World Theatre Day: Donor driven plays kill theatre

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PERFORMING arts have been part of mankind’s existence for thousands of years serving to highlight various issues to do with survival.
The existence of theatre on the continent, however, has always been debated as to whether it existed prior to colonialism.
Local bloggers and writers like Memory Chirere appear not certain of its existence prior to the white man’s coming, but cite that even if it did exist, it was largely ignored by the Europeans that colonised the continent.
Local records show no history of African theatre’s existence except that which was later put in newsletters by missionaries.
Charles Taylor, a theatre historian, argued that there was no theatre in Zimbabwe before colonisation.
Post independence theatre experienced a boom with renowned playwrights like Ngugi wa Miri taking up residence in the country.
It was then that veteran performers like Walter Muparutsa and Stephen Chifunyise gained local and regional acclaim.
Production houses like Amakhosi in Bulawayo also took theatre to a higher level.
Currently, theatre is losing appeal threatened by many factors chiefly poor funding.
For performers, there is nothing much to celebrate this March.
Since 1961 the last two weeks of March have been set aside to celebrate theatre.
March 20 will be a celebration of amateur productions that include plays by children followed by professional theatre festivities on March 27.
The celebrations will run under the theme ‘Take a child to theatre today’.
CHIPAWO will perform on March 29 at the Dutch Reformed Church in the capital, Harare.
“CHIPAWO centres will be presenting plays based on the convention on the rights of children according to the African charter,” said CHIPAWO’s spokesperson, Chipo Basopo.
“The children from different CHIPAWO centres will present different rights in theatre based on their own understanding of their rights.”
Theatre, pundits contend, has suffered as a result of ‘interference’ by people with political agendas.
Seasoned performer, Elton Mjanana bemoans how the audience keeps getting smaller.
One of the problems, he cited, was donor dependence by playwrights and producers who then are forced to create scripts that suit funders and not the audience.
“In my view donor-driven plays have killed theatre,” said Mjanana.
“Producers go to donors to get funding for plays that please the donors.”
This donor dependence has seen ‘prominent’ production houses like Rooftop producing plays like Silvanos Mudzvova’s Protest Revolutionaries which hurl obscenities at the leadership in Government and this is touted as a symbol of democracy.
“So when donor funds dried up the mainstream theatre died and the audience declined,” Mjanana said.
“Government and the corporate sector have to support theatre to keep it alive.”

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