Harare, April 21st 2015 | Kudzai Sevenzo
The Almasi Directorship program, has been an exciting journey for me. My first staged reading “Necessary Targets” under Julie Wharton’s directing, was really when it all began. I began to understand the complexity of directing a play, how important it was for actors go through the text in detail. I also learnt from the previous staged readings and from our mentor, the importance of making actors feel a sense of ownership of the production. I realized it is important to always be probing, asking questions while analysing, researching and allowing actors to find their own interpretations of the various characters while at the same time not losing the essence and intention of the playwright.
When Julie asked me if I could direct a play in March, I eagerly took up the challenge. I had a couple months to decide what play I wanted to direct, so I was pretty calm, but as March came closer, I found myself battling with self-doubt and nervousness. Was I ready to switch from actor to directing a play? Would I find a play that I could resonate with? March came quickly, and after going through a few plays that I received from Almasi, I came across ‘Sueño’. I knew instantly that would be the play I would choose as my directorial debut. The play lured me in with its humour, hooked me with its wickedly real power struggles, and haunted me with its big questions. What is honor? What is freedom? Does fate dictate our end, or do we actually have the freedom to determine our own destiny? Is man inherently good or evil? Is life a dream? If so, who is dreaming us?
Directing the play and acting (though it was a small role), was quite an experience for me. On one hand I had the task of watching the cast as we went through rehearsals, on the other I would suddenly leap up and rush to the stage, having had forgotten I was needed for the next scene. Soon I realized the task ahead of me. I needed to be constantly on my feet. Eventually, I got the hang of it. The experience truly stretched me. It was enriching. I felt the actors were fast developing their own perceptions of the play and its characters. Discussions about the play were great, never a dull moment, there was so much input from everyone! I was thrilled!
Segismundo, imprisoned all his life, by his father, King Basilo because the stars foretold that he would grow to be a tyrant and tear the kingdom apart, has only ever had two companions: the nobleman Clotaldo and God, who’s very existence he questions. Uncertain about his true roots and identity, he is oblivious to the fact that he is heir to the throne. To me, these are parallels to the primal condition of Africa: a continent that possesses vast wealth of wisdom, strength and resources, has been burdened by colonialism and apartheid, and struggles forward as the poorest of continents. Repressive systems that stifle people from achieving their dreams have been in place both pre and post-independence in many African countries.
The irony of Basilio locking up his son for fear he will turn out to be a tyrant, but then proving to be a tyrant himself, by not giving his son a chance to use his free will and prove “fate” wrong, reminds me of the millions of vulnerable and voiceless in this world, whose voices are muted by the powers that be. Clotaldo, who could represent a patriotic and loyal servant to some, has a dark side. He deceives Segismundo all his life about who he really is, what he is capable of and his true heritage. He does not seem to ever question the king’s actions, particularly his greatest one of imprisoning his own flesh and blood. This extreme bootlicking and non-questioning of their leader is also demonstrated by Estrella and Adolfo as they greet their king, fawning over him and calling him “wiser than Jesus”.To me, Clotaldo represents political, cultural and religious systems around the world that repress the freedom of young minds for their own gain.
Eventually, Segismundo triumphs over the astrologers’ predictions about him through his power to rise above his circumstance and FORGIVE. When he realizes that he has the power to free himself from his own fears, perpetual imprisonment and past hurts, his life takes a dramatic turn. His moving words: “Injustice and revenge will not help you overcome your fate – only reason, tolerance and tranquillity of spirit will,” reiterates an important theme of forgiveness. Segismundo finally walks confidently in his destiny that was temporarily snatched from him, and is heir to the Spanish throne.
Between its extremes of the ridiculously funny and exaggerated archetypes to the afflicted and imprisoned protagonist who takes us through various stages in his journey of thirst for freedom, anger, revenge and remorse, then finally: forgiveness of those who wronged him; I knew it was a play that anyone can relate to. I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the process of directing it.