Malawi folktales come to the theatre

June 2017 - Present

Malawi

Malawi's folktales brought to life as stage dramas.

Malawi folktales come to the theatre

June 2017 - Present

Malawi

Over the course of the Malawi Folktales Project, which started at the end of 2011, over 250 folktales from across Malawi were collected and recorded through the cooperation of the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO (MNCU), Malawi National Library Service, Rei Foundation Limited and Sony Corporation. This collection represents a key part of the rich cultural heritage of Malawi. Once these folktales had been recorded, there was an eagerness to get them out to the people of Malawi.

MNCU and Rei Foundation came up with the idea that adapting some of the stories could bring them to life to large audiences. Local theatre company Nanzikambe Arts was brought on board as the ideal partner to adapt a number of folktales into plays, performed by well-known local actors, with direction from prominent theatre experts including accomplished playwright, actor and theatre director Smith Likongwe.

In the initial pilot, five folktales were adapted and staged in the Blantyre district of Malawi. The preparatory phase included the selection of the folktales, set conceptualisation, adaptation of the selected folktales, costumes and props development, auditioning, scriptwriting, and casting and training of all thirty-five artists in core theatre elements and mask management.

Nanzikambe Arts’ project officer, Thlupego Chisiza, explained that the project involved a lot of local creative talent. “There are twenty-five different artists cast for roles across the five pieces. There are also ten dancers and drummers who feature in the dramas.” Along with this, Chisiza says that five production directors led the team of performers. Rehearsals took place in 2017 and performances began in 2018 with twenty-five drama performances across five venues in Blantyre.

Slider Image Local actors at rehearsal.

Local actors at rehearsal.

Slider Image The adaptations included talented musicians and actors.

The adaptations included talented musicians and actors.

Slider Image Even the rehearsals drew a crowd.

Even the rehearsals drew a crowd.

Slider Image A performance of the folktale The Man and the Hyena at Elnathan Private School.

A performance of the folktale The Man and the Hyena at Elnathan Private School.

Slider Image An eager audience.

An eager audience.

Slider Image A performance of the play Agonies of Envy, at Kirk Range School.

A performance of the play Agonies of Envy, at Kirk Range School.

Slider Image Actors in the play Jealous Brother, in a performance at Lonjezo School.

Actors in the play Jealous Brother, in a performance at Lonjezo School.

Slider Image At Stance Secondary School, two actors in the play A Poor Man Marries a Beautiful Wife.

At Stance Secondary School, two actors in the play A Poor Man Marries a Beautiful Wife.

Slider Image Dancing incorporated in the staging of The Greedy Chief.

Dancing incorporated in the staging of The Greedy Chief.

This project is a valuable addition to other government driven initiatives that aim to protect and promote of expressions of cultural diversity, and further contributes to the availability of materials to the education curriculum in Malawi in the teaching of creative arts as a subject. Artists and crew involved gained valuable professional experience and knowledge of theatre production, and performance and

audiences develop a greater appreciation for the country’s cultural heritage through the arts.

Using folktales as theatrical inspiration has proved popular in Malawi, and other community theatre groups have since begun staging their own folktale theatre adaptations – a positive by-product of Nanzikambe’s initial stage drama productions.

Performances relied on thoughtful costuming using readily available materials and set design that is easily transportable.

Performances relied on thoughtful costuming using readily available materials and set design that is easily transportable.

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