The performance, with three acts in it, lasted just for 10 minutes featuring a cast of four, yet it expertly delivered what seems to be a complicated message on Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) with a lot of ease.
Such dexterity did not just amaze a sizeable audience at Lilongwe’s Four Seasons last week, but also caught the attention of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres, who had to be dragged into the interactive performance more than once, to either provide insights or respond to some questions.
Unlike the common traditional stage drama where the audience is distant from the performance, in this—the gathering was fully part of the act—a technique used to provoke instant audience feedback.
ArtGlo, a Zomba-based arts group, is using participatory art to popularise SDGs 3, 5 and 13 which focuses on good health, gender equality and climate change respectively. The group has been performing in some secondary schools in the Southern and Central regions. The same was performed at this year’s Lake of Stars in Nkhata Bay.
The interactive play opens with a familiar scene; a public protest against government —tactfully designed to have people connect to reality. Unlike the ongoing demos in Malawi, the focus in the play is to force Capital Hill to act in a different way; address deforestation, wastage management and pollution among others.
From a protest in the street the act swiftly turns into a funeral. Like in the streets where the audience joined the chanting, they sing along well- chosen emotional Chichewa hymns popular in funerals.
The deceased died from HIV and Aids because he had abandoned his antiretroviral therapy, claimed one of the mourners. The peak of the act is when one mourner – cries uncontrollably with ‘visible’ tears – to make-believe that the act was nothing dramatic but real.
“He was my boyfriend, he was my sugar daddy” screamed the mourner – who going by the audience’s reaction had put up an impressive act. This act was aimed at influencing a discussion on health in line with SDG 3.
While the funeral mood persisted in the room—the next act which connects without a break is some hilarious fight on who should lead a youth club. It is a tug of war between male and female.
This provoked yet another discussion on how best Malawi can solve the gender parity.
The action-packed play performed by four students from Chancellor College and Domasi College of Education was a marvel to watch, according to Jose Torres.
“It really sends a message in an easy way. Art is powerful and if well done like the way they have done it, it can influence action. This is amazing creativity. We must encourage such innovations among the youth” said the UNDP country boss.
Executive director for ArtGlo Hellen Todd, who was seemingly happy with the audience’s reaction, said the group, in partnership with like-minded organisations, will continue popularising the SDGs through one of their flagship programmes; Make Arts for Sustainable Action. She said the participatory arts approach has proved effective in many areas they have used it.
In May this year, ArtGlo’s Masa initiative received the UN SDG Action award (creative category) at a ceremony which took place in Germany after competing against 2000 applications from 142 countries.
The award recognises organisations and individuals who are advancing the global movement for SDGs in the most transformative impactful and innovative ways.