Almasi indaba cultivates a culture of storytelling

The cast of the play Tides of Change on the closing day of the Almasi conference held at Reps Theatre in Harare on December 23. Photo: kmcomunications.

The Almasi African Playwrights Conference came to an end after running from December 11 to 23 at Reps theatre in Harare.

The last three days saw the conference featuring stage readings of five plays from five local playwrights, namely Kingsley Chinhanhu titled Four Women, Zaza Muchemwa (A Westerly Wind), Tinotenda Mangwendeza (Viola), Leonard Matsa (Tonde), and Tatenda Mutyambizi, the latter’s play titled Tides of Change.

Almasi is a Zimbabwean American dramatic arts collaborative organisation. Its name is derived from Al-ma-see, an African word of Swahili origin that means “brilliant diamond”.

The last play, directed by theatre practitioner Munashe Goromonzi, is about Thembi, a young girl who discovers that there is a new world outside of the cult that she lives in.

She tries to free herself from the oppression associated with a religion that tries to marry her off. Her world expands upon meeting a boy whom she falls in love with, opening her eyes to a new world, something which she never imagined. The story is all about the process of her trying to establish who else she could be outside of the world that she is confined in.

Almasi brought in an entire team of stage managers for the conference, including directors and actors who, for 12 days, broke down the plays allowing the writers to explore their work.

“There are not that many spaces for playwrights to explore their work, here is a space where we are saying the playwright is king,” said Gideon Wabvuta, the Almasi programmes coordinator.

The conference is spearheaded by Danai Gurira, who is its executive artistic director,and came as a result of a collaboration effort between AlmasiArts Alliance and the acclaimed Ojai Playwrights Conference, a play development programme based in Ojai, California.

Wabvuta, Thandiwe Mawungwa and Zaza Muchemwa were among the three playwrights who participated in the inaugural conference at the Zimbabwe German Society (ZGS) in 2015. It was attended and facilitated by two American theatre practitioners, screenwriter Stephen Belber and film producer Robert Egan, who was the artistic director of the Ojai Playwrights Conference at the time.

The 2018 and 2019 iterations were facilitated by Asian American playwright Alice Tuan, and were held at ZGS and Reps Theatre, respectively. Associate artistic director at Almasi, Muchemwa, said the organisation will keep growing the conference and allow African voices to participate in the dramatic processes.

“It is an African conference and is designed to nurture African talent and facilitate the development of new pieces by African voices which will also contribute to a legacy of great African storytelling,” Muchemwa told IndependentXtra.

Co-facilitated by Wabvuta and former Home Box Office (HBO) executive Sasha Emerson, the conference returned to the RepsTheatre in 2020.

The following year it was conducted online due to the Covid-19restrictions and was facilitated by two American dramatists, Mandy Hackett and Galia Cornelia Jones who were joined by South Africa’s S’fundo Sosibo and Joseph Ekangaas well as Philani Nyoni, Tatenda Mutyambizi and Chelsea Mawumbe.

There was no action in 2022, but in December of last year, the conference returned for its sixth edition and welcomed back Emerson and Stephen Belber, who both returned to coordinate for a second time.

“I think the work that we are doing is incredible.Already, there are several plays that we have developed that count to more than 10, and we believe that the more we have piecesthat have gone through processes, the more we can have dramatic pieces that are compelling for the global stage,” Muchemwa said.

She also emphasised the importance of having more Zimbabwean and African people take on the culture of taking their work through processes and exploring their artistic products to enhance the quality of their work.

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