last days on planet zim before launch to planet circus

May 15, 2008

Dreamland; the grand opening theatre spectacle of HIFA. I play the king of a land far away who has bewitched his people in order to steal all their music which he loves and which he plays all day and tries to sing. The costume is a huge mask modeled from a well known Shona soapstone sculpture; slightly grotesque but with a strange humanity about it. This combined with a padded version of Idi Amin’s suit from Big Dada presents a recognizable image to Zimbabweans and the point is not lost to the audience who is, we must admit, predominantly the converted anyway. Still it shows that the resistance is not dead. The rest of the show combines the talents of some extraordinary Zimbabweans including Chiwiniso a singer of stellar skills and spirit, Outspoken and Comrade Fatso, two extraordinary spoken word artists, Tumbuka dance company amongst many. The king is first seen playing a cello with incongruous sensitivity and humanity, and then he launches into a sad and somehow debauched version of What a Wonderful World. He later returns and through video images of Zimbabwean atrocities he sings Never Can Say Goodbye. Or rather Priestly does and I mime and combine it with as many dance moves as I can fit comically into the two or three minutes. The grotesque, hopefully, is heightened and laughter allows the fear, hate and pain to find its way into constructive action and love. Ha ha ha.

Things seem uncomfortably calm and the jokes about millionaires and billionaires fall thin and painful at the feet of Zimbabweans who have to deal with the real effects of the fact that their money is worthless and that is not a joke in a supermarket queue, it is pain and starvation.

Then out for supper with Derek and Elroy two young Zimbabweans and we go to a local fast food place and we sit down to tables strewn with menus promising all sorts of culinary delights and when the waiter arrives he says with a Zimbabwean smile ‘No not available; only chicken and rice’.
And then ‘No sorry, no rice only sadza. Chicken and sadza’. (thick maize meal porridge)
‘No vegetables? No sausages?’
‘No, only chicken and sadza.’
Well then the whole table orders chicken and sadza and they are very happy when they taste it and it sings of something good that we all partake of the only thing the place has. Then out of the blue he comes back and says ‘No, there is rice.’ and I say ‘Yes some rice, what about some of that spinach?’ I order it and he brings spinach and rice and also some vegetables which they obviously cooked especially for us. And they are delicious and the chilli is hot and the sauce is good and it costs 240 billion Zim dollars and we are all fed and happy and go back for beer in the bar. It’s 10.20pm on Sat April 26th.

Then April 27th went by with not one of us mentioning or recognizing the fact that it is our day of freedom. Weird. Good word run with the company and good session with Ashleigh and Sibu trying to develop some scenes around the theme of motherhood. Then good rehearsal with Brett in costume. Felt the power of the costume and the mask. Scared and entertained the kids. Played nice silly buggars in the routine and enjoyed sending up Bob the doos. The role sets up an image of Mugabe ruling his country and grotesquely fucking it up. At the same time the role asks questions about his humanity. It challenges the notion of his obvious and stereotypical dehumanised state. Brett is happy to investigate this against the strong flow of emotion in typical perceptions of him The metaphor in the allegory allows me to explore the humanity of the monster and so create some contradictory and unexpected emotional dynamic. What a pleasure to play the play under the direction of Brett Bailey. Every dance move was a tribute to members of the cast of Truth in Translation. The production is nice and rough and spikey and wild and edgy just the way we like it. Then a civilized set of drinks and inedibly meaty snacks with some of the other festival artists; Norwegian aerial act musicians and director, and choreographer John Allen from New Orleans and various others. I have a six fifteen pick up so better go to bed and sleep. Ah well …

Opening night came and went with a hurried shift from Truth performance for which they laughed cried and stood and then the performance of Dreamland which was a thorough jol. After which I had a drink with Michael and then to the concert by Mbira Dzenaharira a traditional Mbira group. I had to leave them early
But what a jol; traditional and kind of trancy Zimbabwean music which moved me to dance exactly the way I wanted to. But for a bit too long. My knees are suffering this morning.

Opening of Truth in Translation; new cast and what a pleasure to have players who are interested in playing for the sake of the product and for the concept of the show, not themselves. The spirit of the company has been a pleasure from beginning to end; no defensiveness no paranoid homophobia nor mysoginism or however you spell it. Just people who are interested in playing good theatre. Double Yay!! of all yays!!!

Zimbabwe; it’s astounding in that it keeps going. It’s an amazing tribute to the resilience of a people who will not succumb to the challenge to respond with violence. A people who will endure the stupidity of ignorance and greed because they believe in the possibility of the solving of problems through love and compassion rather than through violence. Of course the problem is that violent repression was the most well taught lesson of the British colonialists. That’s why Britain can’t stand him now; he is the image of their shame, the monster they created. Zimbabwe can show the world that resistance doesn’t need to be violent in order to be effective. Patience and resilience and fortitude and extraordinary strength will serve. (he wrote blithely while not having to suffer the hunger and cruel oppression of the dictator)

Being in Zim before and during the release of the results; Sorry to tell you Mr Mbeki but there is a crisis in Zimbabwe. A serious crisis which involves the lives and livelihoods and health and safety and security of millions of Zimbabwean citizens whose voices are being stolen while the world watches and while you strut up and down holding hands with Bob in some kind of misguided loyalty to the man who supported you for so long during your struggle. But this is misplaced; the man who helped you and mentored you all those years ago is now the man who holds the tools of torture. Harare might now be a bubble of calm but it is a calm resting on a strange mixture of despair and resilience.

Today the presidential results are released to show that Tsvangirai has won 47.3 per cent or something, which means that a run off is required. The MDC, according to one source we spoke to, is determined to boycott the run off in which case according to the constitution Mugabe will stay in power. Then they will have no course of action to make change. Hopefully they will agree to it, under strictly controlled conditions so that they might feel safe after the election having repeated their expression of support for MDC. But somehow I doubt it. The sheer level of intimidation and violent pressure on the supporters of the opposition can only make them feel very insecure about continuing to support MDC. This is very bad for many thousands of poor people who will face even more hardships because of this evil regime’s selfish manipulation of power placed in their hands by the people. A regime that has placed dangerous clowns like Bright Matonga and Sikhanyiso Ndlhovu in positions in which they are able to inflict devastating evil on millions of people. I fear for the future in that despite the Zimbabwean character which seems able to endure extraordinary adversity, there will come a time that this desperation will translate into violent response and uprising which will result in crushing suppression and further bloody resistance. The expressions of resistance in the festival so artfully crafted to be clear but subtle are turned by the spin doctors of the regime-controlled press into the tools whereby the regime is able to maintain the cartoonesquely ridiculous pose of normality and good governance and the happiness of the people and the evil of MDC ‘agitators’ . These expressions are all but brought to nothing by the simple political manipulations of power hungry greedy selfish and evil men and women who care nothing for the well being of the populous.

The fear in the eyes of men in security positions at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings – (Holdings is right. Holding very bloody tight) – is palpable. They are not surly soldiers wielding their power. They are lowly civilians who demonstrate clearly that if they put a foot wrong they are in serious trouble. The underlying feeling of fear instills the landscape with strange paradox. An eerie mixture of African zen, resigned patience, growing frustration and real fear. A mixture which has the potential to explode into violence as senseless as the oppression which causes it. There is a change coming. But these results point to it being violent and bloody. And I am afraid.

We are now in Bulawayo and perhaps the distance from the safety of the festival will allow us to feel the real feelings of people closer to the end of the Mugabe blunt instrument of persuasion. I am ashamed of my leader’s hypocrisy and selfish protection of his own interests at the expense of the lives of millions of the very people who supported him during his struggle.

First performance in bulawayo; I thought it was crap. Unfocused and undisciplined. No real listening to eachother and too much individual lines being followed. Cues seen as means of ‘my turn to take focus’. Not enough ensemble and sense of the third thing that takes over when we give attention to the whole group and the play. Listen for the music of the play not of the individual parts which make it up. Consequently the audience got the feeling that the play was only about the humour and we had to work hard to get them to listen to what the hard facts were. Get them to concentrate on the dilemma of contradiction and the pain in the laughter. Obviously they wanted to laugh and remember what it was like to laugh at ourselves, but the play is much more complex than that. Maybe I’m just talking about myself…

I miss Janet painfully. Hearing her talk about being with Isabel while Matt and B are away creates the ache. And I am filled with trepidation about this decision to leave for a year. Wanting to follow some stupid facile fifty year old male menopausal dream. Mid-life crisis. What about the crisis happening at home?. Focus enough on the crisis that surrounds you and suddenly your own crisis pales. Well I haven’t done that. I have committed to another line and so have to chew on it and make the best and find ways of holding on. I miss her voice. Her smile. Her head on my lap. I miss the mess she leaves after cooking. And the way she cleans up. I miss the way she loves my cooking no matter what I cook. I miss cooking for her. I miss watching the birds in the birdbath out the bed room window. (Oh well it’s only a year). I miss the nape of her neck. I miss the sight of her doing sit ups on the floor at the foot of the bed. I miss watching her choose clothes and get dressed n the morning. I miss putting her electric blanket on before she knows. I miss saying goodbye in the morning when she goes to work. Miss hearing her say how much work she has. How hard she works. I miss watching her come back from gym. I miss talking to her in the bath with a glass of wine me seated on the hard toilet seat. I miss her smell. I miss her preparing obsessively on the couch in the lounge;.never well enough prepared. I miss interrupting her class and seeing the captivation on the faces of her students. I miss seeing her operate in her office and the way that company runs. I miss her impatience with the company. I don’t miss her irrational anger at me. She can stick the knife in and twist it better than anyone I know. Perhaps a skill she learnt from her mother. But something about it makes me miss even that sweet pain that makes me want to kill her with my bare hands. Her teaching in B.B. Zondani is another one. The way those kids look at her. The way they dance for her.

One more day here. The company that has been on this tour from first rehearsal to the last performance has been a treat. The humility and industry and integrity has been a lesson. The eagerness to contribute and work for the project has raised the spirit of the company and the project immeasurably. Also Zimbabwe was exactly the right pace for the play to be. Perhaps it is even more needed n the Balkans but it was perfect here. Driving past the barracks where I did my basic training yesterday was a bit weird. Reminded me of the fact of my military training rather sharply and the fact that I still carry some guilt about it. Or do I? Perhaps I just want to for the sake of this project? I don’t have nightmares. I don’t think about it constantly. It’s just coming back here.

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2 Responses to “last days on planet zim before launch to planet circus”

  1. matt Says:

    dad this is not some “some stupid facile fifty year old male menopausal dream. Mid-life crisis”… it’s the best decision of your life. See you in las vegas soon.

  2. janet Says:

    Dan – perhaps the best decision in dads life was marrying me – isnt that why you are here?


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