Giving women a voice in theatre

Takudzwa Chihambakwe Theatre
WHEN the subject of theatre is mentioned in Zimbabwe, names of gurus such as Cont Mhlanga, Daves Guzha, Stephen Chifunyise and Raisedon Baya among many others pop up.  There are hardly any female names, although, the industry has seen some very talented women grace the stage, produce and direct some great plays. However, this is set to change.

During Hifa this year, the Women in Theatre and Television (WiTT) team came through to the capital and staged an amazing musical titled “Tellers”, which was by far better than most of the plays staged at the festival. After being blown away by the amazing artistry of the all-female cast, who sang and danced well complemented by a live band, The Sunday Mail Society tracked them down.

The Bulawayo-based movement is propagating the preservation of cultural heritage. “Women in Theatre and Television (WiTT) is an initiative of Nhimbe Trust, which seeks to promote visibility and increase economic opportunities for women in theatre and television,” said WiTT media liaison, Penny Yon.

She added that the programme started in 2011 under the name Women in Theatre Labs (WiTLabs), with funding from Africalia. “In 2015 we added television into the programme and adopted the name Women in Theatre and Television. Since its conception WiTT has mentored emerging women writers, directors and producers for the stage and television.

“The main activities of this project are interactive performances of plays written and directed by women; skills training workshops and policy dialogue seminars aimed at advocating for effective gender mainstreaming in cultural governance in Zimbabwe in both civil society and government departments and institutions responsible for arts and culture,” added Yon.

On whether they have set up systems to sustain the initiative if funding from Africalia is pulled out she said, “The measures that are in place for future self-sustainability of the WiTT programme include its role in the recently established Blues Café, which is modelled on Harare’s Book Café.  “Nhimbe is also pursuing efforts to diversify sources of funding and has added commercial tours locally and internationally as part of its sustainability strategy.”

Apart from Tellers, WiTT has had a number of other productions, among them; “Wives without Husbands”, “Song of a Woman”, “Let it Out” and “Mothers and The Proposal”.

Yon also revealed that the programme is a training platform with a syllabus rolled through weekly classes. “This programme is imperatively a training programme with a syllabus that is rolled out through weekly classes held on Fridays since its adoption of the name Women in Theatre and Television.

“WiTT class trainers have not been limited to women but rather experienced professionals in the theatre and television field, who teach the WiTT class of aspiring women creatives. As previously alluded to, apart from class based training WiTT’s main activities include interactive performances of stage plays and will also include the production of television content,” revealed Yon.

WiTT also participates in policy dialogue seminars aimed at advocating for effective gender mainstreaming in cultural governance in Zimbabwe in both civil society and government departments and institutions responsible for arts and culture.

Moreover, WiTT gives opportunities to women playwrights to have their productions enacted on stage by its class of talented actresses. It also has an upcoming music project, which will see its members once again taking to the stage but as a live band.

The programme currently consists of a class of 12 women, who were selected via an audition process.

These are Lady Tshawe, Donna Ncube, Memory Mguni, Loisianna Charumbira, Delicacy Ngulube, Sharlene Ndlovu, Lorin Sibanda, Khaliphile Sibanda, Angel Mpofu, Patience Sibahle Ngwenya, Chipo Mawarire and Linda Sithole.

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