When theatre went to indaba

AN audience enjoying a play at the Lusaka Playhouse, which is considered a national theatre house. However, few little theatres consistently staged productions this year. Right, a theatre performance at the Lusaka Playhouse.

FOR those that love theatre, the defining event of the year was the arts indaba held at Gonde Lodge in Kabwe in September under the theme “Reclaiming our theatre”.
Professor of adult education and extension studies at the Zambia Open University (ZAOU) Dickson Mwansa gave a keynote address at the indaba, which was organised by the National Theatre Arts Association of Zambia (NATAAZ).
They could not have picked on a better person to give the keynote address than him. Prof Mwansa was chairperson of the Zambia National Theatre Arts Association (ZANTAA) from 1982 to 1986, as well as the first secretary general of NATAAZ from 1986 to 1988.
He titled his presentation “Development of Theatre in Zambia Now and for the Future: What are the Issues?”
Prof Mwansa considered the indaba as the second or third major discussion on the future of the arts in Zambia.
The first was the 1984 conference on the arts that was organised by the Department of Extension Studies at the University of Zambia (UNZA) in collaboration with ZANTAA and the Department of Cultural Services that brought together artists from all fields of performing arts and resulted into passing, among others, a resolution that led to the merger of ZANTAA and NATAAZ.
The proceedings of the conference were compiled and became a source of further publications, including contribution to the World encyclopaedia on Performing Arts.
The second was the 1990 meeting called to consider the creation of the National Arts Council (NAC). The result was a draft of a layperson’s bill that paved way for the formation of the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC) in 1994.
The indaba was called because of fear that mainstream theatre was dead and there was need for its revival.
“It appears that only Zambians, among other southern African peoples, have the notoriety of leading lives totally dependent on foreign cultures for continued sustenance. The existence of this phenomenon deserves attention of social scientists… Zambians have been making progress in almost every field except culture,” Prof Mwansa said in his keynote address.
“I strongly believe that arts do not die as such but can stagnate and later give rise to new forms and directions. The death of arts would mark the death of nations. It is to the arts that nations turn in times of peace and calamities for hope and direction because arts affect emotions and provoke thought.
“Arts, when neglected, or when stifled, through overt or covet actions of statesmen and women, go in lull and resurface in different forms and genres. One can say that Zambia has passed through different stages of development of the arts that can be grouped into periods of separate development, cultural awakening, storming, consolidation and fragmentation and now stagnation. From the threat of stagnation, this indaba can ignite a new zeal that can help us map new directions.
“Depending on how artists seize the tide of the moment, the convergence of thoughts and actions, the will of the leaders of the national state, the period of stagnation of mainstream theatre could be long or short but the arts will not die. They may scale down.”
But for Prof Mwansa, there is a lot of hope that theatre can be revitalised. He quoted President Edgar Lungu’s words.
President Lungu had said: “Despite their economic potential and dynamic nature, the arts and culture have thus far been either overlooked by policy makers or inadequately addressed with piecemeal or traditional approach…opportunities have largely not been utilised in not only creating a vibrant national identity but also tapping into a sector that can contribute meaningfully to economic growth and a major contributor to job or career market.”
Prof Mwansa said when the leaders of ZANTAA were faced with the formidable task of reforming the ownership of little theatres which were then dominated by whites, the leaders of the State responded. He said in the same vein, they are not making a clarion call in vain now because their concerns resonate with the concerns of the leaders of the State.
“Each generation creates its own leaders,” he said.
The idea for an indaba stemmed from a WhatsApp group for theatre enthusiasts which Mufulira-based theatre columnist John Kapesa had created.
The group has certainly revived interest in theatre.
Over the Christmas period, the group was discussing an idea of a four-day conference on arts. By press time, the group was waiting for institutional backing and commitment from NATAAZ, ZAOU, UNZA and the blessings of the Ministry of Tourism and Arts.
The proposed thematic topics for the conference include Theatre Production, Measurement and Judgment; Theatre and Research; Theatre and Copyright; Theatre and the Sustainable Development Goals; Theatre and Responsibilities of the Audience, Theatre Costume and Props; Theatre and Media Connections; Defining Mainstream Theatre in Zambia; Theatre and Agriculture Extension; Theatre and Education; Theatre and Politics; and Bedrock of Zambian and African Theatre.
The others are Centrality of National Theatre in the Development of Arts and Culture; Theatre Production and Quality Assurance, Industrialisation of the Arts; International Bilateral Agreements and connections; Publishers’ Caucus; Language of Performance – English vs Zambian languages; Art as a Business; and Theatre and its Social Dynamics.
But while there is renewed interest in theatre, the actual performances remained few and apart, particularly at the start of the year.
Lusaka Playhouse, which is seen as a national theatre house, only came to life towards the end of the year with the staging of the May Your Kingdom Come by Bantu Empire and a one-man act titled Matata by Lee Kabongo which is on this weekend.
As usual, Chingola Arts Society (CAS) remained by far the most active little theatre and managed to hold its annual Banham Awards where it awarded members who had excelled in various productions that the club held in the year.
NATAAZ also managed to hold its national festival in Kabwe in October where nominees for the National Theatre Awards to be held next month in Lusaka were drawn.
Playwright, actor and director Eric Kasomo Jr leads the nominations for the National Theatre Awards with three nominations.
Eric, who directed Africa Directions at the festival, has two nominations for Best Script and one for Best Director. His outfit, Africa Directions, is also fairly dominant in the group awards alongside Nkwazi Theatre Club and Green Buffaloes.
His two scripts, Kingdom War, which was performed by Africa Directions, and Behind the Curtains (Green Buffaloes) are nominated for Best Script alongside Samuel Kasankha’s Bad Timing (NAPSA Theatre Club).
Eric is also in the running for Best Director alongside Francis Malunga (Nkwazi – Rituals) and Chama Chilufya (Green Buffaloes – Behind the Curtains).
For Best Actor, there is Bizwell Mudenda (Behind the Curtains – Green Buffaloes), Sunday Nyeleti (Kingdom War – Africa Directions) and Happy Simpokolwe (Rituals – Nkwazi) while Hawa Njovu (Kingdom War – Africa Directions), Mwimba Nsofu (Behind the Curtains – Green Buffaloes) and Blessings Luwisha (Wezi – GMZ) are nominated for Best Actress.
Acksed Sakala (Kingdom War – Africa Directions), Daniel Njovu (Behind the Curtains) and Aubrey Luo (ZANASE) are nominated for Best Supporting Actor while Rhodah Tembo (Rituals – Nkwazi Theatre), Mirriam Zulu (Bad Timing – NAPSA Theatre) and Annie Ngulube (Behind the Curtains – Green Buffaloes) are competing for Best Supporting Actress.
In the group awards, Rituals – Nkwazi Theatre, Kingdom War – Africa Directions and Behind the Curtains – Buffaloes Theatre are nominated for Best Production.
Dominic Sitamu is now unopposed for Best Cameo following his appearance in NAPSA Theatre Club’s Bad Timing.
With the renewed interest in theatre, next year should be active, and the likes of Dominic will likely not go unopposed.

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