Unless the country’s dramatists and theatre companies embrace marketing, innovation and tap talent from other industries, the future of stage drama will continue to look cloudy, experts have said.
Malawi used to be a hub of stage drama. For instance, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, stage drama had the likes of Du Chisiza Junior, Gertrude Kankwatira, Esther Jekete and Charles Severe of the popular Kwathu drama group.
Around the same time, gifted dramatists such as Charles Mphoka, Eric Mabedi (Jakobo) and the late John Nyanga aka Izeki also emerged in the picture.
However, experts agree that stage drama, currently, is slumping.
Mufunanji Magalasi of Chancellor College Fine and Performing says local dramatists need to integrate their trade by roping in new stars.
“The state at which the country’s stage drama is needs innovation. They need to integrate and shift to where the audience is, even if it means breaking into other industries such as music. In other countries, theatre companies are featuring movie and music stars in their stage plays to cultivate a new audience. So, this can be done in Malawi to save the situation,” he said.
Magalasi cited the cost of living as one of the major causative agents which has pushed up prices of so many things such as venues.
“Today, most artists are failing to meet the booking fees and other expenses of most venues to stage drama,” he said.
Magalasi further said towering costs of staging drama performances in the country have compelled most dramatists to join Theatre for Development (TFD).
“TFD has become easy money today. Most dramatists are dumping the stage drama for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) where they are engaged in TFD,” said Magalasi.
National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) president Eric Mabedi agreed with Magalasi, saying economic situation has hit hard dramatists and theatre companies in the country.
“I acknowledge that stage drama is not at a level where it is expected to be.
“This is largely because of poor economic situation, which is making it extremely hard for dramatists to put up a professional performance.
“Actors, actresses and theatre groups in the country have good products but with no financial resources to bring them to people on stage,” said Mabedi, adding it is expensive to organise stage drama these days.
He further said the cost of publicity, booking venues and accommodating performers is sky-rocketing each passing day due to the country’s economic instability.
“You may wish to know that Blantyre Cultural Centre is the only affordable venue in Blantyre where organisers pay about K80 000 as booking fees.
“So, which dramatist can dare K200 000 venue with the current state of economy?” asked Mabedi.
However, he said that vigorous theatre marketing can help improve the situation of stage drama.
“I urge all dramatists and theatre companies in the country to market stage drama for it to compete favourably on the market.
“Nothing will come miraculously to resuscitate our industry if we stay dormant,” said Mabedi.
But MacArthur Matukuta of Solomonic Peacocks said lack of decent venues to stage drama is a huge setback.
“Stage drama is a family entertainment, but you cannot expect families with their children patronising venues like Blantyre Cultural Centre in its current state.
“People need decent venues to enjoy stage drama,” he said.
Chris Nditani of Nanzikambe Arts also blamed poor economic environment for the slump in stage drama.
But he believes that things will change with the coming of the Malawi Cultural Fund.