Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reps Theatre

No self respecting theatre is without it's resident ghost. Reps in Harare is no exception - I outline below a history of the theatre written by Gillian West who was chairman of the committee for some years.

The Repertory Players have been in existence for over 70 years - proudly flying the theatrical flag. Initially, four people formed a play reading group but in February 1931 performances began at Duthie Hall. Over the next five years, sixteen plays were produced under difficult conditions, with minimal stage facilities, inadequate lighting, uncomfortable seating and no money for improvements!
In 1936 Reps was given the use of the Prince Edward School Beit Hall. The stage was larger and better equipped and patrons were able to hire cushions at 3d each. During their 11 year occupancy, some 38 plays were presented but in 1947 their tenancy was terminated as the Hall was needed for school purposes.

Eventually, accommodation was found in the show grounds, in a ramshackle hall built as a cinema for the RAF in the second world war. There was a small stage, two small dressing rooms, a concrete auditorium with no ceiling and two bucket toilets! Volunteer members worked unceasingly painting, cleaning, decorating and laying more than 2000 concrete blocks to provide a raked auditorium. And then carpeting them. The buckets were replaced by chemical closets. The new home was named the Belvedere Theatre. It seated 240 people and opened in September 1947. The little theatre became immensely popular, mainly because of the improved standard of play presentation. During the Society's 12 year occupancy, 74 plays were produced, mainly to packed houses.

Two men had a profound effect on the fortunes of Reps. The one was George Barnes and the other was Adrian Stanley. (Adrian passed away on 10th August 2006 - read an obituary). In 1952, Reps celebrated its 21st birthday - a time of growth and excitement. Plans to build a new theatre were taking shape. Barney came up with the suggestion that a theatre foundation membership scheme be launched. The idea was to ask 500 people to contribute 50 pounds each. By 1957, the bank showed a healthy balance of 25000 pounds.

The new Reps Theatre on Sam Nujoma Street extension opened to the public in January 1960 with a gala production of Romanov and Juliet. This included a fanfare of trumpets from the BSAP band, incidental music from a section of the municipal orchestra, corsages for every lady in the audience, a formal opening ceremony by the Governor General of the Federation, Lord Dalhousie, and after the show a champagne party in the foyer for the entire audience - a glittering occasion.

Since 1960, Reps has produced over 400 of its own shows, the great majority of them under the directorship of Adrian Stanley. Adrian was appointed as the Society's first paid director and he took up his post in 1964, wasting no time in bringing Reps out of the financial doldrums. Records were broken and the future looked optimistic.

The Repertory Players is a unique amateur society operating with paid staff - a theatre manager, secretary, book-keeper, wardrobe mistress, workshop, security, bar and cleaning staff. But all actors, actresses and technical personnel are unpaid volunteers. Many valuable members have left for pastures new, but this is not a new situation. Reps will survive though new acting and backstage members would be warmly welcomed to help us through the next 70 years.
Acknowledgement: Gillian West, Chairman, 2003.

The resident ghost is George - and I am trying to find out more about him. I did have one encounter some years ago - my father was directing the National Ballet and produced a production of La Sylphide with my mother playing the Sylph. She had to go off stage on one side and appear on the other - on several occations - it was quite a run without any hindrances but on one particular occasion she found the door between the back of the stage and the wings not only shut but mysteriously locked!!!!!!! No one had been in the area and the only person with the keys was in another part of the building! Was it George?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Ghost smell

Well, the ghost smell has hit our house again! Last evening - before it was dark - I came into the drawing room and was met by a stench that smelt like someone had vomited in the room - there had been no one in the house except my husband and I.

I searched all over the room - the dining room - the hall - the smell was everywhere - and no sign of where it came from.

Suddenly it disappeared - the air was fresh again.

Recently we have smelt burning toast - I hope the ghost smells are not getting worse!

Ghosts or just nature?

The farm we liven on outside Marendellas had a number of burials in the hills. These were mainly dated to 1914 and the flu epidemic.

On of particular interest was situated in a cleft in a rock formation.

The cleft had been filled in by rocks and the burials were in the centre of the rock fill.

being members of the Prehistory Society this interested us and we obtained permission to excavate the site.

My husband entered at the top and began removing rocks until he came to a large piece of beautifully woven blue cloth (blue is used in burials by the Shona people). Then he came across a lovely carved wooden bowl lying on top of two skeletons.

The skeletons were buried in the fetal position. We carefully removed a couple of the bones to see size and possible cause of death. The skeletons were in good condition and the bones were well formed and appeared to be above the size of a normal Shona - in fact they must have belonged to individuals over the height of 6 feet!

We re interred the bones and placed all the items we had discovered back in the grave and having sealed it carefully we climbed down from the rock face.

We suddenly noticed that everything had gone completely quiet - no wind, no birds singing, no insect noises. The atmosphere was electric - it was as if someone was showing their displeasure at us invading the grave. I wonder who they were?

We did not go back to the spot for some weeks and when we did - all was normal again until we reached close to the rock face - when again all when quiet.

We made a hasty retreat not wanting to offend the spirits any further!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lake Kariba was built in the 1950's to provide a source of power to Zambia and what was then Rhodesia.

The lake is now 140 miles long and up to 20 miles in width; it covers an area of 2,150 square miles and has a maximum depth of 320 feet, with an average depth of 95 feet.

The name “Kariba” is derived for the Tonga word karive, meaning “trap”. It is well named as the river has been trapped by the dam across the gorge.
It is here that the legendary serpent creature Nyaminyami is said to live.

The BaTonga, who have lived in the region for centuries, say he is the god of the river.

When the Tonga people were forced to relocate to higher ground by the Kariba Dam Project in 1950, they summoned the help of Nyaminyami. They believed their river god would never allow the dam to be built and they would be able to return to their age old villages.

The designer of the dam committed suicide after one of his dams broke killing hundreds of people.

In 1957 Nyaminyami struck, causing the worst floods ever known to Zambezi, the flood washed away most of the partly build dam and killed several of the white workers. Their bodies disappeared mysteriously. The foreman of the construction crew was told by the village elders that Nyaminyami had caused the disaster and in order to appease his wrath a sacrifice would need to be made. The foremen agreed to the sacrifice. A white calf was slaughtered and floated onto the river. The next morning, according to this Tonga legend, the calf was gone and the workers’ bodies were in its place.

The next rainy season brought further floods nearly as bad as the previous year, however the project survived and the river was eventually dammed. In the 1960’s the generators were switched on and the supply of electricity flowed into the region. It is believed that Nyaminyami and his mate where separated by the dam and the frequent earthquakes and tremors felt in the area since the construction of the dam are caused by Nyaminyami in an attempt to crumble the wall and be reunited with his partner. Earthquakes of up to 5 on the Richter scale have been felt as far away as Harare - and they continue to be experienced today.
Is Nyaminyumi -real or a legend and what about the stories that have been told about him and his mate? Have the local people invented him to explain strange occurrences on and around the lake?

To be on the lake at dusk is both a wonderful but strange experience with the skeletons of trees long dead from exposure to the water sticking up from the depths below.

Every September the town of Kariba holds a festival in honour of Nyaminyami. He is very noticeable in Kariba, and a statue of him overlooks the wall that caused so much heartache for not only him and his wife, but for the people and the animals of the Zambezi Valley.

With the possibility of a massive flood in 2009 - will Nyaminumi surface to cause destruction in Zimbabwe? I never fail to wonder how the dam still stands today - with the crumbling structure having to have concrete poured into it on a regular basis and the control room so unstable that visits for maintenance are limited to a short period only.

The spirit of the Lake lives on - each year taking lives by boating and plane accidents which seem to have no explanation.