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U.S./ Rooftop stage Gurira's "In the Continuum"
US Embassy
October 20, 2011

American-born actress and playwright Danai Gurira's play, "In the Continuum," will feature at Harare's Theatre in the Park November 22-26 as the United States Embassy and Rooftop Promotions partner to commemorate World AIDS Day (December 1). The production is funded by the U.S. President's Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has committed $57 million dollars to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe in 2011.

"The reason why I am here is because we are auditioning some Zimbabwean women to perform in the play," said Gurira, American-Zimbabwean actress and playwright during a public discussion on Tuesday. The play, which was co-authored by Nikkole Salter, tells parallel stories of two women: Abigail Murambe, a Zimbabwean journalist; and Nia James, a teenager who has been living in Los Angeles shelters and foster homes since she was kicked out of her mother's house. Though they never meet, and they never enter each other's worlds, their stories are similar. Both Nia and Abigail find out they are pregnant. The two women also discover that they have contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. They must face their respective partners with this news knowing that contracting HIV/AIDS, especially for women, can mean being ostracized by family, friends and community, and enduring emotional as well as physical hardships.

The play has only been performed in Zimbabwe in 2006 at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) but it has won numerous awards internationally. For the play, Gurira won a 2006 Obie Award, the 2006 Outer Critics John Gassner Award, and the 2004 Global Tolerance' Award (Friends of the United Nations), in addition to being honored by the Theatre Hall of Fame. In 2007, she received a Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress in "In the Continuum" at Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, DC.

Speaking at the weekly public Food for Thought discussion series at the U.S. Embassy's Public Affairs Section in Eastgate Mall, Harare, on Tuesday, Gurira said she was impressed by the success of the play in the U.S. and abroad.

"It's nice to see that other women have picked it up and other productions have been made based on it," said Gurira. She added that the play allowed her, "to step out in front of the world as a professional actor." She further noted, "The play rolled out in such a way that it was very unusual, and so people always ask us how a mere class project could be such a phenomenal success." After co-creating the work, Gurira performed in it off-Broadway and toured the U.S. and Southern Africa.

Its success has surprised her and she admitted having been asked about the formula at a number of fora. She says there is no formula. "We created this play, people liked it and took it places," said Gurira who has also starred with Oscar-nominated actor Richard Jenkins in the acclaimed film, 'The Visitor.'

"I basically built on what I was learning at my graduate school in my final year," Gurira told the audience which included inquisitive A level students from Arundel High School. A dedicated work ethic, she told the students, is the key to success in the highly competitive theater and film industry.

Gurira demonstrated her remarkable talent as an actor and playwright, featuring in films 3 Backyards (Sundance 2010), My Soul to keep (Wes Craven, October 2010) and Restless City (Sundance 2011). She has also appeared in the TV shows, "Law and Order," "Life on Mars," "Lie to Me," and has a recurring role on HBO's "Treme."

Gurira's other plays include "Eclipsed," which explores five Liberian women's experiences during the civil war. The play was produced at several leading U.S. theater houses including the Wooly Mammoth, Center Theater Group and Yale Repertory Theater. It won Best New play at the 2010 Helen Hayes Awards, and Gurira won Best Playwright at the NAACP Theater Awards in August 2011.

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