Rehearsing Mwange|Becker: A Namibian-German artistic collaboration
Two theatre practitioners from Namibia and Germany in 2019 engaged on a project through the Goethe-Institut International Co-production Fund to manifest a theatre production that investigates theatre as a space in which knowledge and reflection are explored and shared, writes the Goethe-Institut.
Sepiso Mwange and Mathias Becker reflect on their own experiences and fears, the power of history and their own position within it.
Through interviews and their own research processes, they seek to learn more about performative practices, the formation of knowledge in the theatre space and the meaning of archives, with Namibia as an example. Working towards Rehearsing Mwange|Becker begun in 2018 through an artistic collaboration.
“This production has evolved from a canonical European motive as a point of departure to question our relationship to theatre,” said Becker who studied contemporary puppetry in Berlin. Puppetry was one of the starting points for this devised theatre production.
“We first met in 2018 and instead of having this be a once-off encounter, we decided to continue collaborating. Together with the Katutura Youth Enterprise Centre (KAYEC) we offered an animation and storytelling workshop for children,” said Mwange, who is an applied theatre practitioner and performing arts lecturer at the University of Namibia.
Becker explained their multimedia performance of puppets, sound and videography were ways in which they explored the history and possible future of contemporary theatre makers communing from Germany and Namibia, at socio-cultural and historical sites such as the National Theatre of Namibia (NTN), that were interrogated as places of memory and cultural mapping.
“Puppetry creates the platform for dialogue and functions as a communicator between the performer and the audience. Speaking from a personal perspective makes it easier to approach sensitive topics, like the colonial history of a building that is still a space of knowledge, learning and refection,” said Becker.
“We wanted to explore the NTN through its history and the responsibility that we occupy within that space – by making reference to social constructs and how this space reflects life. Mathias Becker looked at how he could possibly have a connection to Namibia given our country’s history, using his surname as an entry point,” said Mwange.
She used storytelling and talked about her relation to her understanding of what it means to be Namibian, and what theatre means to her.
“It was important for us to interact with the audience. This was not a theatre sports performance in which the instructions from the audience determined the storyline - we encouraged the audience to interact with each other while what we do on stage develops - to make them think about many things such as important moments in their lives,” said Mwange.
Both of them were directors/devisors and performers, supported by Advisor Nelago Shilongoh (Namibia) with dramaturgy by Yasmine Salimi (Germany), live sound design by Karl Ehlers and video design by Martin Amushendje. The stage design was minimal, in an archival theme, and apart from objects and chairs, included a wooden desk and projection screen. The stage was surrounded by an exhibition documenting their research and rehearsal process.
Becker said the stage became a hybrid space in which they toggled between theatre space and archive. “This illustrated the communication between us as theatre professionals. We were critical of the communication process and also deployed the use of organic and electronic sounds as our way of communicating,” said Becker.
The National Theatre of Namibia’s Artistic Director, Nelago Shilongoh, valued the institution’s involvement in the production of this performance. “As a national institution, we very often function as the provider of space for theatrical arts development in Namibia. Bringing Mwange and Becker together to explore interesting ideas in the theatrical space whilst incorporating Namibia’s historical importance has made a meaningful to experimental theatre in our country,” she said.
Rehearsing Mwange|Becker is scheduled for 22-24 November 2019 at the Schaubude Berlin.