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Life of theatre director, actor on and off the stage

BY SHARON SIBINDI

BULAWAYO-BASED veteran theatre director and actor Memory Kumbota, who has been in the showbiz industry for years says his background with the improvisational and experimental approach after training has a great bearing on his current work.

The multi award-winning Kumbota has directed productions like The Last Days of A King of Africa — which takes a glance at former late President Robert Mugabe’s last days in power, Garden of Dreams, a play which tackles mental health issues and Vagina Monologues Africa among other productions.

Theatre expedition

After graduation, I worked with fellow graduates of the programme in a theatre collective called Iluba Elimnyama Experimental Theatre Workshop in 1986 with some artists, who are still practicing now such as Patrick Mabhena and Styx Mhlanga. From then my journey has taken me through a roller coaster ride of the usual agony and ecstasy that is the artist’s life.

Most importantly, this is a journey I chose even as I had different life choices to make then. I could not see myself doing anything else outside theatre and I still can’t.  I have several plays, television dramas and movies I have acted in that I cannot say off hand now. I have worked with Amakhosi and have memorable moments of the work and industry experience I got there. Perhaps it is through my training and later experience I got through my journey that I act, direct and train or teach radio drama, stage and television. I have recognition, nominations and awards for both the acting and directing in the different genres both as an individual and also being part of a team.

Legacy

As for leaving a legacy, I guess that is one of the major drivers currently. I have a strong passion for teaching and for years I have been seized with mentoring, training and teaching young artists and students in various platforms and institutions. I have for many years been a trainer for the Nhimbe Trust projects, Schools Playwrights and Actors programme (SPAA), Children in Theatre and Television (CITT), Women in Theatre (WIT). As one of the few privileged enough to get formal training in arts in my early years and later through travel and exposure, I have learned more I do and feel it is imperative that I share and pass on to and also learn from the young people. It is quite gratifying to see young people who sat open eyed and enthusiastic in one’s classes and workshops going on to achieve great things through work that one can also learn from. To me I call that success, in that way I am happy. I also benefited as an open-eyed and enthusiastic young man in the presence of such greats as Cont Mhlanga, Walter Muparutsa, Ndema Ngwenya, Felix Moyo and others. These were our icons and the roads they opened may have seemed like uncertain paths then, but we stepped where they trod and saw the future. I wish in my own way I play that role too for others.

Midas touch

When it comes to theatre I think my background with the improvisational and experimental approach I left training with has a great bearing on my current work. I like to try a lot of things and work off text sometimes. I encourage the actors I direct to do the same and that is what I sort of like workshop a whole production with them trying, this and that all in seeking to give our audience a fresh and challenging theatre experience. It is, however, very risky for us as it is easy to mess things up  as is true with any experiment, but we are not afraid of that. Most of the artists I work with in the theatre it is either I may have had them in class or may have worked together elsewhere so they know the process, they understand the craziness and accept the risks (laughs).

Writing books

One day I may get to write about this journey, sadly I have never kept a journal and my memory, despite all the memorising of lines of dialogue and my name itself. It is quite bad and I need to really sit down and remember stuff, so that book is yet too far. However, in collaboration with others, i have written a published manual, Forum Theatre in Action with Raisedon Baya and Nelson Mapako and a text on acting titled The Art of Stage Acting with Thabani Hillary Moyo. Writing is such a thing that sits you down so I don’t write much and that is why I have written pathetically few plays too (laughs). I like to be in the workshop or class space, the rehearsal room, the film set. One day I will sit down and write, well the title of the book about my life in the arts could be Valleys, Hills and Plateaus (A journey of agony and ecstasy).

Off the theatre zone

Outside theatre productions I read a lot, quite a lot. Watch a lot of films too and well I like to socialise with close friends. Of late I have started for the first time a project that does not involve arts. I was introduced to it by veteran arts luminaries whom I shall not name to respect their privacy. For now I will not say what the project is about and will only reveal that when they introduced it to me they said here is pension fund mdala.

Inspiration

I have a deep respect for all the artists practicing now, like I said the journey of art is one of valleys of agony, hills of ecstasy and plateaus of uncertainty, it is not easy and for an artist to endure he or she earns my respect. I have peers though, both mature and young that I look up to, respect a lot and are my favourites naturally, but I won’t talk about them as much as I reluctantly talk about myself (laughs).

Life lessons

All throughout my journey in the arts and in life I have learnt the spirit of humility, I try very hard though as it may be to be true to myself and respect the next person. Art teaches you that sometimes and some things are not always about you. Everything is always about the people we create our work for, that will determine your approach and attitude to your craft.

Top secret

Well, I have a lot of secrets that are best kept as secrets and should be, but perhaps I can share this, old and haggard as I am, I am the last born in my family.

Lessons under COVID-19

We have spoken a lot about COVID- 19, it’s impact on the arts sector and what measures we should take. That song has been sung and I am right there in the choir and what I can say about the situation now is that I really miss that live theatre experience. The nerves backstage, the response of the audience to the play and the ecstasy of it all when it has ended successfully, and one is having well deserved drink at the theatre bar chatting with some audiences as they share their suggestions and observations. Well, we have put a mask to that, let us just keep safe. I have been vaccinated and I say let’s all try our best, it’s difficult times.

  • Follow Sharon on Twitter @SibindiSharon

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