The Herald (Harare)

27 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Almasi to Launch Year-Round Series of Play Readings

Almasi Collaborative Arts will launch on-going year-round series of play readings beginning this month. Almasi is an arts organisation, which primarily focuses on arts education in order to contribute to the goal of professionalising the Zimbabwean arts industry.

The play reading series focuses on value of education in the dramatic arts, which is a core value of Almasi.

The first reading will take place on Friday 30 November 2012 at the University of Zimbabwe Beit Hall from 2pm-530pm and it's free and open to all.

"Dramatic literacy is a crucial component of powerful, excellent play making," said the multi-award winning Zimbabwean-American playwright and actress Danai Gurira who is the co-founder of Almasi.

"During my time in Zimbabwe I have noticed that a component needed in Zimbabwean dramatic arts development is the comprehension and in-depth analysis of excellent dramatic works that have come before.

"Without an awareness and understanding of some of the greatest dramatic works ever written, an artist cannot develop the level of dramatic literacy necessary to create compelling, well structured, dramatic works, work that can compete on a global level and leave behind a legacy of great Zimbabwean dramatic works."

The play reading series which aims to nurture the Zimbabwean dramatic arts community would be launched with a reading and post performance discussion of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun".

The Pulitzer Prize winning play has been referred to as "one of the greatest American plays ever written." The play is set in 1950's America and it tells the plight of an African American family and the frustration they experience as second class citizens in that era.

"A Raisin in the Sun" was the first Broadway production written by an African American woman and the first by an African American to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1959.

Patience Tawengwa who would be directing the reading of "A Raisin in the Sun" said the whole exercise was a great initiative.

"It enable us to develop the way we probe, understand and unlock the sub world of scripts in order to make discoveries and go places that will enable us to stage much richer performances."

"Recently we had a visiting South African director who openly said our standards in the Zimbabwean arts industry are very, very low and at best we are operating at a community theatre level.

"So it's essential that we embrace ways to redress this and improve.

"We often rush to put up productions on stage without investing the time to bring to life the sub world of the play. One of the pieces of advice I have read in a book by a very accomplished director is this -- 'A director or actor must be a master of narrative'," she said.

The first cycle of the play reading series will consist of 10 notable plays from around the world with three plays by August Wilson, an African American prolific playwright, who chronicled the journey of African Americans through the 20th century in a ten play cycle.

His plays are some of the most celebrated and a powerful example of documenting the voice of one's people and culture through brilliant dramatic works.

Wole Soyinka's "Death and the King's Horseman", and other plays by Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Luigi Pirandello and Gurira's "The Convert", would also be used.

Gurira said the series would also nurture dramaturgy, which is the process of deeply researching the specifics of the world under exploration so that the portrayal can be rich, resonant and specific to the placement of the play.

"Also crucial in dramaturgy is comprehension of the structure of the story laid out and the cohesion of the story in terms of theme, character, plot and resolution. These components are vital to a high standard of play making," she said.

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