Sundance Institute today announced the artists and projects selected for its first “Theatre Lab on Zanzibar,” which concluded yesterday. 

Under the supervision of Artistic Director Philip Himberg and Producing Director Christopher Hibma, the two-week exchange and development program (November 10-24) is part of the Sundance Institute East Africa initiative, now in its eleventh year, a professional program that creates peer to peer mentorship and exposure opportunities between theatre artists in East Africa and the U.S. 

Deborah Asiimwe, Specialist-East Africa, and Roberta Levitow, Senior Program Associate-International and Co-Founder, Theatre Without Borders, co-led this initiative.

Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute, said, “Our East Africa initiative is rooted in the understanding that exchange opportunities for independent artists, though rare, promote the inclusiveness and diversity of story that ultimately serves to advance the field of theatre.”

Himberg said, “This is our third residency in the region. Two previous Labs were hosted on Manda Island, Kenya. Hosting our first Theatre Lab on Zanzibar, Tanzania, as part of our longstanding East Africa initiative allowed us to extend our unique and renowned model of creative support to artists in the region. We are grateful to our artists, both in East Africa and from the U.S., for contributing to an international conversation that enables us to better understand the role of the artist in our respective cultures.”

The creative teams and projects participating in the “Theatre Lab on Zanzibar” were:

Femme 1, Femme 2, Femme 3
By Samuel Sangwa (Rwanda)

Originally developed in a writing workshop in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sangwa and his team of artists from the National University of Rwanda’s University Center for the Arts explore recovery from extreme violence with unexpected humor and theatricality. In four tableaux (scenes), the play captures a period of absurdity and schizophrenia when tragedy lodged in the heart of life and seeks to express the inexpressible. The story tells of one woman’s fragmented identity attempting to put herself back together, and by doing so, to create a bridge of identity between “the before and the after.” Using an Actor-Cameraman and screen onstage, the play cross-cuts between cinematic images of a struggling “telereality” contrasted with tasks of daily survival and the emotional poetry of characters’ inner thoughts.

The Butcher of Crawford
By Andia Kisia (Kenya)

The Butcher of Crawford is an oblique war play and begins with the encounter of two men (one a former soldier and one a young man of means) in a society at war. One in which most people go on about their lives, far from the sound and fury of young men and women on the war front. One young man, The Butcher, has been a soldier. The other man is a dilettante, clearly bright and opinionated, but unsettled. Through their charged interaction tinged with sexual overtones, the two explore the nature of war, violence, guilt and responsibility.

By Angella Emurwon (Uganda)

Strings plays with the different character responses to the 20-year absence and now return of Maama’s distant husband, Baaba, from Kyeyo, where he was seeking work and a better fortune abroad for the family left behind. Maama has created a family myth that helps her two children, Baaba, and her lover maintain normalcy. Uncle Lokil, brother to Baaba and on-again, off-again lover to Maama, seeks to regain his rightful place in Maama’s life that was usurped by his young brother during their teens.

An Iliad
By Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare
Adaptation and Translation into Amharic by Surafel W. Abebe (Ethiopia)

The actor/director team of Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson devised a solo adaptation of Homer’s epic war poem at the 2009 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort, rediscovering its roots in the oral tradition and reimagining the form in which it may have been originally performed: as the partly recited, partly improvised efforts of a itinerant poet who walks into a local tavern and begins to weave a tale of war and woe, creating a conversation between the past and present, the fixed and the fluid, the teller and the listener. Ethiopian director Surafel Abebe will adapt and translate this production into Amharic for an Ethiopian audience.

Creative Advisors for the Lab were: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (Uganda/U.S.), Janice Paran, Senior Program Associate-Labs (U.S.), Lisa Peterson (U.S.), Dorcy Rugamba (Rwanda/Brussels) and Liesl Tommy, Program Associate (South Africa/U.S.).

The Acting Company for the Lab included: Aida Mbowa (Uganda), Hadi Tabbal (U.S./Lebanon), Azeb Worku (Ethiopia), Ndoli Kayiranga (Rwanda) and Tewodros Tessema (Ethiopia).

Artists-in-Residence who received one week each of uninterrupted writing time during the Theatre Lab included Irene Sanga (Tanzania) and Asha Salimu Mshana.

Visiting guests at the Lab were: Faisal Kiwewa, Founder & Director, Bayimba International Festival of the Arts & Bayimba Cultural Foundation (Kampala, Uganda); Marcia Thomas, Executive Director, USA for Africa (Los Angeles, CA); Lloyd Grieg, Chair of the Board, USA for Africa (Los Angeles, CA); Ed Rada, Treasurer of the Board, USA for Africa (Los Angeles, CA); Rachel Hauck, Set Designer (New York, NY); and Mgunga Mwa Mnyenyelwa, Founder, Parapanda Theatre Arts (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania).