The Digital Theatre Lab transforms theatre spaces



THE coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis and the closure of live performance spaces in Zimbabwe caught the local theatre industry unprepared to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital and virtual spaces, and with limited expertise and technical understanding of the methodologies this new medium requires in reaching and building global audiences.

Against this new development, the Digital Theatre Lab project responds to the need to provide a viable means of creative expression for theatre practitioners in compliance with the occupational safety regulations and constraints imposed under Covid-19 pandemic.

The Digital Theatre Lab project is targeting a handful of students from high school to learn from established theatre and film practitioners and theatre educators in local schools.

The objective of the Digital Theatre Lab is to strengthen the resilience of Zimbabwe’s theatre industry and take advantage of opportunities offered in the digital sphere to develop a “theatre for the digital space”.

The project addresses the need to enhance, through training, the digital literacy of both young and established theatre practitioners who previously had only been exposed to traditional theatre performances with live audiences.

Under Nhimbe’s Children in Theatre and Television programme (CiTT), the training seeks to equip a group of young theatre enthusiasts from school drama clubs that have already been active on the live stage, in the particular demands and approaches to creating work for online viewership and distribution.

It takes up an opportunity to create international synergies with other practitioners elsewhere in the world without actual physical visits, and to also offer an opportunity to monetise the work created through live streaming channels and other online opportunities.

Out of the setback of the Covid-19 crisis on the live performance space has come a positive opportunity to take advantage of an area that had traditionally not been fully utilised.

Along with skills like improvisation, theme development, story-building and scripting, the training will include acting for camera, and understanding stage sets, design, lighting, camera placements and shots.

Filming a theatrical performance for live streaming or digital dissemination makes theatre accessible and offers the opportunity of reaching out to new audiences if it is not possible to provide the physical and tangible experience that theatre has to offer because of the world that we find our-selves in, then a virtual theatre experience is the best alternative.

Experienced theatre practitioners who will be carrying out the training include Memory Kumbota, cameraman/director Johane Mpofu and educators from three schools; Thabani Moyo, Bridget Sayers and Nkosi Mlibazi.

Kumbota, a highly-respected practitioner who has groomed young thespians in Nhimbe’s programme and elsewhere for many years, said: “This is theatre for a new age. Digital theatre does not only present itself as a response to the Covid-19 crisis but as a sub-genre that needs to be explored.  It is theatre in a global auditorium.”

In 2019, Kumbota won the Bulawayo Arts Award for Outstanding Director for the play Garden of Dreams, and has teamed up with playwright and arts teacher Moyo to produce a theatre acting manual entitled The Art of Stage Acting: An Actor’s Guide a comprehensive handbook that is “a must read for any upcoming stage actor while those already on the stage would benefit from its contents”.

Gifford High School drama teacher Bridget Sayers said: “It’s a great initiative that is enabling continuity for the learners, especially since we were depending on stage drama only and not able to store our plays; so this is good because they can be stored and maybe seen nationally or even internationally.

“I think it’s very important because we are embracing the technology; it’s the new abnormal normal, and we are embracing it, we are saying we will not stop because there is a problem — we are continuing.  I love this idea, it’s brilliant.

“We will also meet directors from other places, without having to travel; we will meet people from other countries that we will be learning from, directing us.  It’s amazing. Another good thing is that it’s bringing learners together, pulling in talent from the three different schools which will make it even stronger, as the schools are said to be some of the best in the city.  So I’m sure what will come out of it will be a blast!”

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