Power of staged readings of books

Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
There was something theatrical about famous author Shimmer Chinodya’s 60th birthday party held last year at the Alliance Francaise, Harare.

The readings from his novels, done by four people seated facing the audience, added a particular aura which certainly opened fresh perspectives from which to look at Chinodya’s works.

The readings were like an unveiling of new features in the novels, an unveiling different from what happens when you read a book in silence, alone in your room. And behind all this unforgettable “setting” was Almasi Collaborative Arts and it was part of Almasi’s staged readings series.

Bookshelf recently tracked down Almasi’s associate artistic director Elizabeth Zaza Muchemwa to find out more on staged readings’ benefits for published authors or artists.

She talked about dramatic literacy, a not-so-common concept to Zimbabwean artists and although she is mostly biased towards theatre, it makes sense for novelists to apply the concept to get their published books understood by their local communities.

“The staged readings are designed to advance dramatic literacy in the community. Dramatic literacy is a crucial component of powerful, excellent dramatic making.

A noticed component needed in Zimbabwean dramatic arts development is the comprehension and in-depth analysis of excellent dramatic works that have come before. Without an awareness and understanding of some of the greatest dramatic works, the Zimbabwean dramatic artist cannot develop to the level of dramatic literacy necessary to create compelling, well structured, dramatic works.

Almasi’s goal is to facilitate excellent new Zimbabwean works into existence, works that can compete on a global level and leave behind a Zimbabwean dramatic literature legacy.

Staged readings also nurture dramaturgy which allows for the portrayal to be rich, resonant and specific to the placement of the play in time, space and moment in history,” said Zaza.

Almasi has since been conducting these wonderful staged readings around Zimbabwe and the latest in the series was a staged reading of Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive” held last week on September 7 at the Alliance Francaise.

The discussion after each staged reading is another practical element which helps the novelist or playwright to “rethink” about his or her own work. The immediate audience response gives the creator of the script or novel a moment of self-review.

Zaza said that the staged readings are an opportunity for artists to hone their craft through understanding the workings of a well put together (play) script.

Budding writers can learn quite a lot if, for example, they are presented with a staged reading of Ignatius Mabasa’s 2013 novel “Imbwa Yemunhu” or any novel.

This would be an unusual learning experience different from the ordinary “workshop” where a facilitator explains a certain author’s work. With a staged reading of “Imbwa Yemunhu”, surely the reader will be exposed to more than the gothic underlying the humour (or vice versa) in some of the chapters like the one titled “MuGehena”.

Furthermore, staged readings of the new Shona or English fiction works written by emerging writers will help them (the emerging writers) to see where they are losing or winning in terms of creativity.

Authors may not be sure if they can afford to host a staged reading. A look at Wikipedia’s definition of a staged reading will tell you that you need not have a big budget or even a big luggage to conduct one because it seems the “sets and costumes”, which may be costly, are not a major worry.

It says a staged reading is “a form of theatre without sets or full costumes. The actors, who read from scripts, may be seated, stand in fixed positions, or incorporate minimal stage movement”.

Isn’t it advisable for writers to engage experienced Almasi and collaborate as that is also part of their goal?

In the meantime, today Wednesday, September 12, Harare City Library, in partnership with Grosscare International, is hosting this year’s International Literacy Day under the theme “Literacy and Skills development (with emphasis on the visually impaired members of society)”.

Also in early October, a new writer Tabeth Ruvarashe Manyonga will be launching her debut “Passage of Life”, a collection of short stories, poems, and a play. Three genres in one, well, one can only comment after reading!

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