Article first published in the Sunday News.
The siren rings. It is time for the Literature lessons.
Young Thamsanqa has been struggling to study the texts which Mr Mguni, his subject teacher, has been pushing their class to study in good time before the final exams.
The struggle Thamsanqa has is not new — in all honesty, it might be a problem every student has faced. Some of the texts are long and somewhat strenuous to read. Some of the cultural contexts are hard to figure out because of the obvious differences entrenched in the setting of the book, vis-à-vis the student’s setting in modern day Zimbabwe.
Then in steps the Live Literature programme at the Intwasa Arts Festival. Having run shows since 2010, its aim has always been best summarised by its driving philosophy that “plays were never meant to be just read and studied in the classroom but were meant to be performed live on stage”.
This year’s offering saw four high schools text being performed by the cast which comprised of young and vibrant actors and actresses from Centre for Talent Development.
The Colour of Hope — This is an A-level set-book written by Taban lo Liyong. It was written as a partial response to the disturbances that followed the Kenyan general elections of 2007. In this play culture is put to the microscope. This is an inspiring and unflattering literary commentary of post-colonial Africa at the dawn of the 21st century.
Master Harold and the Boys (O-level set-book) One of Athol Fugard’s masterpieces, the play takes place in South Africa during the Apartheid Era and depicts how institutionalised racism, bigotry or hate become absorbed by those who live under it.
The Sun Will Rise Again. (O-level set-book) The play is an adaptation of George Mujajati’s novel of the same name. The play looks at economic and moral decay as well as the frustrations and betrayals that came with independence.
Dancing in the Dust. (A-level set-book) Another adaption from the novel of the same name by Kagiso Lesego Molope. Set is in the 1980s during the time of school boycotts, stay-aways, bloody police crackdowns and hippos in the streets. A gripping tale about the struggle for freedom seen through the eyes a young girl.
In 2015 alone about 3 000 O and A-level students from schools as far as Plumtree, Lupane and Filabusi thronged Bulawayo Theatre to watch live stage performances of various literature set-books by this group of amazing actors. This year’s offering was no different with the Bulawayo theatre being filled to capacity — with pupils even sitting on the steps and other shows re-running back to back as the demand was great.
“This was really beneficial for me because I saw the text come to life and saw some things that I had not actually envisaged.
This is my second time at the project and I really think it must be something that continues for the benefit of other students in the future,” said Sithembile Dludla who is in Form 4 at Solusi High School after they watched an adaptation of George Mujajati’s The Sun Will Rise Again.
“Some are slow-readers and learners so this is pretty helpful. It helps with sticking in the mind,” she said.
Another Solusi pupil, Mary-rose Muchemwa hailed the acting and with enthusiastic eyes, she expressed how helpful watching the novel enacted on stage was.
“The actors were so good — they make it so real and the message of the novel was well presented. I think it will be easier to recall and make more sense of the text,” she noted.
Like most high school pupils, the shear thought of reading through two or three texts was as arduous as anything could be. Michael Munkuli and Caroline Ndlovu from Njube High School were ecstatic.
“I enjoyed the play. The confidence of the actors, the light-heartedness they protruded and the overall presentation was awesome. I will be able to recall the novel once I get into the exam room. I also just want to encourage the organisers to continue and be this helpful to other people too. It’s a great thing we have here,” he said heartedly.
Caroline said, “The way things were done was just enjoyable — they clearly painted the picture for what is in the novel. I however, would have loved some scenes they skipped to be shown — I think some of them were good and could be demonstrated.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the lively event, the director of the festival, Raisedon Baya said the idea of the project was to make the play enjoyable which will make it more understandable when they go back into the classroom.
“We seek to make it possible for the kids to understand the story — the mood, the visuals and the context of the story — all these made it better. With adaptations in particular, my advantage is that I am a former teacher and also did a course in Adaptation — so that’s what we used in selecting what to include and what to not. Although teachers would want us to focus more on the discussions, we are more about them enjoying — books are written to be enjoyed primarily,” he said.