By Robert McLaren

CHIPAWO’s professional youth theatre company, New Horizon, has been invited to do a presentation at the prestigious International Ibsen Conference in Skien, Norway, Ibsen’s birthplace.

Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, is one of the most famous and influential writers in world theatre. The conference is an annual event organized by the Centre for Ibsen Studies at the University of Oslo. In the official invitation they wrote that they would like:

To invite Robert Mshengu Kavanagh, Memory Zidaka and Tinevimbo Chimbetete give a keynote presentation at the Conference…

The Conference Theme is “Ibsen and Power” and the participants will be interested in hearing how CHIPAWO artists have been using Ibsen’s dramaturgy to empower young Zimbabwean people through the production “Wonderful”.

In 2010 the New Horizon Theatre Company created an adaptation of Ibsen’s play about women’s rights, A Doll’s House, called The Most Wonderful Thing of All, in which they explored the situation depicted in the play in the context of Zimbabwean society and culture. The Most Wonderful Thing of All takes the situation and the issues raised in Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, and examines them in the context of Zimbabwean social and cultural realities.

The play depicts a woman who discovers that society and her husband treat her as a doll. All her ideas and actions, including her role at home, her values, religion, the law and even culture, are simply prescribed to her and she feels she has no mind or will of her own. As a result of certain actions on the part of her husband, she decides to leave home and go out into the world to learn it all for herself. When the husband asks her whether they can ever come back together again, she says: “Not until the most wonderful thing of all has happened.” By that she means not until her husband is able to see her as a real, free and equal person in her own right.

In making the play, the workshop team asked themselves how this kind of behaviour squared with the way Zimbabweans see women and marriage. Nora, the name of the woman in Ibsen’s play, leaves her children with the husband for one thing. What about that? They looked at it from many different perspectives, in the process questioning a lot of current Zimbabwean attitudes but also not accepting some of Ibsen’s either.

For instance, the play asks the question, what would happen – to Norah, to Tongoona, to ‘the most wonderful thing of all’ – if such a thing happened in contemporary Zimbabwe? How would Norah survive and fulfil her dream to be her own person? What could Tongoona do to change enough for Norah to accept him back? Would ‘the most wonderful thing’ be possible?

The Most Wonderful Thing of All was first performed in Lusaka at the “Ibsen Through African Eyes” Conference in 2010. The play participated in the ‘Negotiating Ibsen in Southern Africa’ project, which received an Ibsen Prize in 2011. It involved young artists from Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. As a part of this, the play embarked on a national tour and was performed to young people and youth organisations all over the country, raising and discussing the issues suggested by the play with them as a way of provoking debate among young people and empowering them to think afresh about issues relating to culture and gender.

The presentation in Skien will be conducted by the youth themselves, Memory Zidaka and Tinevimbo Chimbetete, and will feature extracts from the play and footage of the workshop at which they made the play as well as the discussions with young people which were held when the play went onits national tour all over Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe was one of the only countries in Africa which commemorated the 100th anniversary of Ibsen’s death in 2006. CHIPAWO organized performances of extracts from his plays and discussions of his work at the National Gallery. As a result of this Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, became a set book in the A Level syllabus. New Horizon Theatre performed another adaptation of an Ibsen play, Peer Gynt, called A Journey to Yourself, at the Harare Festival of the Arts and at the Reps Theatre. This was followed with a run in the Theatre Upstairs of A Doll’s House itself. Finally, the actors of A Journey to Yourself performed extracts from the play to the music of the Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg’s, Peer Gynt Suite at the Harare Festival of the Arts.

After the presentation at the International Ibsen Festival, Memory Zidaka and Tinevimbo Chimbetete will be staging some performances of the play for Norwegian school students, followed by a dialogue on the issues raised by the play. This should feature an interesting interplay between young Zimbabweans and Norwegians.

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