Malawi school drama competition ATEM: Missed opportunity

My delight and ecstasy felt copiously betrayed. Utmost deception was the prize I got. Finite disappointment iswhat seized me by the neck back home to Zomba. All thanks to what had promised to be a neck to neck battle on drama and the mastery of the queen’s language. I naively swayed myself into missing the game between Chelsea and Manchester City with the hope of being entertained. I arrested my soul in a white black striped shirt, blue like pants and a white canvas in my feet. I carried my soul on the shoulder. Subjecting myself to a four wheeled creature that vomited me at HHI secondary school at exactly a ten minutes before eleven.

Michiri View Girls School play at ATEM drama compeition: Tears shed no tears
Michiri View Girls School play at ATEM drama compeition: Tears shed no tears

A swam of kids in there different school attire we seen running up and down the premise like a new born goat. Boys from the ghetto Ndirande playing soccer at the front of the school. I passed them straight to the hall where I was to witness the next Du Chisiza and Gentrude Kamkwatila. I went there to witness the resurrection of a dying industry. I stopped at the door to quench my thirst.

Astonishment engulfed me upon casting my eyes on one good friend of mine (name with-held) who was supposed to be in Theba chasing a degree. We shared two or three fairly-tales before we entered the battle field. We innocently occupied the front sit to have a few view of everything that was coming. A stunning voice shouted the name of my friend. We all made a hundred and eight degrees turn. A young girl sugar-coatedwith beauty made her way to greet my friend. She extended a handshake to me. Tingles were directed all over my body.  She spoke to my friend but ask me what they talked about I cannot because my mind was taken by her beauty.

She left after someminutes but my mind was still thinking about her. We continued sharing the stories with friend I am not sure if he didn’t notice that my level of imagination had decreased. As a better part of my medulla oblongata was still tiring processing how one can be that beautiful and still be in school.

It didn’t take long before the mc announced that we were about to witness the first act of the day. My hope jumped with joy that soon young and upcoming actors will lock horns on stage. I quickly took out my rugged Nokia E5 responded to the text messages and then exposed it to the silent profile.

It wasn’t long before the first act stormed the stage. A brim of excitement consumed my entire face. Happiness upon seeing the young lads got on stage. With zeal and motivation they started showing their acting antics. From the beginning I told myself today my artistic lust will be quenched I will head home satisfied.

As I was about to take out my pen and writing pad to engrave some notes the plays plot completely lost direction. The plot that we were introduced to. The conflict that was started abandoned.  New story followed. The beautiful acting that I was promised at the end turned to some sort of mechanical acting. No motivation to actions.  Then after some battling with the plots were being connected the actors lined up and took a bow. Then curtains were called.  My mouth was left agape arms frozen then at last my hand managed to massage the hair on my head.

I tried to affirm my hope that maybe this was just a mistake. Maybe we are about to see something better. But then this was followed by another performance with the same mistakes.  Then another and another followed on.

In my personal view there was a foretaste of potential from the school kids. But their potential was being nurtured by unscrupulous mentorship. Like goats the students follow the header. From what I observed this is no ma making of the students. The directors played a bigger role in turning this ATEM completion into a mad dogs-circus. I wondered where these directors and playwrights got there training from.

The stories the children showcased lacked a strong conflict.The heroes seemed to exist in what I may call a vacuum. Stories lacked an ironic and unexpected event that would propel the heroes into a conflict. This led toactor’s actions lacking motivation, no defined characters, and the movements leaved a lot to be desired.

Then came the issue of stage setting. When I got home I bent down my knees in prayer that just maybe the theatre gods should appear to the directors and show them the way. Show them that a play will not be christened as good piece with an overwhelmed stage. A choked stage. A stage exciding its capacity like Area 36 Land Rovers.

Some that were even not necessary to the plot. Props that gave actors little spaces to maneuver. Piles that restricted the actor’s freedom of movements. Stuffs that did more damage than good to the actors. Substances that even if they were not brought on stage the meaning of the play wouldn’t change.

I hope that my earnest prayer bears fruits to these directors that we watch a performance to see the action not to see how resourceful one school is in getting an expensive chair or bed.

In the end I tried to offer myself a reiteration my despair to the fact that ATEM major objective to teach English. Worse still the rules and aesthetics of drama have to be manifested in the plays. Even taking it from the queen’s language point of view. The English puked on stage was marred by grammatical, punctuated and spiced by semantic, phonological inaccuracies.

To me what was being proclaimed on stage at were young folks bragging about how much willing they are to memorize and recite the lines. Although a man brags about his member no matter how small but still the kids struggled in remembering what was written on the script. The delivery of the lines lacked conviction and confidence. There was no life in the plays.

And these challenges are not only being seen in ATEM plays but some big theatre groups that have names in the industry bring to stage unfinished production that have since chased away the audience.

But maybe am being too harsh. Maybe am just a frustrated being for missing the big football match in which The Blues taught Red Devils’ Noisy neighbor some footballing lesson. Maybe am an upset soul for wasting my hard earned time. Am a wounded creature for spendingthe hard earned money in under such harsh economic times to watch these performances. Maybe am just an angry guy seeking revenge for lack of audience at real theatrical performances.

But then am yet to be moved to my belief that their still hope. Like Martin Luther king said “we must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope. I refuse to be told that ATEM is a lost sheep in the Dram Khola. I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that with proper training and research ATEM will be a reckoning force.

I thus employ theatre gurus in Malawi like Smith Likongwe, Mufunanji Magalasi, Zindaba Chisiza Misheck Mzumala just to mention but a few to take up the responsibility of resurrection our theatre industryfrom the grass-root level. There is need for ATEM directors to be told that not each and every play requires one to freeze. There is need to bring in tangible transitions from one scene to another. Everything on stage needs to be justified. Anything that goes on stage need to be explained.

But after all the dramatic gibberish a winner was announced. Anyway that was what the judges were paid for I believe. They were supposed to choses the best from Act from the competitors. And they did a very good Job at it by choosing one such school. Who were the host HHI secondary school, our lady of wisdom and third came Michiru View Girls Secondary School. These will proceed and battle it out in the regionals with other schools from other zones. The other schools hopes of learning better English were squeezed and thrown into the bin to try again next year.

When the curtain fell I headed back to my “mphala” that sits amidst the tummy of St Maries which sits at the foot of Zomba mountain feeling cheated. As a dramatist myself I felt I had witness an insult to the noble profession of Drama.Regretting all the way for one of the many wrong decision I ever made. The decision of taking up the risk of going to watch ATEM DRAMA Competition after. I slept and woke up Monday morning with business as usual.

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7 years ago

ndulu a chichewa or English play?

spy symon
spy symon
7 years ago

the fact is mr Mapila president of ATEM he should be fuckd out cz he z jst a presdent by name koma palibe chomwe akupangapo… JUST COM L CITY AREA2 AT MADSOC AND SEE HOW MALAWIANS ARE KILLING ON STAGE….play NDULU…26 N 27 FEB

Charles Kunyenje
Charles Kunyenje
7 years ago

Please come to the MADSOC little theatre in Lilongwe to watchu NDULU one of the plays made and perfomed by Chikwatu Arts Theatre, a just developing youthful theatre under the Mwezi arts theatre roots project.Tickets are now available at only MWK2000.00.Contact me on 0884071379 or 0997493205

Isaac wa Gangata Njirayafumbula Ngozo
Isaac wa Gangata Njirayafumbula Ngozo
7 years ago

Its time to rise and boost Art not just with an aim of gaining fame and earnings. Thanks Nyasa and Phumayo Chaya Bright for taking a step

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