Last year, I was lucky enough to lead a theatre workshop in Botswana. I’m Artistic Director of Border Crossings (www.bordercrossings.org.uk), which is a UK-based company working in intercultural performance, so there are lots of opportunities to work with young actors from a whole range of cultural backgrounds – but Africa is somehow particularly special.
After a week of working together, we did a showing in front of a small invited audience. I had been feeling a bit nervous about this event – it’s always a bit strange to show work which isn’t made with the purpose of performance – but in fact the audience was incredibly responsive. We showed a number of movement-based exercises we’d been working on, including a lovely performance of posed dramatic scene, and some mini-plays that had been made in response to various creative stimuli. As when they were first formed, I was surprised and delighted by the specifically Botswanan feel of these – the sense that we’d managed to tap into the psyche of the place. The cumulative effect reminded me a bit of a wonderful theatre company from South Africa called “Third World Bunfight” – the rapid shifts between the spiritual, the comical, the political and the personal is very exciting in this environment. As so often at the end of a workshop, I was left wanting to carry on, and to see whether this work might become a piece of theatre.
At the end of the showing came the truly magical moment. Kagosi, who seems to be one of the shyer members of the group, began to show his real talent as a Praise Singer, improvising in Setswana (a language of the Tswana people spoken in Southern Africa) as the others ululated and danced around him. In spite of not understanding a word of it, I realized that this was a very rare and special honor – that I was being praised by a Praise Singer. They certainly know how to make you feel wanted here. Later, I was told the poem included jokes about Kagosi’s limited English, and his desire to be cast in a production in London (there was lots of laughter from the other actors and the audience).
Beautiful and humbling. Thank you fabulous artists.
Michael, 48, UK