Sunday, May 08, 2011

Arrival in Botswana

I'm typing this in Prof. David Kerr's office at the University of Botswana. I arrived here yesterday, via Jo'berg, to run a workshop for a mixed group of David's students and the Botswana Society for the Arts. It's an initial dipping of toes in Botswanan waters - and I'm feeling very excited about it!

David is an extraordinary man: an academic, a director and an activist, who has devoted his life to working in Southern Africa. He's spent two long periods in Malawi, where he met Kate Stafford, and she introduced us when he visited London a while ago. Since then he's been on our mailing list, and when he saw the level of intercultural engagement we were making with Re-Orientations, along came an invitation to come here and see what could be done. Thanks to the British Council for the funding!

David and his Zambian wife Adela met me at the airport, and took me straight to an arts and crafts centre called Batswanacrafts, where there was a schools competition going on in traditional dance. There's less drumming here than in many other parts of Africa - the rhythms come from clapping and rattles on the feet. It's very mesmerising, all the same. David tells me about a time he was working on a scene about traditional healing with a student group, and one student really did go into the trance state that the rhythms are designed to induce. It reminds me of Brett's work with Third World Bunfight - the emphasis on altered states of consciousness.

Much of the theatre which is done here is issue-based, particularly TfD work and HIV /AIDS awareness (with a 25% infection rate, that's no big surprise). I read a couple of the devised pieces David has made with his students - one of which is in the African Theatre volume on Youth, and the other is a recent piece about homophobia, called Straight and Narrow. It's not illegal to be gay here, but homosexual acts are... which must be pretty tricky. David says that even five years ago, it would have been impossible to do this play, but that now it seemed easy: even the straight actors were willing to play gay characters. On the other hand, there are negative aspects to this new distance which younger Batswana are acquiring from tradition - they don't, for example, know the traditional songs, there's a cultural limbo. All of which could make for a fascinating workshop. And I start tomorrow....

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