Atlanta, January 1st 2014 | Danai J Gurira
Last year marked a year of vision turned possibility, turned reality. When we started this journey we foresaw true opportunity being afforded to the Zimbabwean artist. We foresaw their talents receiving tangible rewards, we foresaw an awakening in Zimbabwe’s dramatic arts, where greatness would be realized, excellence would be achieved and legacies would be born. We foresaw cultural interaction between Africans and Americans where walls of division would be demolished and rich, revolutionary art would result. We foresaw a new realm in the arts.
2013 made it clear that these hopes were tangible and obtainable. We conducted three successful cultural exchanges with one Zimbabwean coming to America for mentorship and two Americans coming to Zimbabwe to direct and teach. We had two highly successful productions, one American director led, presented staged readings to Zimbabweans for the first time, creating a cycle where great works are explored and shared; employed and trained more than thirty Zimbabwean artists and ignited a previously untapped sector of society into audiences and invested persons. The vision has started to feel tangible.
This year our goals are even bigger. Once you start, you cannot lose momentum. Almasi is recognized on Zimbabwean soil now for pursuing excellence and professionalism in the arts without compromise and with consistent results. Our goals for 2014 are to hold ourselves to that standard even more boldly, to create structures on the ground that run year round, to begin to create full time employment and finally and probably our biggest need and challenge yet, to settle into a theater home.
Last year was not an easy one, breakthroughs occurred in the midst of back breaking challenges; the experience of seeing The Convert production through to completion is one I may need to write a screenplay about it was so unbelievable. But we recognize that bringing about a new standard is not for the faint at heart. So many experiences have also filled us with joy and inspiration. One of them has been the amazing response and support we have received from Americans who may never, ever see the full effect that their contributions have made but they make them nonetheless. This has touched us deeply. When we are able to bring Nikkole Salter to teach playwriting and are able to pay a young Zimbabwean their first paycheck in exchange for their talent, small, wondrous breakthroughs have occurred.
Another profound experience has been to see how the work has allowed Zimbabweans artists to blossom. One of our actresses in The Convert was notoriously late. In fact I warned Adam about her before he left, that eventually disciplinary action may be required her issues with tardiness were so extensive. When I arrived in the country, two weeks after Adam had commenced rehearsals, I was thrilled to find a transformation had taken place. Not only was this actress never late, she was often early to rehearsals, she was also always the one warming up, deepening her craft and applying a new standard to her entire artistic approach. Her work excelled in leaps and bounds during the course of the production. It was glorious to witness.
Then there was the effect I witnessed amongst our audiences, their appreciation for the work was deeply gratifying as some of the videos and emails we shared reveal. But one audience member in particular really touched my heart. We were in the midst of one of our matinees and two siblings had been brought by their father to watch the show. They were no more than ten. I was a bit concerned they wouldn’t be too into it. When they emerged after the second intermission I asked them how it was going. The boy was not too enthused, he gave a rather vague response. The little girl looked up at me though with a gleam in her eye and told me excitedly, ” I really like the girl” “You mean Ester?” I asked, she nodded.
That was thrilling to see. The effect a young girl experiences in Zimbabwe watching a young woman take center stage, claim space and voice, be heard and seen is not to be taken lightly. It’s game changing. Encouraging girls and women to know their presence matters and they can be front and center is something I am deeply committed to. It gave me great joy to see this affect this young girls heart and spirit. She then told me she wanted to do speech and drama at school. I decided right then and there Almasi is going to work specifically with young girls in the arts, an Almasi Girls club, encouraging young girls to find their voice through this craft. I’m really excited about getting that started.
With this and several other experiences to fuel us along, we enter 2014 rearing to go and keen to take you all with us. We are bursting with plans, from collaboration with schools to a New Zimbabwean works Festival, to full productions with visiting directors, producers and acting instructors from the US. We also plan to commence commissioning promising Zimbabwean artists. We also hope to bring more Zimbabwean artists to the US, to facilitate more training and mentorship on American soil. Our largest need is a solid structure over our heads and we enter 2014, thankfully, commencing a partnership with Reps Theatre in Harare where we will start staging our productions and conducting workshops, retaining the goal of one day possessing a space specific to Almasi.
The journey has been thrilling and eventful thus far and we are just getting started. Consider becoming a part of this if you haven’t already, and consider making a contributionto our plans and goals for this new year. This has been the most challenging, thrilling and rewarding experience I have ever imagined. I promise to remain in relentless pursuit of the vision.
Tinotenda & Happy New Year!