Harare, June 19th 2015 | Elizabeth Zaza Muchemwa
Before I attended Almasi African Playwrights Festival, If I was asked if I could see progress in the space of two weeks, the answer was going to be an unequivocal no. I had been playing and toying with an idea since the beginning of last year. That year ended with a half finished product. At the beginning of this year, that half-finished play had become a play. I even kidded myself into believing that the play was complete. It needed a few rewrites here and there, is what I told myself some days. Other days the more the deadline to send in my play loomed, so did the self-doubt grow. The thing is this, I totally believed in the story I wanted to tell, but did I know the story? Could I see the whole story in my mind and so in effect translate it for the page? Again, no. It was a series of shadows, elusive, dancing in the peripheries of my dreams. I was floundering. At the very worst, I did not want to show anyone what I had written, what I had been up to when I had been quite secretive about what I was writing.
When I was presented with the opportunity to take part in the Almasi African Playwrights Festival, I did not hesitate. I am good at jumping right into training workshops because I believe that one of the key things that make a difference to an artist’s life is being equipped with the right set of skills. This ability has not stopped me from going to places where I ended up spending time being taught what I knew or what I had been practicing all along. In other cases I got a better deal. The first day at the festival made me believe that I was going to get more than a better deal. On that day as I sat at the table listening to Robert Egan talk about how the two weeks were going to be and the process he was going to take us through, I was no longer in doubt that I would achieve my goal. I knew this was a place I could trust to move my play beyond the limited space it was playing within. And I knew I could do it with the support of Robert and the artists who every time we were at the table and in the rehearsal room, they gave me fresher perspectives that allowed me to build the story.
The world I had created in my play grew in depth to a place where I really saw this world and felt it. It was a lot of hard work that I enjoyed more when I got to the end product. Every day of those two weeks were worth more than I can describe in the best possible way. I got out of my comfort zone and was blown away enough to know that I never want to go back to any place of comfort in my writing. I realize now that it is in those hard times, where tough decisions have to be taken that beauty is made. This is in a play, which, in its autonomy, is judged favorably on its own merit. More so it is in the joy and pride of the artists who at the end of showcase shine when a play is given compliments from the audience because they had as much to do with its birthing as the playwright who spent many nights doing rewrites that would have to be done again. It was the magic elicited from each of us that created in all of us at the festival newer versions of ourselves. We came together for one beautiful purpose and achieved it. I believe that I, and my play A Midnight Conundrum, we are the better for it because of this experience. I am deeply humbled to have been a part of, and witness to all of this.