The Sunday News
Arts Focus with Raisedon Baya
AS Covid-19 takes its toll on the arts we reminisce on the years travelled. Now when we talk about the effects of Covid-19 on the sector the focus is more or less on the financial loss and not on other issues. Across the country, artists are crying about the jobs loses, and the opportunities that were blown away by the pandemic. And as we all wait for the re-opening of the sector, we can only but indulge ourselves with memories of the past.
A mundane exercise. When some of us started in the sector the motivation was not about money. We remember there were times we even went for months without any form of payment. We came into the sector for the fame, which has been elusive and hard to pin down. We came into the sector to feed a hungry passion. Most of us loved the arts and just wanted to be part any artistic activity.
We came in for the tours; who doesn’t love travelling. Then it was not even travelling to outside the country but to the rural schools and other provinces. During this time only the likes of Amakhosi Theatre, Iluba elimnyama and Black Umfolosi were travelling outside the country. And going abroad was the ultimate dream for many. The epitome of success.
So, we came in. We were part of a very popular community theatre ensemble called NASA, later called Siyaya Arts. Funny, how when most of the ‘original’ members had left that the group became globe trotters. Anyway, we remember one trip to West Nicholson. We had a show at JZ Moyo High School and we left Bulawayo without any clue how we were going to come back.
We had no return fares and our only hope was that we were going to sell enough tickets at the school for the whole cast to come back. We were all excited about the tour and never sat to think what would happen if students were not interested in our show. So, there we were almost 30 of us (this was a big cast indeed) getting into the bus and heading for West Nicholson.
The bus left us a distance away from the school and we had to walk for a distance of more than 10 kilometres to the school. After all that walking it was then that we suddenly realised that there was a possibility of getting stranded far away from home. Lucky enough we had been on ZBCtv a few weeks performing at the Mayors Christmas Show and some of the students had seen us on the small screen – a rare occasion those days. These ran around telling others that they had seen us on TV and this worked wonders for us. We had a full house that night.
School tours were the order of the day then. The bulk of our audience were students. While they were our audience then what most of us were not aware of was that we were actually building a paying audience for the future. Now when we perform in theatres those are the people that come and pay and continue to enjoy our stories. There are many stories about these school tours, especially rural tours.
There are groups that toured for months – a whole school term moving from one school to another. Sometimes when students didn’t have money, they paid used empty bottles which we later took to shops and got refunded deposit money. There were groups that got stranded and had to send messages home to be rescued. There are groups that slept in the open, groups that slept in empty classrooms. Hotels and lodges and per diems were a luxury then.
Another memorable tour for us was when we went for a show at George Silundika. The school is after Nyamandlovu in Matabeleland North. This time we had left NASA and were now with a group called Township Artists. Upon arriving at the school, we were shocked to find out that the teachers had double booked us with another group. To the teachers there was nothing wrong with that.
They actually wanted both groups to perform and split the gate takings. But to us that was not what we had agreed before. We felt undermined. Unfortunately, there was nothing written down. The teachers told us we had no choice but to share the stage. But we thought otherwise. We were too proud to share gate taking and so, like Jack, we hit the road. Unfortunately, we had not properly thought about our decision.
Transport back home was a nightmare. We ended up sleeping at the railway station in Nyamandlovu. It was cold and that was an experience. The beauty of that experience was that we used it to write our next play which became very popular and successful called Umhlola.
We remember these because school tours are no longer there. These days when artists talk about tours, they are talking about flying away to Europe and to international festivals. These days no artist will agree to sleep in empty classroom block or walk 15 killometres to a show. The only funny thing is that during those days, and unlike today, there were plenty of arts groups and plenty of good arts products. Funny how the world works, right?