Harare, June 25th 2013 | Gideon Jeph Wabvuta
T heatre has always been my passion and I should say my calling, and auditioning has always been my greatest fear, mostly because I feel self-conscious. Working on the stage readings of A Raisin in the Sun and The Convert were quite an experience. I will separate the two as I worked with different people in the two readings.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry was the first reading I participated in. I actually was the first one to audition as I had to rush somewhere. When I got a part I was quite eager to do it but I was given a minor role initially as the director Patience Tawengwa wanted to try out who was better between me and another guy. Well, I finally got the lead role of Walter Lee Younger as I turned up the heat when it was my turn to take a jab at it. The whole rehearsal experience for the first reading was quite taxing as we had a lengthy rehearsal in which we would sit and just go through the whole play. The first staged reading involved us just sitting and reading, there was no movement whatsoever, and I must say it was extremely taxing as the play was over two hours long. The fun began after the first reading held at The University of Zimbabwe when the play was abridged with blocking for a reading at the Black History month commemoration. The rehearsal was challenging as I struggled to try and ‘act’ with my script in hand, I had to be constantly reminded it was a reading and thus I should read. American director and dramaturge Julia Wharton, who had been there from the very first rehearsal, was very influential as she pushed us to strike a balance between performance and reading; she always stressed that people had to understand the story and hear every word. The performance at the US ambassador’s residence for the Black History Commemorations was even more fun as we brought the house down which then saw us being invited to a local high school (Gateway High School) to perform again. I should say working on this project taught me lessons that I will never forget; one of them being really reading the script. I got to understand Walter Lee so much because I always read the script, and because of that new information about him always emerged.
The Convert was an altogether different story. When I attended the first audition for The Convert I absolutely had no idea what it was about except that it had been written by Danai Gurira and I wanted to be part of it. I remember when I got the script and I instantly flipped through it, I was hooked for good. I walked around campus reading it, bumping into people, apologizing and going back to my script. I was lost in its world and that’s exactly the time I decided I wanted to play the lead male character Chilford. His character had struck me so much and I knew in the second audition I was going to pull it off. For the second audition, however, I was a bit nervous as most people emerged from the audition room a bit low faced, I believe due to the fact that I had heard that Danai was a no nonsense kind of person [she had arrived from the US to audition and direct the reading]. I was a bit disappointed when instead of auditioning for the role of Chilford I was told I had to audition for Chancellor and when I got into the room I read the parts I had been given with Danai giving me a bit of background on Chancellor and after that I was done. I felt I had done the best I could and when I received the text that I had gotten a part I was thrilled though I didn’t know which character I was to play.
The first rehearsal saw me get there as early as I could; I was clearly on time and there was good news as I was Chilford. I was so eager to work with Danai though I had been warned that she was a slave driver. We read the whole play on the first day then she gave us room to ask questions or comment on the play. It was fascinating the different thoughts that arose as people discussed the play. We rehearsed the whole week; it really was hectic as it was a 9am to 5pm job with a lunch break. You could tell that this play was heading somewhere on the third day as most of the actors were pushing hard to get their characters on the floor. The blocking was minimal but I found it easier as I had gained experience from my earlier reading. The day of the performance was quite an experience as we managed to keep the audience glued to their seats for three hours; a feat not so common in Zimbabwe. The response that we got after the show was overwhelming as people loved the whole play and our performance.
Being a theatre practitioner in Zimbabwe isn’t easy as jobs aren’t as easy to come by as one would want them to be. There isn’t enough work in such a small industry as there isn’t enough money to go around. I feel the industry has the talent but it does need to be professionalized in some areas as we do cut corners because of money issues. Usually producers don’t have the funds for a four week rehearsal thus they opt for a two week one. This has negatively affected our industry as some of the work we produce is substandard. One wise man said that the health of a nation is seen by the level of creativity. This translates to how the theatre industry in Zimbabwe is also suffering as a result of the harsh economic conditions within the country. Theatre is not just a mirror for society but also a developmental tool for a nation and I hope this industry will grow.