Project description : one woman play 1995
A letter to a friend: “My 10th Calabash” became in some ways a puppet play. The puppets were an assembly of dried gourds that gradually became a glowing heap of clues into the social organisation of an African village. The puppeteer swung and hollered and chastised, perhaps unaware that she was fully visible, but at any rate oblivious to the fact that ‘you don’t do such things’.
The project was to summon up the village where my old co-conspirator Chiku Ali spent the first 14 years of her life: a cluster of mud huts at the edge of the Tanzanian jungle.
Our angle was to follow her memory as I, the essential social-anthropologist, tried to piece together the cultural attributes and family lineages of her Nyaturu people. Almost by coincidence, there were calabashes at each juncture. Calabash for brewing millet beer, preserving salt, ritual slaughter, milk, porridge, the Rites of Passage; between them: admonition, the facts of life and a parade of the women by the well.
Of course, it is the size of these women that carries the evening; women reared on bride price and polygamy, women whose fisticuffs are as fierce as your local wharf’s, and whose social training includes the mocking and berating of every passing uncle. That the actress is clearly cut of the same cloth, merely adds to the danger of the meeting.
By the end of the piece, no coherent social-anthropological theory could be proffered; the flood of detail, both significant and not, remained a subjective pile of field-notes. What had occurred however was the actress’s voyage to the place of her very persuasive power. She was generous but never subservient. If we had listened carefully, we could recognise that our compelling new acquaintances lived deep in the doubly stricken drought and AIDS belt. The village’s days may be numbered, but that’s not the story the calabash tell.
The other thematic component of the piece is its broken Norwegian; the actor’s struggle to survive a grammatical constellation that crumbles at each preposition. And so kudos to the writer who squeezes an evocative poetry out of linguistic banality. Our daily frustration becomes our militancy – as the tangible joy of breaking the sound-barrier puts all native speakers to shame.
We promise ourselves a good long life for the piece. Chiku is central in the work of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (read female genital mutilation) and is off to Beijing ( UN’s International Congress of Women) to sit on a panel or two. The calabash are light and flexible so she’ll pack the play under one arm. Bembo may or may not take on the guise of musician. ( He did. )
Chiku’s ten calabash were:
- the empty: lament, roll call, anatomy, remember
- water : landscape, well gossip, remember
- ugali : kuweri, morning smells, Balima, remember
- milk : legend of the ape princess, Mariam, remember
- millet beer : Lade, song of Jumeni, remember
- salt : sex is very important puppet theatre, to give and to get, messenger’s feast, remember
- intestine soup: census, a soup without salt, Nyasaidi, remember
- blood : Leti’s song, drytime, Myajuma, remember
- duty free : to long for, granny says, the future child, tin roof, remember
- hope : newsletter, roll call, and then, remember ￼
THE FUTURE PROTECTION AGENCY /
INSTITUTE FOR NON-TOXIC PROPAGANDA, Bergen 1990.
The ‘World Commission on Environment and Development” announced that its European regional “Action for a Common Future” conference, would be held in Bergen. Suddenly journalists and scientists, activists and politicians from thirty-four high-polluting nations were coming to our hometown.
As local artists, we hoped Bergen would supply more than just a pretty backdrop.
DEN MULTINATIONALE SCENE specializes in issue-oriented field-theatre.
We created the FUTURE PROTECTION AGENCY to help receive our guests.
As the unofficial street-theatre of the Bergen Conference, the FPA prepared eight “VISIBILITY PLAYS”.
The INSTITUTE FOR NON-TOXIC PROPAGANDA has since been started to further the application of theatre tools to the imperatives of environmental awareness raising.
Our contribution to the Bergen Conference was a series of street events that provoked both smiles and thought. Poetic and accessible, they were readily lapped up by both print and film journalists. Refreshingly free from diatribe, they allowed well-fed passers-by to speak of their fears without becoming paralysed by feelings of guilt.
Any transition towards an ecologically benign life-style
requires enormous technological and social change. Any desire
to steer this change, will require an equally enormous propaganda effort
However, our over-crowded world of media claim and counterclaim, leaves us little room to move. People know too much. The facts are numbing, and our well ofhope has often run dry. Feelings of helplessness impede our capacity for rational thought. To re-open this connection we turn to the communication techniques of popular theatre.
As theatre workers we possess a specialised knowledge: We subject ourselves to laws of dramaturgy. Laws which decree that new information can’t be presented before the stage has been set and the drama heightened.
A central tool is metaphor . Metaphor frees us from the need to be direct, strictly logical, or diplomatic. Understatement becomes as important as statement. Playwrights can illuminate an argument by ascribing one character an extreme degree of naivete or irrationality. It isn’t always appropriate to underline one’s conclusion.
As the self-declared propaganda arm in an undeclared war, THE MULTINATIONAL SCENE has interpreted our task as awakening collective consciousness. The time is precious. But our work of building imagery that stimulates the fighting spirit cannot be hopped over.
Our INSTITUTE FOR NON-TOXIC PROPAGANDA may be blatantly naive, we shall certainly seek to manipulate. However, our applications of the truth are an honest attempt at propaganda at its best.
Bembo Davies, Bergen 1990
Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda :
a division of Den Multinationale Scene, Norway
“VONDT I SPRÅKET”
“PAIN IN THE LANGUAGE”
22 min. short film
camera: Morten Skallerud
sound and editing: Erik Rye
music: Gioria Feidman
producer: Tore Severin Netland
written & directed: B. Davies
Northern Europe has a long tradition of population export; many people have left, very few have come. This has resulted in a myth of a homogenous people.
The last few years have changed this. A de facto importation has occurred. ‘Different’ population groups have arrived; first as cheap labour, later as economic or political refugees. Suddenly the streets are full of people who look and/or talk funny. These import items have been put into schools, and are steadily encouraged to perform their folkdances. Newspapers are full of debate on the appropriate welcoming ceremony. Despite a new myth of cultural pluralism, the newcomers seldom ‘integrate’ successfully.
Are they so damaged by the process of uprooting themselves ? Do they lack “intergatity” ? In fact, it seems that it is this very integrity, a deeply human dignity that prevents their homogenisation. The act of adults returning to a state of speechlessness is humiliating. When words fail you, people dismiss your thought capacity. At best you negotiate an emotional curfew with society.
The short film “Pain in the Language” is a revenge comedy. With a theatrical lumberjack from Canada at the helm, a group of assorted foreigners found a way of directly describing this syndrome. We do so with a warmth that both testifies to a solidarity between nations and sends surges of jealousy among the homogenous. While Norwegian filmmakers remain morally bound to making ideologically correct reportage about loneliness in the ghetto, we are free to proclaim our ‘broken language’ as a liberation tool: rebellious vowels and misplaced idiom become a new militant poetry.