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Festival of tears

Theatre is supposed to bring joy and sadness to life in a context that is imaginary.

But the tears in several plays staged at the Kamuzu Institute for Sports in Lilongwe on Saturday made things happen in a context that was close to real.

What else could script writers and directors do when the theme was ‘Equal Human Rights for Every Citizen’?

For the most part, the actors and actresses— the only ones who officially exist on stage, yet the real players are the unseen script writers and directors— had to show that human interaction invites excitement and mutual trust but, for the most part, it [interaction] is also guilty of making us excited or vulnerable to others.

Just that, in a play, both the excitement and vulnerability to others is exaggerated.

And, so, Zingwangwa Secondary School from Blantyre had to exaggerate the circumstances that lead to Mwandi’s death in a play titled ‘Innocent Heart’.

In so doing, tears were shed.

In ‘Tears of a Woman’ by Lilongwe Girls Secondary School, the female persona Chinsinsi bears the brunt of male chauvinism and sheds tears of suffering.

Even in ‘Light versus Darkness’, a Michiru View Girls Secondary School (Blantyre) play, tears are, again, shed as a step mother makes use of the anger she has in her reserves to through out of the house an innocent boy and girl who have to shed tears of sadness.

In Zomba Catholic Secondary School’s ‘The Day Without Rain’, there were more gun totting and bullet shots than tears— though the tears, like showers, did fall; if not out of the eyes, at least down the hearts of three prisoners who have been sentenced to death for the sins of a Cabinet minister who wants to rise to the echelons of power.

Surely, when the three prisoners are buried – which does not happen in the play— tears will be shed. So, tears cannot be ducked even in Box 2’s case.

Kawale Private Secondary School’s ‘Tears of Mandida’ play is, through the title itself, self-explanatory. Tears are shed and, although they are shed freely, they are tears forced by circumstances.

Mwandida is so heart-trodden that, if tears are anger in liquid form, tears have to flow.

And, so, it happened that Nazarene Private Secondary School did not want to be out-scooped, tear-wise, and made the best out of their reserves of tears when their turn came; just like SOS Secondary School.

SOS’s play, ‘The Verdict’, featured a girl persona who witnessed something as horrible as the taking away of another’s life that she has, from time to time, to be consoled by the state prosecutor after admitting to be “under duress”.

Tears were also shed in New Green Jones Secondary School play, ‘Kokoriko, Kwacha’, as life has to be taken away in cold blood. At the centre of the action is a witchdoctor who urges a male persona to kill an albino woman. Her pleading through shouts and tears bears nothing close to mercy.

And, when the festival— which started at 09: 35am and ended at 07: 56pm on— came close to the end, it was up to the judges to decide who had shed more tears than the other.

Surely, from the tear-filled stories, judges Mathews Mfune, John Mchirikizo and Joyce Mhango- Chavula had to choose from the best ‘pile’ of tears.

Ironically, it was not the secondary school that had shed drums of tears that carried the day. For SOS had not shed a lot of tears, as compared to the pile, in ‘The Verdict’.

SOS went away with K150, 000, second-placed Zingwangwa Secondary School took home K100, 000 while third-placed Lilongwe Girls Secondary School won K80, 000 for their escapades on stage.

The cash prizes came courtesy of The Story Club, the brain-child of writer Shadreck Chikoti, who launched it in Lilongwe in December 2013.

Before the final winner had been announced, Chikoti had said: “Stories can change us. Arts can move a society. We, as artists, have power to create and change society”.

After Chikoti had spoken, Light of Youth Creative Organisation (LYCO) – organisers of the National Schools Arts Festival (Nasfest)— had touted the role of the festival in shaping the behaviour of youth.

LYCO Executive Director, James Kitchen, said: “Through varied musical arts activities such as theatre, dance, poetry and story-telling, Nasfest addresses a number of cross-cutting [sic] issues affecting the youth in Malawi.”

Director of Culture, Elizabeth Gomani Chindebvu, said the government would continue to support initiatives that promote the arts.

“I would like to remind you that the government of Malawi is committed to promoting culture. It is for this reason that government approved the National Cultural Policy in February 2015. The goal of the Cultural Policy is to identify, preserve, protect and promote Malawians arts and culture for national identity.

“Government is very much committed to ensure [sic] that the creative industries in Malawi, which include theatrical performances, are well developed and nurtured to the fullest potential so that they can contribute to the country’s economic growth and development,” Gomani Chindebvu said.

Outstanding students were also awarded in short story writing and poetry categories.

One only hopes that, under the shed of a society that recognises and respects ‘Equal Human Rights for Every Citizen’, the youthful actors, actresses, poets and short story writers can blossom and live to their full potential

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