(Photo of the University of Zimbabwe by Brezhnev Guvheya)
Cross-cultural conversations between theatre artists are the mainstay for the International Theatre Institute (ITI) , which has centers all over the world. TCG, which serves as the U.S. Center of ITI, recently facilitated this interview with our colleague Lloyd Nyikadzino, Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Center of ITI, to gain greater understanding of the state of theatre there. Lloyd has cultivated his relationship with the U.S. theatre community, studying at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre and representing Zimbabwe at our TCG National Conferences. He also serves as a member of ITI’s Young Practitioner Committee (YPC), which is committed to the professional development and community among the next generation of global cultural leaders. Through this work, Lloyd has taken his knowledge back home and conducted a Physical Actor & Creator workshop supported by the U.S. Embassy this past summer as well as begun the work for his own artistic international collaboration.
Jessica: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Zimbabwe theatre as when you grew up, and then present day what Zimbabwe theatre looks like, how it’s defined in terms of style and content of stories?
Lloyd: Alright, I’ll say, growing up, my experience with theatre was just like any other kid in that experience—it was basically at school. We’re growing up in a high density suburb. I mean the ghettos. You will also recognize that we grew up with street theatre in our locations. We had a lot, I mean, a lot of local theatre practitioners coming into our schools presenting their theatre plays. But I wasn’t really engaged to that. If there was really something people would not encourage you to do, it was theatre. Because it was regarded as something you cannot do full-time. So I didn’t have much, I mean zero passion for it.
In 1986, ZACT (Zimbabwe Association of Community Theater) was formed to be one of the two major official theatre bodies in Zimbabwe, together with the National Theatre Organization. ZACT’s objectives were to promote community theatre groups nationwide, provide professional skills through seminars and workshops, and work for standardized wages for theatre artists.
Ngugi wa Mirii, formerly involved in the Kamiriithu Theatre in Kenya and exiled to Zimbabwe, has been the national coordinator from the beginning. ZACT developed the Kamiriithu project, following its basic ideological principles and relying on collective playwriting and staging.
And then, now that I’m in the industry—I’m part of this theatre movement that I’ve never been a part of, I mean, fifteen years ago. And being in an environment where the social, economic and political situation has shifted drastically since 1980 (that’s when we got our independence as a nation), our theatre for the past ten years has been more donor motivated, not all but most of it was presented with the drive to see a democratic Zimbabwe realized through the agendas of the foreign funders.
I must point out that since the collapse of theatre associations such as Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre, Zimbabwe Association of Theatre for Children and Young People and National Theatre Organization, the abolishment of the then Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture’s cultural promotions officers at district and provincial level, it was left to the individual groups and individual theatre practitioners to keep the flame of theatre burning!
Jessica: I think I had mentioned in previous e-mails, this past summer the U.S. had condemned Zimbabwe for some gay raids and so I guess the question is, with liberties being denied or being abused, what is the environment for expression in your country?
Lloyd: I’ll respond to that by first referring to an article I read about a lady in Zimbabwe, [Nozipho Moyo], who said that there is freedom of expression for artists in Zimbabwe but there is certainly no freedom after expression. “Artists may thrill crowds with their performances, inform and educate people on social, economic, religious and cultural issues. But after such performances, artists have to face the wrath of security agents if they say anything contrary to the views of the country’s political leaders.” They might take you away, ask you a few questions, you know? I mean there are artists who have been doing a lot of great stuff—enlightening the communities about the democratic processes, the constitution-making processes. There is considerable liberty and freedom of expression in theatre spaces in Harare and Bulawayo since there is a strong culture of activism. However, one has to know that it is easier to talk about social, economic and political topics rather than to talk about sexually-oriented topics.
And then there are two [acts], one that is called AIPPA and another POSA—Public Order and Security Act —which are censorship tools. These two acts have seriously made it hard for artists to fully and freely express themselves. Instead of directly attacking the government, one has to adopt an apolitical tone and didactic style to perform the subversive.
Another thing that affects a production’s tone is the origins of your funding. This determines the nature of discourse issued in the play which has to be reconciled with the vision of your institution. [Your work must] fulfill the prerequisites of the funder and the kind of impact you want to achieve. These are the questions that are considered which affect the production: Who is funding you? And why are you doing this? What is your objective?
Artists still do whatever they’re going to do. Artists have been arrested and told not to continue performing their shows. There’s a Zimbabwean play entitled, No Voice No Choice that has recently been banned because of some political statements that are or that might be in the show. I talked to the writer and producer of the show and he told me that the show had first been approved by the Board of Censors, but after a few performances in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, they were summoned off the road.
The motive of any undemocratic government is to frustrate and to control. Many an artist has rebuffed this with a strong will to air their views and those of the people without any fear of being reprimanded and or in full knowledge of how to avoid being reprimanded. Zimbabwean artists have operated in one of the most politically suppressive settings. Thanks to the inclusive governments that formed the Global Political Agreement.
But despite the monumental challenges, art continues to thrive here as artists are determined to shape the future of the country by expressing themselves.
Jessica: So you had mentioned a Board of Censors—what is their role?
Lloyd: It’s mostly known amongst artists in Zimbabwe as the Censorship Board. Their role is to control information and scripts submitted to them before they’re performed so that they see if the script is deemed fit for public consumption. They are responsible for controlling and determining the future of a production if it must be taken to the citizens. They act as a sifting tool designed to protect the interests of their superiors. They are always on the lookout for things that spark controversy and inhibit freedom of expression. Let us equate them to a signal scrambler. Now with the inclusive government in place, they feel the need to censor information that might tarnish certain political parties within the Global Political Agreement…
Jessica: So this is very different from how our government functions. The FCC regulates TV and radio. But to have plays reviewed for content by the government is different than it is here. Do you see a problem with that or do you think that role is appropriate?
Lloyd: I think it’s outdated now. We are in a new age where freedom of expression should be upheld for dialogue and criticism. Freedom of expression is an instrument that voices the sentiments of the people who are the primary recipients of all government initiatives and acts as the first stage of monitoring and evaluation. Therefore, it is necessary that we freely advocate for the reconciliation of government activities to that which was agreed on when it was put into power by the people’s votes. I think the censors pretend to be concerned about the content we [produce]. Most artists will end up avoiding the censors by just going to the communities and performing their shows. Then the censors read about the show in the newspaper and they say “Oh, we saw you are doing a play. Can we ask you one or two questions?” When they are provoked, that’s when they come out.
I think whenever you want to silence people there might be really something you don’t want others to know. There’s something wrong when one tries to censor people to say what they want—to speak to their fellow citizens, to their community and to the international community.
I think the whole statutory instrument needs to be revised through the newly expected Constitution. There are certain elements that might need to be revised so that artists are fully capable of expressing themselves without the fear of the unknown i.e. government reprimand without any respect of the law and the respect of court/charge procedures.
Jessica: Why have you chosen to focus on physical theatre? Why do you love it so much? And how do you see it resonating with your community and telling the stories in your community?
Lloyd: I love physical theatre because it’s a mode of performance that helps me pursue storytelling or drama primarily through physical means. I’m not that extra physically strong, but I love to do physical/dangerous stuff. You can express yourself using your body in any way you want. Especially in the environment that I’m operating in, any misquoted word can get you into trouble with the authorities. So, with physical theatre, my body will tell the story, using didactic/allegorical means. It’s all about using/harnessing the power of subtext. How you can express emotions, your thoughts, your feelings through your body dramatically is one of the amazing things. The training that I went through at Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre, helped me to create my ideal world—what I want the audience to experience. When you go on stage, you can do whatever—you can jump up, you can go underneath someone, and you can throw someone.
Jessica: How did you meet Dell’Arte and form that relationship?
Lloyd: Wow—it is a play in itself. It was at the 2010 TCG National Conference in Chicago that I met this intelligent, sophisticated and seemingly young man named Matt Chapman. He introduced himself and likewise I did. Honestly when I was talking to him, I just thought that he is one of those people who want to talk to 100 people at a conference and get their contacts but never follow up. He talked about Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre the school and after some minutes, he asked me to go look at their website and tell me what I thought. And I was like, “Wow! I love physical theatre—I have to go and look at it!” I later applied and they accepted my application.
Jessica: Can you tell us about some of the theatre organizations in Zimbabwe and how they interact with their community and the different styles? Are there plays that are more text-based, organizations that support more text-based work or organizations that do more physical theatre?
Lloyd: Yeah, physical theatre is another form that has been, at this point, not totally explored as it became unpracticed when the early experts went into exile. I think you know the history of Zimbabwe, we had been colonized. In the 1980s, when we got our independence, we started changing structures; at least two theatres have remained. They also focus on text-based plays—dialogue driven plays.
Also, community theatre is strongly practiced. Examples are Repertory theatre and, even more common, drama clubs formed by theatre lovers and aspiring thespians from the (black) community who take to the amateur stage with great passion and minimal skills which is a result of the unavailability and/or the lack of available experienced practitioners who can assist them to blossom their art. To those that are successful, it is because they have been in practice for some time, broke away from big theatre organizations or partnered with organizations that offer them a capacity building platform to improve their art and administration. So they’re text-based but they also have the physical elements within them.
There are a number of organizations that do community-based theatre and also engage the community on social, economic and political issues that are affecting the community and then make a way forward for those communities. As it is, we are now, in Zimbabwe, in a phase of revamping our theatrical practices which put physical theatre at the forefront of the development exercise.
Jessica: For those of our readers that don’t know Zimbabwe organizations, which ones could they research or which ones should they know about?
Lloyd: Some of the theatre organizations in Zimbabwe are: Savanna Trust led by Daniel Maphosa, Patsime Trust led by Jasen Mpepo, Edzai Isu Talent “98” led by Tafadzwa Muzondo, Together as One led by Washington Masenda, Bambelela, Home grown led by Raisedon Baya, Amakosi led by Cont Mhlanga, Berina Arts led by Lloyd Mujuru, Jahunda Arts, Baptism of Fire, Saratoga Arts…yah, these are the ones I have for now.
Jessica: You had mentioned collaboration with Michael Haverty of the Object Group. You met Michael Haverty at the Boston conference, right?
Lloyd: Yeah, the TCG Boston Conference is where I met him.
Jessica: How did that collaboration – how did that take shape or how did you initiate the conversation for collaboration?
Lloyd: The TCG Conferences are an amazing, amazing, and I repeat, amazing, amazing platform where people have an intimate relationship that leads to…I mean, dialogue. So when you see someone for more than three hours, you’re compelled to say hi. After you say hi, you need to find out where they come from and what they like to eat. You know, you want to find more about them, what they do every day? You know? After that you try to find the kind of work that they do—are they crazy or are they weird? Are they just insane? After that I think that after my talk with Michael Haverty [I found he] does puppetry and there’s not much puppetry back at my home and I was like “Oh…” And, you know, this is an opportunity for people to connect. Why don’t we connect?
And he was like, “yeah, let’s do it”.
And I was like “ok, let’s make it happen”.
Jessica: What do you think Zimbabwe theatre will look like 50 years from now?
Lloyd: We’re like 32 years into independence. In the next 15 years or 10 years, with the current pace, we’re going to have a vibrant theatre industry within Zimbabwe. The commitment and passion we do stuff is just amazing. People are— other people are sending me their scripts, other people are handing me their projects, people are collaborating, and I’m also instigating other projects complementing what other young people are currently working on. A lot of young people are on the ball now, to develop and take hold of their future in theatre. So at the current rate of development, if we attain a social, economic and political situation that is willing to accept the respect for fundamental human rights, I know theatre has the potential to transform Zimbabwe into a better society with less hate, division and corruption. I think we will have our own Zimbabwean Broadway.
Lloyd Nyikadzino resides in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital where he continues to work in road shows, television and the stage full time. He holds a Diploma in performing arts with Midlands State University, Certificate in Physical theatre from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater (California, USA), and an Executive Certificate in playmaking and performance from the University of Zimbabwe. He is currently engaged by the International Theatre Institute as a Coordinator. Lloyd assisted in directing the award winning LOUPE with Patience Tawengwa and in 2010 Lloyd was invited by the US government to a young director’s cultural exchange in Washington DC where he represented the African continent. He has worked with Savanna Arts Trust, Patsimeredu Edutainment Trust, Shooting Stars Theatre Productions, Edzai Isu, Crisis in Zimbabwe coalition, Nhasi Magwana Zimbabwe Music Organization, Zimrights, Zimbabwe poets for Human Rights and African Youth Arts Festival. Nyikadzino is the founder and artistic director of the arts organization, African Youth Arts Project (AYAP), the leading youth arts based organization. For more details about Lloyd Nyikadzino you can contact him at email@example.com.