The play, ‘Amayi akuferanji’ had, at first, the appearance of randomness. Such is the expense of bringing together people who had not united since the death of the last remembered famous artist!
Normally, stage performers meet in one place when death acts as a magnet and, after the funeral, they emerge from their sadness to continue with their solitary journeys in terms of performances— one theatre group doing its own act. It is as if a theatrical journey is best carried out alone.
But the fact is that collaboration, as actor Mafumu Matiki observes, promotes exposure, unity, the sharing of experiences, the vulnerability to others, the chance intimacies, and other benefits of human contact.
“Artists can do a lot of things together,” Matiki, musician-cum-dramatist, says.
While collaborations have become so common place that they are part of the menu in the music industry, the case is different in theatre, where isolation remains, to a great extent, an integral part of the game.
Actor Darlington Harawa acknowledges this point but points out that this could be a disservice to the theatre industry as the arts are a vehicle that reaches all mental terrain.
“The arts can play a huge role in, for example, mobilising community members to civil action. When artists are brought together, they share experiences on a personal level and those who regard them as role models are able to interact with them and appreciate their live performances,” Harawa says.
Veteran playwright and actor Charles Mphoka feels that performers in the theatre industry should be able to come together of their own accord, and work as a team.
He observes that it should not always be the initiatives of other organisations to bring artists together.
It is a point well-appreciated by Bantu Arts Theatre artistic director, Frank Mbewe, who believes that collaboration between performers helps perfect artistic work as the old guard mingles with new blood to create lasting memories.
“When performers star in one play, for example, everyone strives to deliver while getting the opportunity to get used to one another,” Mbewe says.
Indeed, as I sat beside veteran playwright and actor Mphoka— a stage-hardened artist— on the way to Thyolo and Mulanje, and observed the way he interacted with the rest, they were people sewn from one cloth— the old and the young.
While opportunities to sample actors from different groups and backgrounds are hard to come by, drama lovers from Thyolo and Mulanje districts were able to sample a number of artists – most of whom they know just by name, voice, or passing images on television— star in one play, ‘Amayi Akuferanji’ on Sunday and Monday.
The play was made possible through the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (Copua), which mobilised drama hardened playwrights and actors such as Mwandipa Chimaliro, Mphoka, Matiki, MacArthur Matukuta, Enifa Luwamba, Mphatso M’bang’ombe, Lewis Thembachako, Mphundu Mjumira, Misheck Mzumara, Enifa Chiwaya, McBain Kochi, among others.
In the play, Leah [played by Luwamba]— sister to a housewife who has never known the pains and joys of child-bearing due to an abortion that went sour— is preyed upon by a married charismatic pastor who only sees abortion as the only way out of trouble.
When the husband [played by Mphoka] to Leah’s barren sister is told about Leah’s pregnancy, he takes it as an opportunity to finally corner the elusive Leah and take her to wife. Leah, ever more cunning than the traditional Kalulu the Hare, has been dodging the husband’s advances on her.
At one point, Leah turns down the husband’s suggestion for a covert rendezvous in their garden at the crack of dusk and that marks the beginning of problems for the two sisters as the husband dodges the responsibility of fending for the family. It is as if fending for the family has become a stray bullet he has to dodge at any hint of a request.
One’s of the husband’s relations [played by Mbewe] also suffers the same fate. He was plucked from the village to town so he could establish a flitters’ selling business, but hopes of ever making it into a trader hit a blank wall as the husband keeps changing the goal posts.
“You are not ready for the market. You do not have the looks to attract customers. Again, I want to make you stout before you engage in the business,” the husband dresses the relation down in one of the scenes.
It is his unwillingness to play game in providing for the family that pushes Leah into the arms of the calculating pastor [played by Mzumara] and it is only a matter of time before the fruit in the womb reveals itself through Leah’s persistent nausea, vomiting and missed periods.
Coerced by a calculating uncle [played by Matiki], Leah spills the beans but, to the chagrin of her sister’s husband, she reveals that it is the pastor who has planted the seeds. It turns out that the pastor is a two-faced creature who speaks one thing and does the opposite.
For example, Leah, her in-law and uncle find the pastor in the midst of a chiding mission. He chides two of the church’s elders [one of them being a character played by Mjumira] for indulging in sex with girls in the choir. He whips them for turning the choir into a something else, instead of a soul-converting arena.
Then, all hell breaks loose as church elders and Leah’s relations and in-law turn against the pastor for proposing that Leah should procure an unsafe abortion from one of the women. But, unlike the pastor, who is unwilling to part ways with K2000 to get the pregnancy ‘ironed out”, Leah does not want to let go of her pregnancy.
She seems to have changed her mind, despite cashing in the money at first— away from the knowledge and prowling eyes of the world— when she was in the presence of the pastor.
Of course, a song graces the play, too.
Amayi akufa inu
Kuchotsa pakati mosatetezeka eeh
It was clear that, like wine, the play got better with each passing performance— a development Mbewe attributed to the gelling that took place in the course of the performances.
“The more artists from different groups work together, the more they understand each other and this makes collaboration a satisfactory experience. At first, there are always some struggles as each artist contemplates how best to work with the other. Then, you make the big break and know how to handle each other and you do not want to part ways,” Mbewe says.
But part they did, in the end.
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