Is stage drama losing its grip?
Gone are the days when theatre used to stand out when it came to performances in the world of art in the country.
But today it is simply playing second fiddle.
The once mighty entertainment Mecca Blantyre Cultural Centre formerly French Cultural Centre for instance used to be dominated by theatre performances but today it’s a different story.
There were several drama groups staging performances week in week out but these days music and poetry have become the frontrunners.
In the vernacular, Kwathu Drama Group is the only active group which has stood the test of time since its establishment in the 1980s and still continues with its exploits.
Recently the group premiered their latest production Mwatilakwira and has also announced that it would be coming out with another new production soon.
Kwathu currently receives support from MultiChoice Malawi through GOtv which usually helps them with advertisement.
One of the members of Upile Drama Group which was a household name in the past years, Shadreck Jumaina admitted that things were tough on the ground and that it was difficult to hold stage plays these days.
“Kwathu is the only active group when you talk of Chichewa plays but this all boils down to the landscape. In the past it was very easy to hold performances, you would spend less with a big cast but it’s a challenge now, you need more money to hold performances,” said Jumaina.
He said many of the drama groups do not have adequate funding and that this is why they have gone silent.
“It’s not that the drama groups are dead but rather they do not have enough to go on stage. Again once you get the money and you go on stage you end up losing out because only a few would show up. These days people do not want to go out and with technology many would love to stay indoors and watch movies,” he said.
While drama groups in vernacular have all varnished from the scene and many only reappear during the country general election period where they are mostly engaged by Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) to conduct awareness programmes, drama in English groups have tried to stay in the picture.
Drama groups such as Nanzikambe, Rising Choreos, Mwezi Arts and Solomonic Peacocks among others have tried their best using the little resources they have to hold performances and at the same time enter into partnerships with theatre companies outside the country.
National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) President Manasseh Chisiza admitted early this year that many drama groups were grounded and failing to hold performances because of inadequate funding.
He said they were looking at ways on how drama groups can stand out and be vibrant once again just like in the times of late Du Chisiza Jr and late Gertrude Website Kamkwatira.
“In the absence of funding things have become tougher, I think we just need to adjust ourselves and again keep on confronting the corporate world with proposals and again we need to make sure we come up with quality productions,” said the Ntam leader, who also has a drama group.
Late Du put Wakhumbata on the top but after his demise the group continued the exploits holding a few productions before it went into hibernation.
Mhango, who has been spearheading the group last year, insisted that the group was intact and promised new productions but since then nothing has come up.
Late Kamkwatira also soured with Wanna Do Ensemble Theatre which she created after parting with Wakhumbata. She staged several productions before her demise.
The remnants promised to stop where Kamkwatira left off but today the group is nowhere in scene although one of the members Gift Namachekecha said Wanna Do was still there only that it was inactive.
Actor Thlupego Chisiza, son to late Du, who has been spearheading Lions Theatre but has also gone quiet with his group said recently that it was tough for them to hold stage plays.
“I should be frank with you it’s tough to hold stage plays these days, you really have to dig deeper to hold a performance. As Lions Theatre we have struggled, in the past we were trying with the little resources we had but now it’s difficult,” said Chisiza, who hinted that he is working on a movie.
He said many drama groups are now shifting from stage plays to producing movies which is the trend now.
“It’s a bit easier to work on movies although you still have to dig deeper and this is what I am concentrating on now until the time I will get enough then I will be able to go to the stage,” he said.
He said drama groups such as Nanzikambe and Solomonic are vibrant because some of the productions they are holding are part of projects and that it was a challenge for other groups.
Maxwell Chiphinga popularly known as Max DC, who has been in the theatre industry for years admitted that drama on stage was losing its strength.
The actor, who has in the past also been staging plays with his Emancipation Theatrical Ensemble said the theatre industry needs to wake up from its slumber otherwise they may stay down for long.
“Stage plays are no longer in the picture now, actors and drama groups are now concentrating more on television soaps where they feel it’s not costly,” said Max DC.
He said the cost of marketing drama on stage has escalated and that it was now complicated.
“A drama group today cannot afford to generate money and stage a production at say Robins Park where the charges are high. And then you are also talking about lack of sponsors and so I foresee a steady decline of stage plays in the years to come,” he said.
The veteran actor, who is also a renowned story teller said artists need to move with time at the moment.
“If there is more demand in film and soap than stage, then it’s better to do that otherwise one could be swimming against the tide, or swimming upstream. You never win. You live and die fighting without seeing the dawn of the day,” he said.
Max DC said stage drama is the root of theatre and that he loves it but the trend was shifting.
Having turned born again and established his own ministry, the actor announced that he would be launching a book and that he would be holding no theatre performance this year.
“Apart from Flora Suya’s soap which she asked me to help with directing, in which I am also playing one of the leading roles, I don’t think I have any arts projects pertaining to theatre any time soon,” he said.
Max DC said although Emancipation Theatrical Ensemble was in hibernation it was still alive.
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