Category Archives: Show Business

The dramactivists

I met Jo Dorras & Peter Walker in a bunk house on the side of a mountain in New Zealand. In between playing A LOT of cards and nursing our aching limbs, we traded stories and I found out about their amazing work in Vanatu in the South Pacific.

Over 20 years ago they set up a theatre company, wansmolbag. What began with 15 amateur actors has grown into an organisation specialising in development theatre with 100 staff and over 400 volunteers. They use drama to engage audiences on a range of issues from contraception to corruption. One of their biggest hits has been Love Patrol, a TV series centred on a police detective that focuses on HIV/ AIDS. Vanuatu’s first TV serial has been roaring success; it has been broadcast across the region, from Fiji to New Zealand and is now in its fifth series. Jo writes it, Peter directs it. I thought it was only fitting to feature them as a couple!

THIS YEAR’S LESSON: Jo: Never think you know yourself. Circumstances make or unmake the woman. It can be very hard to explain why you did what you did.

Peter: What everybody in their fifties starts to learn: that time speeds up. I remember sitting around with both sets of parents about 15 years ago, before my parents embarked on a dreadful last decade of illness. One night they started discussing their attitude to death and how it wasn’t worth worrying about. My father in-law, Harry, mentioned how time went so fast, chortling as he remembered some old celebrity in the paper saying how it seemed like breakfast came round every fifteen minutes. The good side  — especially if you are privileged enough to enjoy your work, and your partner is doing the same work — is that you savour each opening night, each great rehearsal and  also each weekend bush walk, with the knowledge that the years you will be able to do them are starting to dwindle — although I don’t feel that breakfast is coming round every fifteen minutes (perhaps only every half hour!)

THE BURNING QUESTION: Jo: As poverty is the cause of most of the world’s pain and suffering, can aid — which pays our own personal bills — do anything about it? And what will happen to all the young people at our centre when they are no longer appealing youth we are all meant to worry about, but men and women with nothing?

Peter:  Just how is Vanuatu going to escape the ravages of an ever more venal group of politicians? One would like to believe that in this, an election year, it would be via the ballot box. But, as the theatre group discovered last month when touring with plays pertinent for an election year, the amount of money, saucepans, fencing materials and solar panels being delivered to villages by politicians wanting to hold on to power suggests that we’re stuck with the lot we have and the weekly stories of corruption they bring with them. But here’s hoping… the after-play-discussions bring to the surface a great deal of discontent.

THIS YEAR’S INSPIRATION: Jo: The amazing Gigi, who plays Andy in ‘Love Patrol’. He’s a young gay man and was absolutely thrilled on his return from launching series 4 of LP in Cook Islands, where he was treated like a star and ran workshops with school children, communities and queens (the third sex group there). It’s not always like that for Gigi.

And always writing for the actors and seeing them take what I write and fly with it! Wow!

Peter: Read: Peter Godwin’s The Fear about the 2007 elections in Zimbabwe. We lived in the south east of Zimbabwe for 5 years in the 80s and went back in the mid 90s for a visit. So the wreckage described was perhaps even more poignant for us. The stories both of man’s unbelievable inhumanity to man and also the staggering bravery shown by many in standing up to the torture and general mayhem, just have you gasping on every page. Unavoidably we ran into diehard white farmers when we lived there. I remember 300 km hitchhiking car journeys, when they picked you up (aghast that you should be hitching), and put you straight about how their country really was.  Some of these same people, by their own admission in the book, have made incredible journeys to end up side by side with their black Zimbabwean colleagues.

Seen: The youth group we are currently working with! 26 of them, most of school age, none of them in school…..their absolute delight in the rehearsals. The other night they did a run through of something they’d been working on since the last time I’d seen them. They finished. I said I thought it was good and they clapped and cheered, so pleased were they that I had liked it.

Heard: Stories on the BBC World Service series ‘Witness


The Satirist

Sami Shah is a Pakistani comedian, writer and ad-man based in Karachi. When I first met in him in 2009, he was hosting News Weakly, Pakistan’s version of The Daily Show, while practising his act using virtual second-life comedy clubs. He takes his jokes across the country with nationwide tours and has a weekly column The Express Tribune. And now, my friends, I’m going to duck and cover as I ask you to give a warm welcome to Mr Sami Shah…

THE LESSON: Fortunes change faster than you can order a gun made of gold. As Libya country was wracked by revolution and rebels overtook every city, I could see that the years poor Gaddafi spent preparing for just this moment were not enough. For too long he believed in his own infallibility. He thought that surrounding himself with a shield of Amazonian hotties and sleeping in golden mumus, that did not hinder sprinting, would keep him safe. The bulletproof tents should have helped too. But in the end, I learned that none of it can prevent you from ending up in a drainage pipe pleading for your life. The lesson this has taught me is if I ever end up being a brutal dictator, I won’t shortchange the brutality. Go all out. Kill everyone. And do it in urban casual. It is better for blending in. Also, keep an extra Ukrainian Nurse handy at all times. You never know.

THE QUESTION: Where can I find the perfect pair of skinny fit jeans? Every time I buy a pair that are perfect in how they hug my rump, they tend to be too tight in front, crushing all feeling in my groin. Is it too much to ask for a pair of tight jeans that understand the need to hug my butt, leave space for my tackle and still outline my muscular thighs?

THE INSPIRATION: News coverage of Bin Laden’s porn collection changed me as a human being. All too long I have suffered guilt as I surfed the Internet, searching for just the right video to get the job done. Am I a pervert? I wondered. Are my needs out of the norm of society? Then, a few days after Seal Team 6 put a bullet through the head of the winner of Creative Terrorism 2001-2002, I learned I was not alone. If Osama Bin Laden, a man who had 3 wives in his compound, could watch filmed pornography without his conscience bothering him then why should I feel shame? Now, whenever I load up youporn, I think of Bin Laden. I think that’s what he would have wanted.

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