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Passion drives Fumbani in theatre

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INTERACTION — Fumbani (second left) talks to students during a session

When you talk about theatre in the country, people still look back and recall the exploits of theatre genius Du Chisiza Jr, the man behind Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre (Wet). Here was a man who stitched powerful plays and tackled various issues to help bringing about change.

He was such a versatile actor and playwright, who drove theatre to the top such that it competed with sports. There would be a top game at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre involving heavyweights – Nomads and Bullets but Du and his Wet would also pull a remarkable crowd to their performance.

A lot of players would tell you that those were the days. The days when theatre was theatre. But is theatre dead and buried?

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The answer is no. Theatre is still there and over the years there have been a lot of actors that have come out and entertained the masses but the challenge is that times have changed. A lot of things have taken centre stage and that includes the coming in of technology.

The thing is – theatre practitioners should continue with their business and strive to be creative in order to bring back those glorious days when theatre used to pull huge audiences.

It is the same in fashion, there are dresses and other wears that lost touch but they are coming back to life.

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This gives inspiration that theatre will come back to life for sure and for now, players are doing their level best and this is according to Blantyre-based youthful actor and playwright Fumbani Phiri, who stars for Youth Developers Collaboration (YDC) Theatre.

Fumbani is a versatile player in theatre, who has been involved in a number of projects and has taken his own initiative to learn skills that would expand his base as far as theatre is concerned.

His name might sound strange to many but for those who have followed theatre, he is someone who is pulling the strings and has shown potential as far as giving theatre life.

He recently got a spot and represented the country at this year’s Southern Africa Theatre Camp driven by Savanah Arts alongside Eunice Liwewe from University of Malawi – Chancellor College in Zomba.

This is the second time for him to participate in the Theatre Camp, having also been part of it last year.

Before participating in Theatre Camp, Fumbani also got himself an art residency in United States of America (USA).

Through the art residency, Fumbani has also managed to earn himself funding to produce a play that is ready and set for premiere in Blantyre in November 2020.

“As I was in the process of the USA art residency, one of the participants was interested with the proposal I had pinched and the outcome of it being a play,” Fumbani said.

It was then that he advised him to check out on African Cultural Fund website where there was a call for individual artists’ creative projects in time of Covid-19 pandemic, which he did.

“I remember I checked out the page and discovered that I was 12hrs behind the deadline of which I spent most of my time without resting and worked on the proposal which I submitted in 45 minutes,” he said.

Fumbani’s proposal was successful and he was among the 120 artists across Africa.

“It is funding of about US$ 1,000 just to help out in technical realisation of the project and I decided to work out with my team YDC despite being an individual project. I believe in working as a team and that is the only way theatre will grow in Malawi,” he said.

He said the play will be launched on November 27 2020 at Blantyre Cultural Centre, before taking it online for international streaming on paying basis for the whole month of December.

On the theatre camp, Fumbani said it went well and that he had the priviledge of learning more in arts management.

“I also gained more skills in directing and playwright which I am even ready to share with fellow young artists. Apart from earning these skills, the theatre camp was also a platform for networking and co-creation of new projects within Southern Africa like last year’s camp we saw a collaboration of Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa with a production titled Liberation,” Fumbani said.

He said it was high time Malawians also jumped into these projects before shifting focus to European collaborations.

“One other important thing I learnt is the beauty of theatre with diversities and sharing ideas; if we can also do that in Malawi then definitely we will grow our theatre,” the playwright said.

From Lilongwe, where his parents are based, Fumbani originally hails from Nkhata Bay District.

A sixth born in a family of seven children, his serious acting grew when he went to Chiradzulu Secondary School.

“At Chiradzulu Secondary School I got very serious in acting and got more involved with Association of Teaching of English in Malawi (Atem),” he said.

Fumbani, who pursued Journalism at The Polytechnic and also applied theatre at University of Cape Town in South Africa through Open Distance Learning (ODL), has written several plays for different secondary schools, National Schools Youth Arts Festival (Nasfest) and French Drama.

“I have also written over 12 professional productions and I have found everything I do in theatre interesting,” he said.

Some of the plays he has written include The Ghost in Dilemma with Nyamithambo Arts Palace in 2013, The Marauding Beast, The Needs of A Woman, Four Lettered Word and The Great Famine with Solomonic Peacocks, The Walking Ngwazi, Operation Mandala 1915, Wasted Adjectives, She Has A Name, 2084 Thupi Langa Nthaka Yanga and the new one – The Wall with YDC Theatre.

“I have also wrote one play for Rise Arts Theatre from Lilongwe titled Lost But Found which they took to Zimbabwe last year,” he said.

The youthful actor has also been involved in radio drama series for Story Workshop Education as writer for Zimachitika and Zamusakanene.

Fumbani has also been pushing for the growth of theatre for children in Malawi, having participated in a number of projects advocating for Theatre for Children.

He said theatre for children in the country has not been taken seriously and yet this is a hub for building theatre industry.

“Theatre for children in Malawi is more workable than the main stream theatre. I believe theatre culture in Malawi will be back but we need to invest heavily in theatre for children,” Fumbani said.

He maintained that he is optimistic that things will change for the industry, going in to the future.

“Theatre culture in Malawi will fully get back its spot in the next five years and this is if we keep promoting it by starting from the grassroots. Currently, I am pushing on establishing Assitej in Malawi. We have a steering committee and we are looking at launching it,” Fumbani said.

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