2019 a success for local theatre

Kundai Marunya,Arts Correspondent

2019 was a year of growth in local theatre, with the introduction of a festival, new venue and increased stand-up comedy shows at different venues including Reps Theatre.

The biggest sign of growth was arguably the opening of Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre, a venue that saw an increased number of plays being shown in Harare.

Before it opened its doors, the only regular venue was Reps Theatre, with Theatre in The Park hosting a limited number of plays.

Since opening its doors, Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre has hosted a number of plays, comedy shows, dance theatres and poetry performances.

The significance of the venue has also been immortalising Jasen Mphepo, a celebrated theatre practitioner who has contributed a lot to community and developmental theatre.

He now stands as the second black person of our time who has a theatre venue named after him, another one being Mai Musodzi whose name is engraved at a community hall in Mbare.

Mphepo has also joined an elite group of theatre practitioners who own venues, among them Daves Guzha of Theatre in the Park and Cont Mhlanga of Amakhosi Theatre.

The venue also comes at a time when the industry has been shying away from City of Harare-owned venues due to prohibitive hiring costs, a state of disrepair and the absence of proper lighting.

Some of the stages at these venues are broken down while there is also an obvious absence of security.

Another venue that has shown a lot of difference, especially in community theatre is Edzai Isu Trust’s Theatre PaBridge.

Though it has been in existence for a couple of years, the venue came to full functionality this year.

Located at the re-purposed Machipisa footbridge in Highfield, the venue has been holding weekly theatre shows aimed at community development.

Its ease of access has made it a venue of choice for the Highfield community and arguably the best and frequently used in Harare’s high-density suburbs.

Theatre paBridge closed the year with an explosive first annual Zimbabwe Human Rights Festival which gave guests a healthy dose of music, plays, dance and poetry all aimed at teaching the community their rights.

The introduction of Mitambo Festival, which showcased both local and regional plays at different venues in Harare is also something to celebrate.

Mitambo brought back the lost spark in theatre through discussion forums of development of the genre and how to keep the audience interested.

The festival success was of great importance at a time when the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) was absent.

HIFA is traditionally the biggest festival and brings the best of local theatre among other genres.

Its absence could have devastated the industry, but thanks to Mitambo its absence had a less impact in theatre.

This year also saw the introduction of Mafuwe Dance Festival.

Though the festival was mainly dance, there were a few dance theatre shows that were held at different venues.

It was a welcome development celebrated mostly by dance companies who have been struggling to get performance space.

One of the major breakthroughs of the year was the increased stand-up comedy shows which were frequently held at Reps Theatre, Jasen Mphepo, “Little Theatre”, “Theatre in The Park” and Alliance Francaise among other venues.

Most of the shows were under the Simuka Comedy brand with some independent shows also taking place.

This saw the growth of the genre with relatively new names such as King Kandoro staging a sold-out one-man show.
There are also comedians such as Louis The Prince of Comedy, CKanyiso Dat Guy, Hupepe Chule, and Tinaye Wayne who saw the growth of their careers through increased performances.

One of the most devastating events of this year in theatre was the death of Stephen Chipfunyise, a celebrated playwright, founder of Chipawo Trust and principal of the Zimbabwe Academy of Arts for Development.

With over 60 plays to his name, Chifunyise’s death left the industry in mourning.
In his honour, Chipawo in collaboration with New Horizon Theatre Company staged a play “A Time With Uncle Steve”.

Though there were some negatives, mostly being driven by a tough economy, 2019 was a good year for theatre.

All hopes are pinned on the continued growth of the industry and reintroduction of various festivals that were absent due to lack of financing and a continuous staging of new plays.

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