SAMUEL Kasankha, the principal adjudicator during the recently held Mwansabombwe theatre festival justly stated: “Much as the themes of the plays were too obvious to miss, it was the manner in which the groups tackled them in their productions that made for whether the drama was good, effective and enjoyable.”
Kasankha said: “It was pleasing to note the vast potential in almost all of the scripts out of which the productions were crafted. There was evidence that they had grasped the basics of play scripting but needed instruction to perfect their skills.”
I liked the intellect with which Kasankha, Vivian Nalili-Ngoma and Eddie Tembo as adjudicators expressed themselves in their judgment notes, and will bank upon these views – usually,theatre festivals are commonly made up of scripted plays.
I am aware that theatre has a nature, a guild, a society, majesty, luxury and a splendor – ethos, ideas, views. A well-cultured society is reflected by written plays; that is why I feel Kasankha’s adjudication notes are valuable records.
Society is echoed through theatre that is why the powers-that-be should strive hard to ensure our people learn to go out to the theatre – there is a lot to learn from the plays that are exhibited.
Kasankha writes, “The themes of the plays performed during the Mwansabombwe festival reflected psychological stress resulting from a variety of traumatizing circumstances.”
Bantu Empire theatre’s play May Your Kingdom Come by Leo Simukoko, is a story of trauma resulting from the ravages of war and life in a refugee camp while Stripped naked a play by Bizwell Mudenda is another upset staged by Matero theatre which mirrored parental neglect and exigencies of making ends meet in a child led home.
In Precious MwiyaZeko theatre’s Shadows of Silence by Maggie Mzimira, the trauma is the exposition of spouse infidelity and ravages of war as Kabwe Arts Theatre’s The School Whistle Blower by John Ntulisha is a case of a corrupt examination system through abuse of office – the teacher/pupil intimacy factor.
In The Dumb must talk, Kasama Arts Theatre dealt with John Ntulisha’s themed play on destitution – a desperate economic situation causing infidelity and scheming in a marriage while Nkwazi theatre’s play The Wilderness by Price Jere, the economic woes of a family neglected by a carefree and irresponsible husband and father.
Further, Tapeza theatre’s Ambassador of Change by Moses Mtonga as a play challenges surrounding acceptability of change encompassing education for all in a rural setting while Sodom and Gomorrah, Eric Kasomo’s play staged by Africa Directions dealt with a clergyman’s dilemma in dealing with a multiplicity of topical social issues that run extremely contrary to his religious beliefs and which he believes are compromising his standing as a leader of the church, e.g. his son’s gay status, his wife’s open support for abortion and his brother’s openly drunken and immoral disposition!
Kasankha’s explained: “Whereas the dramas were indeed interesting to watch, in many instances, the depth of the scripts in tackling the themes were shallow, receiving very surface treatment thereby leaving room for a lot of questions. However, due regard should be taken of the fact that most of the authors are upcoming and young, and without the necessary training or exposure through school or workshops.”
“I have said this before, there is need to nurture the young people who are keenly engaged in script writing – there is need to explore the possibilities of exposing these upcoming writers in Zambia to some form of training through short workshops.
“However, the influence of other people’s plays and other creative works like movies was too obvious to ignore,” Kasankha wrote in his notes: “The proposed training would therefore be useful, not just in imparting play creation skills, but also enhancing the creative capacity of individual writers and exposing the pitfalls of vices like plagiarism which is always evident in works presented at such youthful theatre festivals.”
The acting skills were generally quite good and well above average save for a few instances where specific flaws were identified, Kasankha said; Masking of own faces through presentation of face profiles rather than incline positions. In stage drama, it is critically important that any speaking actor’s face is seen in full or in part by the audience.
Masking can be through hand gestures where the actor’s hands in making gestures partially obscure the actor’s face or those of others during important verbal discourse; Masking of other characters through crisscrossing movements in front of them.
Unless it is essential and serves a purpose, actors must minimally make movements that obstruct or obscure others. This skill was ignored in the greater majority of productions.
“Intonations, accents and verbal discourses inhibited clarity of voices. There were many instances of actors swallowing their words, adopting accents that were not normal or natural but which just caused audibility problems for the audience. Most such instances occurred in scenes of high emotional intensity like quarrels or serious difference of opinion.
“Influence of film and television -it was evident from several productions that film and television were having a negative influence on stage acting because the actors and their directors failed to distinguish the fact that these two media or genres have different inbuilt technical facilities that promote and enhance their efficacy.
“There were, as a consequence, several close contact and eyeball to eyeball situations where actors were essentially whispering to each other, which would work with screen because of sound engineering, but which lost lots of dialogue on stage,” the chief adjudicator said.
Stereo-type stage movements – it is obvious for certain actors their movements were strict instructions by the director.
The anticipated beauty of such movements is inhibited because the actor has not actually fully understood or appreciated why they make the move.
Movements must be used for clear purposes.There is need to train directors in stage design and plotting.Sets that do not properly define where the drama is taking place in time and location.
There is need to train directors and stage managers in the use of portable or minimalist sets that speak to the location in time and space without necessarily being complex. There is too much focus on building complex sets that attempt to establish reality in unreality!
It is highly commendable that Samuel Kasankha and his team, overall, found a marked improvement in general production standards – this is good as it amplifies the essence of organising a festival of this nature.
And commenting about the festival Nkwazi Theatre have thanked their high command for ensuring they attended the Mwansabombwe theatre festival saying they were indebted to their senior police officers who made it possible for them to carry out theatrical activities.
Jessica Lungu, Nkwazi theatre club chair-lady expressed her gratitude to the deputy police spokesperson Rae Hamoonga who is the club’s patron for being supportive.
Francis Malunga defined the festival as a huge success pointing out maturity in the manner participants went about the festival business.
He said the competing spirit and segregation that often exist at festivals was absent; participants merely mingled and analyzed plays in love comparing and exchanging notes,” Malunga(of Bantu Empire Theatre) who walked away with the festival’s best director award for his May Your Kingdom Come said.
On the other hand, Evans Mulenga, whose group Chingola Arts Society’s play Game Over dismally performed cried foul saying the presence of all Lusaka-based adjudicators even when they had well-balanced views was unfair for free and fair competitive spirit.
Mulenga intimated the adjudicators were undoubtedly seasonal and highly experienced, but the organizers should have balanced them with one from any part of Zambia, not one town! “Just when they were introduced, in my view, they already knew who were winning because as human beings, I tend to have a biased thinking.”
By the way what is going on with the National Theatre Arts Association of Zambia – NATAAZ programming? The once bubbling team and its activities are no longer in the air, and this is of great concern!
Has the committee fallen apart or something strange occurred which among some of us are unaware of? The other day I could not respond meaningfully to seemingly more framed questions – indeed, there has strangely been dead silence the last eight months! Where are the key figures chairman and his vice, Boyd Chibale and Saul Sakala, respectively?