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Theatre as a Tool for Menstrual Hygiene Education

Fumbani Innot Phiri Jr.: Welcome to Critical Stages in Malawian Contemporary Theatre podcast, produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatre makers worldwide, in partnership with Advanc[ing] Arts Forward, a movement advanced equity, inclusion, and justice through the arts by creating a liberated space that uplift, heal, and encourages to change the world. I am your host, Fumbani Innot Phiri Jr., a producer, actor, director, playwright, and of course, a freelance journalist.

Critical Stages in Malawian Contemporary Theatre, I interview established theatre artists from all backgrounds to explore the precarious journey of theatre in the modern world, defines the problem, and find the better solution to sustain arts in a generation of motion pictures. In this podcast, I lead the discussion with established performers, directors, writers who are exploring ways to create these challenges while their works inspired the community.

In today’s episode, I’m with Lydia Deborah Banda. She’s a Best Actress of 2018 National Theatre Awards, a young creative entrepreneur, a founder of Flying Girls initiative, and she’s also a resident actress for Solomonic Peacocks Theatre. Flying Girls Malawi’s initiative that started in year 2019, founded by Lydia Deborah Banda in Germany. Flying Girls’ model uses creative approach to educate about menstrual hygiene, gender equality, climate change, leadership skills, entrepreneurship skills, and so many other gifts.

Alright, Lydia Banda, you’re welcome to this podcast.

Lydia Deborah Banda: Thank you so very much.

Fumbani: All right. I think it’s a pleasure to have you in this episode.

Lydia: Yes.

Fumbani: And one of the youngsters in theatre in Malawi, not just a mere actress but also very potential to the industry, an inspiration to young girls. Who is Lydia Banda?

Lydia: So Lydia Banda is a young girl born in Malawi, Blantyre, raised by a single mom and inspired by art.

Fumbani: Right?

Lydia: Definitely. So everything that has to do with Lydia Banda is always inspired by art. So in short, it’s just a girl who loves art.

Fumbani: Okay. A girl who loves art, who does everything with arts.

Lydia: Eating with arts.

Fumbani: All right. Okay. At such a young age, a young theatre practitioner, you have produced a good number of initiatives in Malawi. You’ve been part of some international projects. And with that, your name is everywhere. You are a role model to youngsters in secondary school. So talking about Solomonic Peacocks Theatre, doing performances in secondary schools, and talking about your initiative you founded in 2019, Flying Girls. Can you take us back about Flying Girls? What is Flying Girls?

Lydia: So this is an initiative which started in 2019, like you said. So you also got inspired by art.

Fumbani: Right.

Lydia: Because I was working, at first, I was a student at Solomonic Peacocks Theatre. So I was doing theatre, drama, and we were performing in different schools until I got an opportunity to travel to Germany whereby I was doing leadership skills, and the way we were learning those leadership skills, it was through art, through drama. So that time I got inspired when I saw girls, how they live their lives when it comes to menstruation period, knowing that there are girls that are not facing any challenges during this period. And I had to look back where I’m coming from, and I saw that there’s a big gap which needs to be filled. And when I looked at that problem, I’m like, “I am the one to fill that gap.”

So when I came back, I’m like, “I was abroad, I had to see girls using menstrual cups.” Imagine girls who never miss their classes. They go to school Monday to Friday without missing their classes, even when they’re in their periods. So I came back, I’m like, “What can be the ways which I can inspire these girls not to miss their classes, even during this menstruation period?” And what are the safe products that these girls need to use for them to pursue their education? Because in Malawi, we can say that period is an excuse to most girls. You find out that girls are like, “I failed the exams because the week that we were writing exams, I was in my period,” but come on. I’m like, “No, we need to change this because every girl needs to be in school even when they’re in their periods.”

So that’s where Flying Girls Malawi started, and then I’m like, I don’t have to also focus on one thing. I need to focus on so many things because there are a lot of challenges that needs both boys and girls to be part of, which shouldn’t just be about girls. So like you said, “FLYING,” it’s an abbreviation which stands for Future Leaders and Young Initiative for Nature and Gender Equality. So you see that we talk of gender in there, we talk of leadership, we talk of environment, we talk of those things. That’s where it started, and one of the activities which is running first, then the other activities is about menstrual hygiene.

Fumbani: Right, okay. So you started the initiative and inspiration from creative industry. So Lydia, before you started the initiative, most of the girls in secondary schools got inspired from your work doing performances. And there one opportunity you went to Germany, came from performing arts.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Right from Solomonic Peacocks Theatre. Can you take us back how you started with Solomonic Peacocks theatre as a—yes, ah, we were together, remember?

Lydia: Yeah, we were in the same class.

Fumbani: Yeah, we were together. So take us back, how you can you reflect about the theatre class in Solomonic? The importance of it, how it goes, and how youngsters needs to be part of it?

Lydia: For me, taking you to this load, I would say that I was never sure of the choice that I made. I was still doubting, and there are times that I would come to Solomonic Peacocks Theatre and ask myself, “What am I doing here? Am I really sure for me to get into this art industry?” But then, because I’ve grown up as a person with loss of esteem, not believing in myself, a person with no confidence at all, I’m like, “Maybe I’m going to change something about myself.” So I started these theatre classes, we were together, you know how I’ve been doing,

It took art for me to discover myself because art was a challenge to me. Art challenged me to face the audience.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: Growing each and every day, learning things each and every day. So after being introduced to art, theatre, I had to understand myself. I had to find myself because I was a lost person, not the lost person, but then I wouldn’t know where exactly and what choices that I’m supposed to make. But then after being introduced to this class, I’m like, “This is where I belong. This is where I’m finding myself.” So in these classes, they studied the introduction of theatre, how we can discover ourself through it, the whole process, until I got this opportunity where I had to travel to so many countries in the world through art to learn leadership skills.

So the journey has been there, it helped me to boost my confidence. And I should tell you one thing, Fumbani, if you find that oh, there are a lot of young girls and boys who doubt themselves, but it only needs one point for them to understand or to discover themselves. It only takes one point, and for me, it took art for me to discover myself because art was a challenge to me. Art challenged me to face the audience.

Fumbani: Yes, yeah.

Lydia: It encouraged me to look into other people’s eyes. People that I never wanted to look straight into their eyes, but it challenged me to do that. And if you need to find yourself, just go on stage.

Fumbani: Yeah, and we can reflect those days at Solomonic Peacocks Theatre.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: The early days of theatre class, it started just a place to chat and feel. But you as Lydia, out of the girls who were part of the class, you were outstanding, not necessarily that you were doing better in the performance, but approaching staff, different views and stuff. And on top of that, you came outstanding several performances. And I can recall the Romeo and Juliet, and Romeo and Juliet inspired a lot of youngsters in secondary schools.

Lydia: Definitely.

Fumbani: And yeah, I was part of the cast, but I was like, “These guys are enjoying, these guys are role models. They’re enjoying because of the role.” And that was the first challenging role for you.

Lydia: Exactly. It really was a challenging role for me, and I would say that during that time, remember we were calling that Theatre for Education, whereby we were going to different schools to talk to young girls. And mostly we were performing, we were doing some plays that are in the rich region just to act to the girls and boys for them to easily understand the stories. And I would say that that was a time that for me, when I’m learning something, when I’m going somewhere, it’s not just about going to fulfill that mission, but I always want to learn something from what I’m doing and where I’m going.

I always try to find where their strength, where their weaknesses, if there is something that I need to work on. And I would say that Theatre for Education helped me to have passion for young people, because you remember we are going in different schools around Blantyre, and these young girls are teenagers, and we would go there. We’ll see how these young girls, they act in front of people, some challenges and stuff. So for me, the passion to work with young girls and boys also began from the theatre class whereby we were visiting schools. So it pushed me very hard to work with girls, to work with boys because I saw that I think I’m really connected to this type of people and we need to change something, because we are the future.

Fumbani: So we do used to have quite a number of girls in the theatre class, a number of them, I think girls were dominating the whole club. But you were outstanding at this. You are the focal point of view. Not necessarily we can say in the creative element, but I discovered something that you were the point of view. Whenever we go, people would reach out to you, mostly girls. What was the secret about? I think most of the girls after the performance were like, “Let’s talk to Lydia,” right?

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Let’s talk to Lydia, let’s discuss about Lydia. Most you go to secondary schools where we find girls only. What was the secret about?

Lydia: That was a hard question. Because myself, I also asked myself, why do people flock to me after every performances, even when I’m taking a role which is not that big, but after every performance, they would always come to me and ask, “How do you do that?” But then the secret, I would say that it’s about passion. When you have passion, you deliver things differently. Even if you don’t say a word on stage or you don’t speak to people anyhow, but then your presence, people always know that there is someone in there, someone who is saying something or who is not saying anything. So I think the approach of things for me, the passion which came from within, help me to deliver things in the right way for people to notice or refer to me and ask me how I do that. Yeah, maybe that’s a secret.

Fumbani: So the thing like this was learning, so smooth, very fine. And then we used to do performances, only youngsters. We go to performances, bigger performances, but done by youngsters and by and by, the theatre industry was revamping, right? Because we used to have frequent shows.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: And then there was a time whereby we have to get a bigger challenge, and you were cast in a very big professional production.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: The Needs of a Woman. So take us through the production itself, The Needs of the Woman, and after you got the role of the main actress in the production, and you were on stage with theatre veterans in Malawi.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: And it was, yeah.

Lydia: Like you. Big people in theatre like you, don’t skip that one.

Fumbani: I was young.

Lydia: But I had to share that stage with you. It was one of the big plays that we had in Blantyre, I remember. So after performing with the young boys, young people, and I had to get this chance to perform with professionals, it was an exciting moment for me because I was used to perform with my fellow youngsters because we know how we play on stage. But then with this one, I’m like, “Oh no, so what if I make a mistake? How will they respond to that? Will they understand me?” Such kind of fear.

But then when I got on stage, that’s where I understood that we really need to work. This is work. We’re not here to play. I don’t care if you are old enough, I don’t care if you are, but this is work. We all need to deliver what we need to deliver. So The Needs of a Woman was one with a production that most people loved it and we performed it to different places. It wasn’t a one show we had to do that Jacaranda, at French Cultural Center.

Fumbani: Tumaini Festival.

Lydia: Tumaini Festival. So that also can be one of the things that pushed me far to where I am right now, because it gave me courage to understand that with this field, everything is possible. Yeah.

Fumbani: Yeah. It was challenging. I mean, I wrote the script.

Lydia: You did, yes.

Fumbani: But I didn’t expect to have that challenging role to be on stage with Matukuta. Okay, I’ll be with Matukuta on stage.

Lydia: Imagine.

Fumbani: Imagine, so I’m the main character on stage. Wow, okay. So it was different. It was quite an explorer to see, okay, we’re going to do one hour thirty minutes production. Wow. So I’ve been using for five minutes, yeah.

Lydia: So my favorite part was that one I had to play a lot with when we were together.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: You remember? We can’t say much of that what happened in that script. But that was also my favorite part because we were already used to act together on stage.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: So with the other professional guys, they were new to me, I wasn’t really flexible. But then after more rehearsals, I was coping. So that scene that we played together was my favorite. Still when I watch that one, I’m like, “Look at this guy. We had to do it.”

Fumbani: To me. Yeah, I got bored, realistically in life, because I was writing. When I was writing the script, I was laughing, okay.

Lydia: Not knowing that.

Fumbani: This character is going to be like this, right? It’s going to be like this. Then automatically during the auditions, you’re going to take the… in a way, but yeah, it took us something and—

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: We learn a lot, and it changed the dimension how we should perform theatre outside world, and we got an opportunity and we, I’m lucky we were together for that great exposure because most of the guys watched the performances like, okay.

Lydia: Yeah, we were supported.

Fumbani: The future is bright. So after that performance, you got a lot of opportunities. You went to Germany. You went to South Africa. You even went to Uganda, right?

Lydia: Israel.

Fumbani: Israel, yes, to Israel. So you studied good opportunity to intercultural exchange programs.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: How did those things contribute to your artistic life?

Lydia: These things really contributed me to my artistic journey because like I said, wherever I go, I’m always known by a person who really loves art as an actor. So because these people, they already know me that this is what I do, wherever I go, even when I want to connect with people of the... See another chance, I always try to connect it artistically. Because when I come back home, this is my life, this is what I do. So every opportunity that I get, I always try my best that it also help my future to grow. For instance, we had an international collaboration with the Germans.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: You watched the—

Fumbani: Yeah, I watched the program.

Lydia: You came late, my friend, I saw you.

Fumbani: Yeah, I came late, and I apologize. First of all I was in the field. I rushed back, worked the performance. Then I was worried, at least I—

Lydia: I was really glad to see you. I’m like, “You didn’t miss it.” So that was one of the best performances I had because I had to share a stage with German actors.

Fumbani: And that was the second time to use Germans.

Lydia: That was my second time. But then here in Malawi to play.

Fumbani: The first one was Marauding Beast.

Lydia: To take a big glow. To take a big glow and talk, to speak other languages on stage.

Fumbani: Ah, yeah.

Lydia: Because my love in this, I also shared the stage with Germans, but then I did not interact more.

Fumbani: You were young by that time.

Lydia: Yeah, I was really young. But this one I enjoyed because I really knew what I was doing. I’m like, “Huh, let me use this opportunity to shine.” Also, we had a chance to learn German, to learn dance because in the production. There was a dancer and in the play—

Fumbani: Robin Marcussen.

Lydia: And Yvonne from Germany, she’s also a professional dancer, so I was forced to do some ballet and dance. So that was really exciting.

Fumbani: How the experience in dance?

Lydia: It was—

Fumbani: You spend a lot doing just normal contemporary theatre and classic theatre, then you boom, dance.

Lydia: And half of the story, we were doing it through dance. It was quite challenging, but then I had to enjoy it because it was a new experience and I had to adapt to it and make sure that I deliver on that day, so it was quite amazing. And I’m still looking forward to more international collaborations.

Fumbani: Right, yeah. And this is just a start.

Lydia: It is.

Fumbani: You started with small, South Africa, then you go to Germany twice.

Lydia: Yeah, Israel.

Fumbani: Israel, and again, next year going for tour.

Lydia: Definitely.

Fumbani: What are the expectations after that?

Lydia: I’m expecting to learn. Like I told you at the beginning, I’m a person who loves learning, and I’m a person who loves to observe things. But when I see things, I always remember back home. If I explore, I’m going for this tour, what I’m expecting is what am I getting from there and what is it that I’m bringing at home? Is it ideas? Is it something that is going to change myself, not only myself, but people around me? So I’m just looking forward to more ideas, more things that I can bring in to share with my fellow youth for change.

We use their own talents to be their rescue.

Fumbani: All right. So during the theatre, so go back. During the theatre class, used to have an initiative project. I remember several project, there are about two; there was Mindset Change project whereby you conduct some activities for prisoners, and there was Theatre for Education. Just speak one of them and explain how the experience—

Lydia: —Was. Okay, I’m going to talk about Mindset Change because that one is my favorite, and I’m telling you that we’re still doing that.

Fumbani: Oh wow. Nice.

Lydia: I still go to that place because I think that’s where part of my heart belongs because… let me explain about Mindset program. So that Mindset program where it started that time when whereby we go to the prison to hear prison and talk with the prisoners, inspire them through art because there are so many people that are inside there. They have got reasons why they’re there. Others, they regret what they did. Others, they don’t still understand what happens. But then because we use art and we believe that art is a tool for change, and we believe that art is a strong thing that can make someone maybe to think positively.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: That’s why we go there, to talk with the guys that are in, the inmates that are in prison, to tell them that there are ways that they can change their lives, and this is through art. And when went there, we found out there are so many youngsters that are talented. People that knows how to drum, beat drums, that they know to sing, dance, doing theatre. And we use those talents, we use their own talents to be their rescue. So you find that as they do what they love more, they’ll be discovering themselves, enjoying what they’re doing and they’ll tend to forget all the things that are happening. That place is not a place that you can stay and enjoy.

Fumbani: It was like a theatre clinic whereby, a mind therapy with the guys. The ex-convicts sometimes.

Lydia: Yeah. And since we are the people that are outside, they’re in, they don’t have the chance to go outside. We are the ones that are seeing things in the world. We tell them that it is okay out here to be what you want to be.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: This is not the place that when you come out, you should hide yourself, but you should go there, expose your art, expose yourself, and you can go with a good life.

Fumbani: Yeah, and I think it was quite interesting to interact with those guys, to use theatre as drama therapy. So you were playing with their mind to reconcile what they did in the past.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: They have to forget about it, and they have to prepare for the new them.

Lydia: Exactly.

Fumbani: When they go out.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: They’ll use their talent to do that. And currently right now, we would see Chichiri Prison very vibrant in the society doing some performances. Each and every week, there’s a transition.

Lydia: There is.

Fumbani: And I remember there, if I’m not mistaken, seven of them who went out and studied initiative, they brought a power performance to society was like wow.

Lydia: That was really inspiring. They had to take their own art to bring it out and show the world that even though they were inmates, they also had their capabilities to showcase what they know, that was really amazing. And we still meet some other guys that are out now and they’re doing really, their businesses.

Fumbani: There’s one I remember is featured in a TV series.

Lydia: Yeah, that’s really inspiring.

Fumbani: And he even went to Germany last year. That was, I can say wonderful and I used to connect with him. We used to chat and say what are you doing and stuff, and he’s a completely guy.

Lydia: Yeah, that’s why—

Fumbani: Quite changed.

Lydia: That’s why we keep saying that theatre is a strong tool.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: Theatre is really a strong tool. It can make someone realize who they really are.

Fumbani: And as you were saying, you did some several initiatives of Solomonic. You’re currently doing them. And you came up with, you’ve wandered about Flying Girls Malawi or from theatre, but still in Malawi, people are saying theatre is dead. Is it true?

Lydia: To them, it’s dead. But right now, I should tell you that theatre is not dead. That is why we are here talking.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: Yeah. Because if something is dead, we can no longer talk about it. It’s gone, it’s gone.

Fumbani: Your biggest clients.

Lydia: There are time that theatre was just like that, we never heard about it. And the reason why we never heard about it was because we are the same people, we never do anything about it.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: So we can say that it’s dead. Those people that are saying it’s dead, that the ones, maybe they are not checking on it or trying to do something about it. But for me, I drink theatre, I eat theatre, I drink theatre, I drink art. So it’s here. It’s not dead.

Fumbani: Yeah, it’s not dead. And if we can look back, of course, allowing 2014, ‘15, ‘16, we have small performances in Malawi.

Lydia: Yeah, it went silent.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: You really went silent.

Fumbani: And at that time it was only Solomonic Theatre that’s doing this.

Lydia: Doing, yeah.

Fumbani: Doing that. And there was no consistency of... shows.

Lydia: Show.

Fumbani: Tours and stuff. I think, yeah. It was not there, it was there. It was resurrecting, and we can see number of youngsters from the theatre class, they’re the one leading the industry now, they’re everywhere.

Lydia: They started their own initiative, and they’re moving.

Fumbani: And they’re moving.

Lydia: I think that change that we had in the 2015s, the change I saw was people weren’t finding the best place to do their performances.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: I think that was a challenge.

Fumbani: There was no Blantyre Cultural center.

Lydia: But now they think that they’re maintaining it. I believe that more performances come out.

Fumbani: And the coming of Jacaranda, at least.

Lydia: The coming of, yeah.

Fumbani: Put a relief to the artists itself.

Lydia: People had a place to go and perform.

Fumbani: But it’s still, now we have regular shows. Not that what we wanted, but we are trying to go there.

Lydia: Yeah, we are trying.

Fumbani: How do you look and where, but we can say how theatre is being run in Malawi? Is it proper way, or do we need to change the dimension? How are we commercializing our shows? How are we producing our content?

Lydia: Okay. In short, what I can say is the thing that Malawi needs is just awareness. Because most people here in Malawi, they say that in art, there is nothing that you can get. And with that, we’ve been hearing that since we were young that there is nothing that you can benefit through art. You better find something else to do. So with that, we put this message in the children’s mindset and they grew up knowing that there is nothing important in art. That’s why you find that a number of people are saying that art can go further here in Malawi.

Just because they have been told that since they were young. But the way I see it, I see that this future, there is future because we are the future. If I inspire two or three more people, they are the ones that are going to carry this flag. And if those people will inspire the others, so it’ll go like that. So it begins with us, the young people, to inspire others for them to understand. And then we can change our Malawi for almost everyone to understand that in art, there is more.

Fumbani: Yeah. It is us to inspire other young people to be part of us, yes. But in Solomonic, you have a theatre class.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Of which you discover there is a gap. A gap whereby a youngster cannot just jump on stage. You need at least to evaluate her skill, right? You need to give him or her some basics to do theatre. And not only for performance, also, to think mind in business.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Marketing, entrepreneurship. So you discover to start that initiative. Like summer classes with those youngsters, of which if you decided to come up with that, that means there is a problem, if there is a problem.

Lydia: There is.

Fumbani: Education in theatre in Malawi.

Lydia: Education in these people. There needs to be, why can’t you just do some awareness campaign for especially our parents to understand this? When our parents understand this, they’re going to allow their kids to come out and do what they want, because it starts with our parents. If our parents say that you can’t do this, you know it’s we can’t do this. So awareness in education is really important because myself, I had to discover myself through this theatre class. I’m like, it needs to come back again because there are other girls and boys, they need to also, have this platform and go for what they want.

Fumbani: But we have University of Malawi, which at Chancellor College, they have a program, a drama program.

Lydia: Yes, they do have a program at Chancellor College Malawi. But the crazy thing is, so you’re at Chancellor College, you’re doing drama. So why ending up being a teacher? Secondary school teacher, I still don’t understand that.

Fumbani: And on top of that, not just a teacher who teaches drama. English.

Lydia: You understand? So it is a thing that I can just wake up today and tell the… I go to Chancellor College and tell them no. Why? It’s because they need to understand. Well, I know that maybe I can go one day and just tell them that this is not the way to go. But then it needs to start from there. Once they understand, so it’s education that we’re talking about here. Once we educate those people, educate the ones that educate.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: That there is a need for you to consider that once you are keeping this child here at the university for four years, when this person comes out, he or she’s a product of art. This is what she’s supposed to do, not being an English teacher because what you are doing, you are taking away talent; you’re taking away passions, you’re taking away things that can help the economy of your country, you understand? So there’s a need for integration.

Fumbani: Okay. In this podcast, I also had a chat with some several scholars from Chancellor College who are currently being teachers; they are teachers in high schools. And there is something after we discussed about why is that a group of graduates in Chancellor College who are doing drama, 90 percent of them—and I mean 99 percent I can say—they are teachers in secondary schools. And you go back to those secondary schools, they’re not teaching drama.

Lydia: They’re teaching English.

Fumbani: Yes, we cannot blame them that they’re not teaching drama because we don’t have a drama curriculum in secondary schools, right?

Lydia: Exactly, yeah.

Fumbani: So they’re being forced to teach history, social studies, English. Why is that? They don’t want to invest in the industry, the answer was.

Lydia: Where are we going to start from?

Fumbani: They spend four years that invest, now they’ll go back, they’ll join the theatre which they have no money to pay them money.

Lydia: Imagine.

Fumbani: So they have no choice, they need to pay bills. But we are surviving.

Lydia: They just think, they don’t really come out on the ground and experience what is there because art is not just about sitting on the table writing, but you need to work with your hands, your mind, your legs. You need to move up and down. That’s where you discover that there’s a need for something here and there so we should just stop all these assumptions. We should come on the ground and see what is there and try to work it out.

Fumbani: And here you are. Through art, you have Flying Girls.

Lydia: I have Flying Girls, and I’m still surviving. And I’m still bringing in more girls and boys. And you know that in this Flying Girls Malawi, we have boys as well. It’s a pressure that I couldn’t handle myself. I had more boys coming. They’re like, “No, we want to be part of Flying Girls Malawi.” I’m like, “Oh, should I change the brand, or do I have to introduce Flying Boys Malawi?” And this is what we want. We want boys to support girls. We’re talking of gender in Flying Girls Malawi.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: So we need boys to stand for girls and we need girls to stand for boys as well so that’s it.

Fumbani: How do you look at in your initiative, the club you have to incorporate mostly in theatre, most to girls, you are the role model. They know Lydia does this, Lydia do a performance, Lydia also, you are here. Now, you’re taking over, you’re teaching theatre class, you are assisting. Yeah, you got an opportunity to go chance to do an incubation program, so not the full program, but they’re just an incubation. Now what are you doing with girls to inspire them to be full-time theatre artist? In Malawi, we are liking that we only see girls being actors on stage or costume designers or production designer. We are lacking theatre directors, female directors, writers.

Lydia: Inspiration. We really need someone to inspire us. When I went for incubation at Chancellor College for Sula, I was doing directing, and that was one of the challenges that I had to take in this life. Because you know me as an actor; you don’t know me as a director. And like I said, if I’ve seen that there’s a gap somewhere, I always want to go and fill that gap. So that’s why I saw that the almost 80 or 90 percent of directors in theatre industries in Malawi, all of them are boys. How about girls? Can we women stand in front and tell actors, male actors, what to do?

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: So I’m going for that incubation, I’m going to learn about directing. That’s how I took that step for me to continue to bring the role model. Those people when they see that this girl is a director, also, some other girls should be inspired, do the same thing.

Fumbani: Because we need more stories coming from the girls’ point of view.

Lydia: Exactly.

Fumbani: You inspire the girls, don’t have the time to do awareness, but that awareness needs to be facilitated by them. If you want to have a potential story with a direct information, you need to get the story from the horse’s mouth. So if you are the director, you’re one of the guys contributing to speak about the production.

Lydia: Definitely.

Fumbani: Even the girls, we need more writers. I know girls have a lot of stories, they write short stories. But we need to direct from writing shorter stories to scripts. We need to see more stories, maybe we can see new productions coming from women.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Right?

Lydia: It’s coming.

Fumbani: It’s coming.

Lydia: It’s really coming.

Fumbani: Really, because I’m tired of writing productions.

Lydia: So, you as a writer, you need to do some workshop. I’ll bring my girls there, teach them how to write a script.

Fumbani: I don’t how to do that. That’s my dream, to have more girls in script writing because I will need to have more writers who has the voice of telling their stories. 50 percent of my productions has a girl chat story, right. But I cannot deliver it well if I’m just, I’m assuming the situation.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Or I can ask a girl, what is happening about this situation? You’ll give me the information in the research purpose, but if that person is writing the story.

Lydia: It’s going to take everything out.

Fumbani: Right? And be like, boom. I’ll give an example. We did The V Monologue, right? I started as the initiative. Okay, let’s do a V Monologue, which Taddja with Dikamawoko Arts, we would take a mock at. Then we gather the girls. I wrote the script and then I was like, “No. Guys, you are going to produce the content by yourself.” Tomorrow, go back to communities, research and get information. Bring it over here. And I was surprised to see someone was seventeen years old, Lisa, explaining stories, deep stories. You can explain those stories.

We should come on the ground and see what is there and try to work it out.

Lydia: Magic.

Fumbani: And I was also surprised, there was one girl who was sixteen years old, and her mother is a prophet, I can say, right? Her mother is a prophet, and she’s like, “If my mom caught me saying this, she’ll whip me. But I’m here to express what is happening in this society because I am also the victim so I need to tell my story.” So the seven girls teamed up, bring up a script, direct themself, and it was an anger-full production. You could see there’s a voice, there’s anger within them. So I was like, “Okay, we need more of this.”

Lydia: We need more.

Fumbani: So more of that. Need it from you. The society needs to have the stories because you have a group of youngsters is inspired by you and yeah, something like that.

Lydia: It’s coming.

Fumbani: It’s coming.

Lydia: Watch this space.

Fumbani: All right, okay. Let’s go back, Theatre for Education. You started as a theatre class in Solomonic as a club. So you started some performances in secondary schools. I can remember. 70 percent of the initiative were done by the youngsters. They would design, we’ll go there.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: We’re going to do this production; you’re going to do this production. They like just, “Okay, cool.” Go and no, don’t go. So how were you conducting the theatre class to do Theatre for Education program?

Lydia: Can you come again?

Fumbani: Okay. There was a club, you still have right now, so you used to go for performances.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: And most of the time it was only you, the members in the club, not the director of the organization giving you what to do.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: You were just sitting down. I think let’s come up with the great fair mind, we’re going to perform somewhere.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Let’s come up with something. How did you reach to the point whereby everyone was contributing and everyone who was eager to go and perform and there was passion within? Because when you watch one performance from the team, there’s no man here but there is passion. There is passion.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: What was happening?

Lydia: So for me, I would say that that was the time that I had also to discover some of my leadership skills in me. Because remember, the director would leave us when he’s committed to some other things, and he’d tell us to go and do this and that. And then the good thing is we as a class, we are listening to each other’s points. So when I say a point or we have got an idea, we always listen to each other and go out and do the things with passion because what we’re doing on stage is what we wanted to do. And there wasn’t anyone who was saying, “No, don’t do that.” Of course, the director who, even when the director’s there, he never said that, “Don’t do that.”

He would give us a chance also to express ourselves and do some other things on our own. But I think that helped me to have this kind of passion where I can express myself and do things the way I want with my idea. So the thing about art, you don’t have to limit yourself. Even people around you, we know, we already know that in art, there’s no way you can limit an idea because every idea is a creative idea and it brings something that can also bring change, so I would enjoy the performances because all the ideas were working right there. And they were more, more and we’re having fun.

Fumbani: Yeah, most was you were having fun.

Lydia: Fun, yeah.

Fumbani: And what I’m happy is I can say that club is very vibrant in the society current, very vibrant. You would see a lot of them doing some initiative, we have Khumbolane Chavula.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: Now, Khumbolane Chavula, he was part on one of the episode in the podcast. Why? Because he inspired me from, he diverted his skills from mainstream theatre into poetry. But he is using poetry and theatre together, and it’s something else, another style of theatre because it made it seem like poetry. So you can see the reflection, how these guys are doing upside because the opportunity of interaction, the opportunity, how they were expressing their point, okay, we can do this on their own. And you, you’re standing there, you are running initiative and you have a group of youngsters. You have a generation of which that generation inspire the society.

Lydia: Definitely.

Fumbani: Right? So this generation is a generation of motion pictures, a generation of digital, with issues of commercializing performances. But there was a festival, Easter Theatre Festival. You could see people use e-tickets, but the amount of box office, and the amount you have invested is not tiring at all.

Lydia: Not at all.

Fumbani: And any idea how you can commercialize theatre apart from the gate correction, and you know there is digital. People has to choose, “Okay, let me watch Netflix. Okay. Okay, let me be on Facebook, let go me go on TikTok, they’ll be entertained.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: In a shorter period, then transport, go Jacaranda, watch a performance, five thousand. Ah, I will not go. You see in other countries when it is okay, we have a show, we’re premiering our show, a new show. They have to do it on Friday night, then Saturday morning, afternoon and evening. Then Sunday, about five times within three days. That means each and every slot will have full time shows. But here in Malawi, just only one show, one first premier show will have limited.

Lydia: Limited people.

Fumbani: See, and most of them being artists. They love, let’s just go and watch and support our brother and stuff. You as you are interacting creators, and here in the theatre class, you take them entrepreneurship, business, what type of model are we doing to change the system of theatre?

Lydia: Yeah, like I said, we go back again. There’s a need for education so because we saw that there is that gap.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: It’s really crazy how you just are having your show and you find out that the turn out is very poor. You expected people to come and watch the production. But the people that are coming there, very few and because they have choose to engage themselves with some other things, living in a technology world whereby people are afraid to do what they want, they will watch it on Facebook, they’ll not come. They’ll be on TikTok dancing, everyone is doing their own thing. But once you understand what is really important and what you want, you always go for that.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: So if we educate these people, how important it is for these performances to come, because it’s not just me standing on stage and entertaining you, but it’s also standing on stage educating you.

Fumbani: Yeah.

Lydia: So they also need to understand that coming to a performance, a theatre performance, it’s not just about them coming to laugh or to forget about their problems, but also to solve their own problems because what is shared on stage can be a solution to what they’ve been going through. So there’s a need for integration that’s not just about entertainment, but it’s also to educate them, to change the way we live, you understand?

Fumbani: All right. Lydia, it is a nice conversation and inspiration, and I think we have a lot of discussions in the future.

Lydia: Yeah.

Fumbani: And these discussions will also help us to document our daily theatrics element and also to inspire others. And yeah, thank you. Dear listeners, if you want to find Lydia, you can go on Facebook, Lydia Deborah Banda, and also, you can also check her Facebook page on Flying Girls Malawi. Yeah, on the Facebook page. And you can also check Solomonic Peacocks Theatre Facebook page as well. Yeah, so until next time.

Thank you so much for having a chew with us. This has been another episode of Critical Stages in Malawian Contemporary Theatre. I was your host, Fumbani Innot Phiri Jr. If you’re looking forward to connect with me, you can email me at [email protected]

This episode is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this series and other HowlRound podcast in our feeds, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search for “HowlRound Theatres Commons podcasts” and subscribe to receive new episodes. If you love this podcast, post a rating and write a review on those platforms, this help other people to find us. You can also find the transcript of this episode along with a lot of progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com. Do you have an idea for exciting podcasts, essay, or a TV event that the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit the idea to the comments.

Thoughts from the curator

In Critical Stages in Malawian Contemporary Theatre, Fumbani Innot Phiri Jr. interviews established theatre artists from all backgrounds to explore the precarious journey of theatre in a modern world, define its problems, and find better solutions to sustain performing arts in a generation of motion pictures. Fumbani leads discussions with established performers, directors, and writers who are exploring ways to greet these challenges while their works inspires their communities.

Critical Stages in Malawian Contemporary Theatre

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