Mbene Mwambene is not a strange name in the arts world in Malawi. He has been gracing the theatre stage for over 10 years.He was a lead actor in Nanzikambe Arts Theatre before he took a bow from the local scene to pursue further education in Switzerland. But his love for local theatre has not left him as he has now formed a new group Migrant Arts.Together with fellow actor Thoko Kapiri, also based in Switzerland they have teamed up for the project which focuses on foreign-based actors teaming up with local artists for special productions.
The aim, they say, is to enrich talent in Malawi with expertise from Europe where they are based.
“We will make sure we work with as many local artists as possibe,” said Kapiri.
Mbene said Migrant Arts has been operating as an arts network for artists in Malawi and Switzerland since 2013 when he moved abroad.
“Our focus is on performance as a force for movement and change. Our approach of creating theatre is inspired by documented experiences,” he said.
Mbene said though they live abroad, they are still grass-rooted yet intellectual performers, such that the audience should expect more sarcastic humour and serious provocation.”
He said: “Our method remains non narrative, stylised but also very realistically experiential since we prefer an audience that must feel like they are the other actor in the room and not just a laughing consumer.
We want them to leave with more questions and confusion than answers; they must deal with it themselves back home. Deep down we are radically political, trying to awaken the senses of what we feel is a sleeping yet ready-to-be awaken world.”
Mbene said Migrant Arts has officially registered in Malawi, signing in with the production that they will be staging in Lilongwe today.
Mbene and Kapiri collaboration
On their collaboration, Kapiri said their working relationship dates as far back as 10 years ago, when they worked together at Nanzikambe Arts.
“We produced our most acclaimed production, The Story of a Tiger by Italian Nobel laureate Dario Fo, re-interpreting the play into a reaction to the volatile political scenes in Malawi of July 2011. Now that we are both sharing the artistic experience in Switzerland, it becomes quite easy again to link up on The Island production, this time to reflect on the life of an artist in Europe. So, our common shared life and aesthetic experiences led to this teaming up,” he said.
Blending with local actors
Mbene explained that the actors they engage are experienced.
“As Migrant Arts most of our local actors involved have long operated before at the same level with other organisations such as Nanzikambe Arts( where i used to work for a long time before I left for Switzerland). Names like Misheck Mzumara, Dipo Katimba and Flora Suya will be featuring highly in our subsequent productions that will be performed regularly,” he said.
The Island production, according to Mbene was originally written by Athol Fugard for the apartheid context in South Africa.
“It is a remarkable piece. We liked the script as it resonates with present day migrant-phobic Europe. We retell the story in real time to point at the pressures of two migrant artists who must, almost by force, perform Antigone, before a privileged audience,” he said.
“In this production, we bring the situation closer to our own personal realities. Both I and Thokozani Kapiri play the lead roles, while with Swiss colleagues, that we must acknowledge, Yara Gisler and Laura Kueng, were the original production team behind the scenes,” said Mbene.
He said after the production, they will continue to collaborate with likeminded artistic outfits within Malawi and beyond.
So the play The Island, will tomorrow be staged at Madsoc Theatre in Lilongwe at 7pm. n