The ‘Unified Women’ project unfolds in ‘Blue Skies’
The ‘Unified Women’ Project – a cultural exchange programme produced in partnership with The Young Vic Theatre (UK) for young women and emerging creatives from Zimbabwe and the UK – unfolded in Bulawayo in September after calls and selections of artists in the preceding months, and coordination of complex arrangements by the partners in Bulawayo and London.
The UK group under coordinator Rob Lehmann, arrived in Bulawayo under bright blue skies, excited to embark on this creative adventure, and warmly welcomed by their Zimbabwean counterparts. Participants were 7 young women artists from South East London and 9 from Bulawayo (6) and Harare (3), and the project was hosted by Nhimbe Trust and Bluez Café at the Youth Contact Centre in Bulawayo from 3-16 September.
‘Unified Women’ aimed to produce, through collaboration, a unique theatre piece to explore topical themes such as migration, conflict, feminism and the ways in which the ideas relate to their lives and differing experiences.
Together with director Sasha Milavic Davies from the UK, and Bulawayo Scriptwriter Noma Damasane, the participants workshopped, rehearsed, and shared the exciting result with invited guests on 15 September at the Bluez Café. Their experience was deepened by a closer encounter with Zimbabwe, beyond the stage.
Noma Damasane said: “Unified Women was an exciting two weeks where, above creating, a sisterhood was formed. We didn’t want it to end. I personally learnt about myself, as a human first, then as an artist through the ladies who took part in the exchange. Their diverse personalities shone through the various exercises we did. I would do it all over again!”
Nhimbe intern Musawenkosi Sibanda student at Lupane State University, who is working with the Women in Theatre & Television project (WiTT), said: “My observations during the project were that although as the ladies who were involved in the exchange programme are from different cultures, out struggles are all the same. These struggles include being sidelined in all aspects of life as women; sexual harassment and abuse, marriage, women empowerment and sexual freedom. The struggles are the same but are experienced differently in the UK and Zimbabwe, and how we address them or deal with them is also different. The exchange programme also helped us identify what unites both Zimbabwean cultures and UK cultures and what divides them. This in turn helped us to understand each other as women and get rid of the known stereotypes among both cultures. Above all it was a great experience getting to know the UK ladies and we all created special bonds during the two weeks. We learnt a lot from each other as women.”
Young Vic Theatre coordinator Rob Lehmann who led the UK team, said: “In early September the Young Vic took 7 young women from South East London to Bulawayo. Over two weeks, we explored the history of Zimbabwe, met with local villagers, shared our cultural experiences and created a beautiful piece of theatre called – The Unified Women. Upon returning to the UK, many people ask about our time in Zimbabwe, but words cannot sum up the experience. It was enriching in every sense, the conversations, sights, cuisine and culture has left us all with a much wider perspective of the world. Josh and the team at Nhimbe Trust were incredible at making us feel welcome and hosting us. We are excited and look forward to the future of this long lasting partnership between the Young Vic and Nhimbe Trust.”
Musa spoke for everyone when she said “We are thankful to the British Council and Nhimbe Trust and Young Vic for giving us an opportunity to be involved in that eye-opening experience. We are hoping to work with the UK ladies some more!”
The collaboration, which was deemed to be a great success with huge impact on all involved, was supported by the British Council and is the first international collaboration of this scale for both the Young Vic Theatre and Nhimbe Trust. Belgian funding partner Africalia supports Nhimbe’s Women in Theatre & Television project (WiTT).
(All photographs by Mgcini Nyoni – www.mgcininyoni.com)