London, April 3rd 2015 | Danai J Gurira
Irecently returned from Zimbabwe; we held our annual retreat and simultaneously conducted a training workshop with American Actor Ross Marquand. We then immediately continued with our Staged Reading Series/Director Mentor Program, this reading helmed by local artist Kudzi Sevenzo. We also commenced preparations for our largest program to date, our collaboration with Ojai Playwright’s Conference where Artistic Director Robert Egan and playwright/screenwriter Stephen Belber are to come to Zimbabwe in May and curate our first ever Playwrights development program: Almasi African Playwright’s Festival. It was been a busy month. But the moment that really hit me the hardest throughout the time I was at home in Zim was a moment in the living room of an old friend. We sat and chatted about old times and our formative years in our beloved Harare and in the theater scene. He then said something that floored me, though I had heard variations of it previously, he said, “Zimbabwean Theater is Dead. Nothing is happening, the feeling of it, the life it used to have is gone. It’s dead”
I would hope to beg to differ.
We have a long way to go to revive our creative sector, but that road must be travelled. There are stunningly talented Zimbabwean artists on the ground, as you can see in the various projects illustrated below, working tirelessly and against all odds to hone their craft and commit themselves to a life in the arts. For them and them especially, I must work against the idea, the premise, that Zimbabwe’s dramatic arts industry lacks life. I witnessed Ross Marquand work with eight keen and talented Zimbabwean artists and in a matter of days when I returned to the workshop transformations had occurred, new discoveries had been found and potentially life long bonds had been formed. I witnessed Staged Reading rehearsals with first time Mentee Director Kudzi Sevenzo, a multi-talented young woman, where her assured hand helmed a room with mentor director Julie Wharton by her side, encouraging and guiding the process. I worked closely with a staff, deeply committed to bringing even more opportunity and access to their fellow local artists. I have watched our Almasi trained actors we facilitated to go to the US excel in the most competitive environments. I have witnessed too many extraordinary breakthroughs, transformative moments in our workshops, productions and trainings to concur with my old friend. That is just not death. But there is a tremendous amount of work to be done.
It does involve a collective effort. It involves the local and international understanding that this art form, in this place, matters. That empowering the African artist assures us that stories that must be told will be told, that underrepresented and misrepresented voices can finally be subjectively heard.
It involves everyone getting involved in every way they can. As an artistic organization, still young and finding its institutional footing, the word “collaborative” has never been more pertinent. There is so much more we are rearing to do, but we cannot accomplish it alone. Indeed, we cannot even accomplish our next project alone. We must collaborate, with local entities in Zimbabwe who can help us build opportunities and infrastructure in this industry, with international structures that can bring honed expertise and resources. The revival of the African dramatic arts cannot happen without the entire village. Every gesture counts, from donating play scripts or a used ipad to coming to teach, to partnering to create a permanent creative space for our local dramatic artists. Every bit makes a difference.
Currently we seek partners to help make our up and coming inaugural Almasi African Playwrights Festival a reality. Any amount, large or small, has a massive impact on the success of this groundbreaking initiative. As we say in Shona, pane basa. We have work to do. And it will take a global village. But I am in it for the long haul. I hope you will join me.