We are not racist: Reps Theatre

 Takudzwa Chihambakwe
FOR close to five years I have covered a number of shows at the storied Reps Theatre, Zimbabwe’s oldest theatre venue.

Out of the over 30 shows I have attended I have never felt discriminated against. However, on the ground, there is a feeling by theatre practitioners and people in general that Reps Theatre, an organisation run predominantly by white folks, is a breeding ground for racism.

Things are so bad to the extent that most thespians do not take their productions to the theatre as they feel there is a lot of prejudice. On the surface, things are a bit confusing because most of the productions staged at Reps have a balanced cast of both black and white actors – in many cases the black folks have the lead roles.

On the other hand, a few of these productions are original home brewed productions. Most shows at Reps are just renditions of popular plays. This is another area of conflict. The trend of staging popular plays continues fromtomorrow (Thursday May 17 to June 2), as the theatre will be running “The Lion King”.

Director of the play, Mario Ciampi says this is a production that he wants to use to unify society – demystifying the myths of racism that are choking the theatre.

“We wanted to put a show that is more Zimbabwean representative because we have always been accused of being racist but that is not true. The dynamic at the theatre is that we are very open cultured and that has been the case from the time the theatre was built,” said Mario.

“Salisbury Council did not want to approve the plan because there was only one set of toilets. At that time there was apartheid and they were demanding we have separate toilets for blacks and whites but we said no. This is the reason why we have one set of toilets to this day. We have always been a unified organisation.”

He added that the ailing economy has caused the Reps model appear to favour a certain class and race.

“Because we have to maintain the theatre, we have had to raise ticket prices in an ailing economy. This has resulted in the lower paid areas of the community failing to get access to the theatre.”

With this in mind, Reps has reworked its ticketing system.

Continued Ciampi: “We want to use this show to reconnect with the community as much as we are able to. We have embarked on an experimental ticketing system, which will see us introduce early bird tickets going for as little as $2 per head, four times less than the cost of an ordinary ticket that goes for $10. We are also introducing a family ticket that will be going for $30 and allows two adults and two children to enter.”

Ciampi highlighted that the version of “The Lion King” they will be staging has been rewritten to make it fit into the Zimbabwean context.

“I have taken the script and adapted it for the stage and have also taken some elements from the Broadway show. So we have a power packed production with elements from the movie and the Broadway show as well as a Zimbabwean twist to it.

“Our narrative is based on the totem system, we have created new characters and composed new songs as well. Part of the set design also sees us include features from the Great Zimbabwe.”

Familiar faces in the cast are Shaun Mundawarira, Zane Lucas, Nyasha Mutizwa, Stephane Thomas and Act Muronzi amongst many others.