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Arts education and theatre review
November 18, 2009

A Theatre Project Preview - 9.11.09 Secrets of a Woman's Soul - The Evolution

A very moving book about a woman's plight in the face of poverty, HIV/AIDS and society's problems in dealing with both was adapted for stage by CHIPAWO. With the support of the European Union mission in Zimbabwe it was first staged as a Participatory Theatre Communications (PTC) piece. PTC is a form of theatre where the narrative is developed in stages whereby at the end of each stage the audience is encouraged to participate. They can comment on the facts, notions and attitudes they have just observed but the best bit is that they can actually take to the stage and actually demonstrate what it is they think ought to be happening in the story. PTC is obviously a powerful means of getting crucial information across to any audience as well as attacking the issues of social attitudes. A qualified resource person is always on hand to see to it that factual information is kept as just that.

In CHIPAWO the Acting Performances Director one Dr Robert McLaren adapted Lutanga Shaba's narrative to a script for PTC and a brilliant all girl cast, under Chipo Basopo, from CHIPAWO's own Girl Power Centre did the business. Because of the intimate nature of the content it was necessary that girls to perform this primarily for female audiences (one man I won't name declared himself an honorary femme to justify his presence). On the road, this version of the show was taken to two high schools an orphanage and one community arts centre.

However, today's performance wasn't PTC. It was the purer art form where a continuous narrative is acted out under the wizardry of lighting effects, the dialogue is richer and the acting deeper. In short the whole range of emotions inspired by the book is relived on stage. It was more taxing of the girls' acting skills but they rose to the occasion. We have our own breed of gremlins locally and they just had to make a show, it took a lot of fortitude to put a collar on them.

The main objective was to give the audience a taste of the power behind Lutanga Shaba's work translated into pure theatre as opposed to a more emotionally aloof PTC. The message remains as potent but if it can draw tears from all but the "toughest" manne its even better. Our audience comprised people representing various organisations whose support could see this version of the show on the road. Judging by their reactions the "Secrets of a Woman's Soul" could soon be revealed to many more audiences and ,I dare say, to their own benefit. In the mean time find the book and read it.

Mnatsi Zhou

Arts education is a right

Should I go or should I not? I thought. It was important that I do go but CHIPAWO and I had very little of the wherewithal between us. I did my sums over again. Fuel to Beit Bridge with a 20 litre reserve US$85. Fuel from the border to Johannesburg about R480. I forgot the new tolls in Zimbabwe and the Limpopo River Bridge tolls but least I knew on the South African side the tolls were about R120 there and R120 back. So making sure I took a big bottle of water and a few hunks of bread and jam with many bananas - my compound in a veritable banana plantation - the small sweet ones, you know - and assuming that nothing, absolutely nothing, else that would incur any cost at all happened on the way, I would need about R720 and US$170.

Together, CHIPAWO and I had US$253 between us. But then SupaSenta needed US$32 in fares for its Saturday session and the arts educators needed US$39 for fares to visit CHIPAWO centres. O, and then there had to be a fuel contingency.

So that left me with a full tank of petrol and a reserve, US$12 and R420. Do I go or do I not?

As I negotiated the rather rough passage of the exit from Harare on the Masvingo road, I said to myself, this time I am taking one chance one too. This is reckless, I said. One puncture and I've had it - or a speeding fine or a breakdown or problems at the border!

So why do it?

Two weeks before I found myself on the road to Johannesburg, Betsi Pendry, a New Yorker now based in South Africa, working with IDEA as well as running her own organisation which uses drama with young people on democracy, sent me an email to say she was coming up to Harare to attend a workshop on the uses of theatre in HIV/AIDS work. She mentioned that there was to be a sub-regional arts education 'summit' in Johannesburg to prepare submissions to the UNESCO world summit of arts education later next year.

Well, of course, this is CHIPAWO's cup of tea. In a spirit of bravado, I pointed out both to her and to Yvette Hardie, Secretary of ASSITEJ South Africa, that our credentials are impressive and CHIPAWO simply cannot be left out. I mentioned among other things:

1. 20 years of a unique pedagogy and national programme of arts education for development and employment with children and young people, which we are in process of sharing with others in the region.
2. CHIPAWO has been a pioneer in the area of Early Childhood Arts Education in Zimbabwe and hosted the first colloquium on the subject in Zimbabwe in 2007
3. CHIPAWO pioneered arts education with the handicapped, including the first handicap advocacy arts festival and the first television series in Zimbabwe in Sign Language
4. The Academy of Arts Education for Development which offers university-accredited diplomas and certificates in Performing Arts and Media Arts
5. Attendance and presentation at the UNESCO Regional Conference on Arts Education in Port Elizabeth, June 2001, and with the assistance of UNESCO, hosted international seminar "Approaches to Arts Education Worlwide", Harare and Lake Chibero (2002), the papers of which as well as those of the 'Finding Feet' conference in Windhoek, have been edited and published by the Academy as 'Ngoma: approaches to arts education in southern Africa'.

Of course, I was blowing our trumpet, but the 'summit' was being held a long way away and this meant we had to blow all the harder if we wanted to get them to hear.

So, this was the reason that I was now driving down the road to Masvingo in the early hours of Tuesday morning with US$12 and R420 in my pocket.

I am back now and so to try and whip up a bit of tension over that journey would inevitably collapse into anti-climax. Yes, I made it. I made it by talking my way out of two speeding fines and a clamped wheel on the Zimbabwe side of the border - when did they start clamping wheels, for goodness sake? I made it with a generous little donation from my daughter in Johannesburg after bridge tolls and third party had wiped out the rand I had. And I got back by selling books at the 'summit', generously assisted by Yvette Hardie and a small donation in the form of a rather subsidised purchase of a couple of my books by the Centre for Indigenous African Instruments and Dance Practices (CIIMDA).

The 'summit' was a stimulating and important experience and over the next few days, I would like to make a contribution to the discussion of some of the issues raised - time and energy permitting. So, hokoyo! Xwaya! Qaphela! Hlokomela! Tenkek! Pas op! Watch out! Me blowing my trumpet again - must make it a habit!

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