured to grow there.

In fact, Book Cafeacute is credited for the growth of local standup comedy through the Simuka Comedy platform.

It was, however, the comedians that came up with the idea and pushed for it. Now it is one of the crowd pullers of the venue, staging fully packed shows every month.

We need innovative people to be the game changers of our theatre industry. We need our voice back, vibrant and up to the task.

Waza is proud to feature as part of its content local bloggers who have a knack for expressing their unique perspectives, independent thoughts and engaging stories. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

Be sure to check out Waza blogger, Lindsey Kukunda’s a href=”https:wazaonline.comenfreedom-of-expressionuganda-please-respect-my-right-to-surf-and-comment” target=”_blank”piecea on freedom of expression in Uganda, and don’t miss Kundai’s a href=”https:wazaonline.comenower-peoplecorrupt-officials-should-not-go-unpunished” target=”_blank”other writinga on Waza.

Source : Waza

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