Drama enthusiasts in the country are complaining about the scanty theatre performances in recent years.
They cite a time when there used to be a lot of drama performances from theatre groups such as Wakhumba Ensemble Theatre, Kwathu Drama Group, Nanzikambe Arts Theatre and many others.
Of late however, only a few groups are active—groups such as Mzuzu Theatre Arts Group (Mutag) and Dikamawoko Arts Troupe have been holding performances regularly.
Dikamawoko just performed a two cast play at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) and at the HS Winehouse in Blantyre titled Taking Madiba at the end of July. On their part, Mutag just performed Final Faithfools in late June in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must).
These irregular performances do not please theatre fans such as Chikumbutso Chigalu, a Ndirande resident who used to patronise auditoriums and theatres for drama.
Chigalu only has fond memories of the past when he would regularly go to the French Cultural Centre [now Blantyre Cultural Centre] to enjoy himself.
“In those days we would travel from Ndirande to French Cultural Centre just to watch Du Chisiza or Izeki perform. To us it was real fun and entertainment. But now, only memories remain,” he says.
Erick Mabedi, president of Theatre Association of Malawi, says that in the past there were a lot of theatre performances because among other reasons, venues were cheap.
“We do not have more theatre performances these days as compared with the past because of the economic situation we are going through. This has slowed theatre activities. To put up a show we need to find a venue. In the past they charged us 10 percent to 15 percent but now they are charging us between K80 000 and K150 000 for a hall,” Mabedi explains.
Further Mabedi said that some plays need a big cast of about 10 people. As such the burden of transporting them is costly.
“If we are going to Lilongwe, Dwangwa and other places, we need to transport and accommodate these people. It will cost a lot to transport over 10 people,” he said.
Another challenge Mabedi cited is advertising—in the past there was only one local station and it was easy and cheap to put an advert during morning programmes because artists knew that many people would be listening to the advert.
“But now there are many radio stations. You have to advertise through four stations. This is a lot of money. Again, some do not listen to the radio. They just watch television. So after spending a lot for the play, you go to Salima and you only get K400 000,” he says.
Misheck Mzumara of Mzuzu Theatre Arts Group (Mutag) said a number of artists are taking steps towards making theatre vibrant. But it’s a slow and painful process.
“It’s positive and there is a lot of collaboration. So far, Mutag has performed Sizwe Banzi is Dead which was a collaboration between Mutag and Lions theatre of Thlupego Chisiza, Prison Escape, written by Smith Likongwe of Chancellor College was in collaboration with Nanzikame four months ago in Blantyre and Final Faithfools by Mutag alone last month in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Must and Tales of a Migrant, a one-man cast play by Mutag in Blantyre and Mzuzu it was written by Thokozani Kapiri and the poetry is by Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa.”
Another setback according to Mabedi is that a quality play that Malawians can like is expensive adding that they need to write scripts that carry issues that are relevant.
“For example, political prostitution happening now. Again, the language in the play ought to be formal. When I write a play, I send it to the Censorship Board to check the language. I wonder whether our fellow poets send their works to the censorship board because it appears some poems contain vulgar language,” said Mabedi.
He added that to revive theatre performances, the people in the industry should show seriousness. There must be talented actors, good plays and issues of copyright should be tightened.
“No one should just be allowed to stage a comedy of Izeki without due permission. There must be originality and not just copying the works of others,” he suggested.