At last Saturday's 12th National Arts Merit Awards ceremony held in Bulawayo, seven theatre productions of 2012 were recognised in the four theatre categories of Outstanding Actor, Outstanding Actress, Outstanding Theatrical Production and Outstanding Director.
Although the limelight was on the nine nominated thespians and the four ultimate winners of awards, the fact that these plays from which those nominated and those who won the awards came from, were singled out for citation, is an indication of outstanding theatre productions of 2012 which are now available as valuable cultural products.
Theatre products recognised by Nama were Cont Mhlanga's "Stitsha" by Amakhosi Theatre Productions; Stephen Chifunyise's "Diamonds in His Son's Grave" by Rooftop Promotions; Stanley Makuwe's "Wusiku" by Black Maid Theatre Productions; Blessing Hungwe's "When Angels Weep" by MNK Productions; Mcendisi Shabangu's "Ten Bush" by Rooftop Promotions; "The Burrow" by Amakhosi Theatre Productions and Danai Gurira's "Eclipsed" by Reps Theatre.
The question that arises when one considers this Nama recognition is what happens to these outstanding theatre productions after having been recognised by the nation through the Nama?
It must be appreciated that each of these plays had been seen by very few hundreds of people. Those that could have been seen by 3 000 or more people are very few indeed.
One would not be surprised to find out that most of the people, who were the audience at the Nama ceremony, had neither seen these plays nor ever heard of them.
In my own household where members regularly watch ZTV news of the two national channels, most members could not remember having heard on the national network reviews or news items about these plays that were nominated for national recognition.
The other question that should naturally follow is whether those, whose interest in the plays was raised by the citation or mention of the seven plays at the Nama ceremony, will be able to see these plays again?
The obvious answer one can hazard to provide is that there will be no chance for more people to see these plays.
If we estimate that each of the seven plays had been seen by at least 3 000 people, we may therefore be indicating that only 21 000 people have seen these seven plays. At the average ticket price of US$3, these seven productions may have only generated US$63 000 in 2012, it is obvious that these outstanding theatre productions of 2012 will be "killed" soon after Nama -- a common practice in Zimbabwean theatre.
It means therefore, that the Nama celebrates theatre products which have been seen by a very insignificant number of people.
It clearly does not make sense to spend so much time and resources producing outstanding theatre which is seen by a very insignificant number of people in this country and which are ignored after a few performances.
What is even worse is that these prize-winning plays and thespians are normally not accommodated on the two channels of our national television. Neither will these outstanding theatre products be seen by students in schools, colleges and the universities.
If resources can be found to organise ceremonies to recognised these outstanding artistes' works which have been seen by an insignificant number of people when it is difficult to gather resources to have this outstanding theatre seen by more people, our commitment to the development of theatre should be doubted significantly.
During the 12th Nama ceremony, about 10 awards were presented by captains of industry and representatives of major corporations in Zimbabwe. One would have expected that each of these corporates that were recognised at this ceremony are those who would ensure, that students at schools, colleges and universities are able to see these outstanding theatre production through subsidising the required entrance fees. One would also expect that these captains of industry and representatives of commercial entities operating in Bulawayo would ensure that their own workers are enabled to see these plays at Amakhosi Theatre, Bulawayo Theatre, at Intwasa Festival, at college and university halls and at community halls through subsidising their entrance fees to the performances of these plays.
It also seems to make very little sense for the National Arts Council to plough so much time, human and material resources into hosting these awards and yet not be able to contribute any resources to ensuring that these Nama-recognised theatre productions are seen by a significant number of the people.
It does not make sense for the Government to find enough financial resources to sponsor big musical galas that are broadcast live for many hours and but find it difficult to support the theatre sector with resources to ensure that theatre space is accessible to theatre groups and to enable plays recognised by Nama to tour through out the country.
It must be appreciated that one does effectively promote the development of theatre by only recognising best actors, best directors and best productions, when access to theatre is not promoted; when theatre venues are difficult to secure and are priced beyond the means of theatre companies and when the national broadcaster is not in position to provide the publicity and promotion of theatre activities.
Resources for the production of theatre and for the marketing theatre products and other cultural products are crucial.
The absence of a national fund for arts and culture, demonstrates the lack of commitment by our Government to ensuring a viable cultural sector that can produce the type of cultural products and services that attract the hosting of a recognition award ceremony such as that for Nama.