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Out of Africa: The Theatre Stage Directors Workshop in Addis Ababa Gets Off to a Bloody Good Start

Christopher Hibma with Baroka and Lulyya

Phillip Himberg, Artistic Director Sundance Institute Theatre Program

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Orthodox Easter Sunday, Addis Ababa — “And what is that?” I ask, pointing to a bowl of what appears to be a red gritty substance. “Oh? That ? That is baked blood — from the lamb we slaughtered this morning. Please – take some.” I do. I recall, of course, that this is the very same lamb that I saw my friends purchase yesterday at the Sheep Market here in Addis Ababa. The same lamb (alive at that time, mind you) that was tied and placed into the trunk of the car, barely twenty-four hours before. I spoon some of the baked red blood onto my plate — along with spicy chicken, and lamb meat, and lamb stomach, liver and kidneys — and then scoop it onto my homemade “injera” – fermented bread – and dig in. Magic time.

I have had the great fortune of traveling to this part of the world since 2003 and I’ve spent glorious hours in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda – Sundance Institute East Africa. Two days ago I arrived in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa – my first time in this country. Tomorrow, we will officially begin our first-ever Stage Directors Workshop. Eight participants, representing six East African countries (four languages) will join workshop leader, American/South African director Liesl Tommy, and my Sundance comrades: Christopher Hibma, Roberta Levitow and Deborah Asiimwe. Also, we are joined by theatre colleague and friend, David Diamond, representing La MaMa Umbria.

Our hosts tonight were the wonderful playwright, Meaza Worku and her family: Husband Zekarias, and their young children – daughter Lulyya, son Barok, and mother, Hededa. What I believe: To be in a family’s home is the greatest honor. And to think that just a month or so ago, Meaza was in my cozy apartment in New York City – as Sundance’s guest for an ‘immersion’ into ‘our theatre culture’. Tonight, I was being likewise initiated and immersed in the rich culture of Ethiopia.

I first met Meaza on Manda Island, Kenya, where she was one of our Theatre Lab Fellows at our Lab on Manda in Kenya in 2011. Her play, Desperate to Fight was chosen from many applications and I had the good fortune of directing it on Manda, and then again, recently in New York reading at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

Our workshop begins bright and early tomorrow Monday April 16, but I came to Addis a couple days ahead, to pave the way, and to acclimate. And today, I was joined by Christopher and David. One of other other hosts, Belayneh, who teaches Theatre at Addis Ababa University (a formidable campus which was initially the home of the great Ethiopian leader, Haile Selassie) drove us to Meaza and Zekarias’ house. Once there, I give Meaza’s beautiful and animated children some gifts I’d purchased in London enroute – Paddington Bears and Magic Pens and chocolate Easter Bunnies. Meaza’s lovely mom, Hededa, begins the coffee ceremony: Roasting fresh beans over coals – the smell is of course intoxicating! And then she grinds the beans and boils the fresh coffee. We will drink it after our meal – in fact, three servings – pungent, sweetened with sugar, and like nothing I’ve ever quite tasted in the world. I don’t know how I’ll enter a Starbucks again without whining.

The conversation is filled with humor and laughter: translating back and forth from English to Amharic and even Italian. We eat, and talk and drink and toast homemade beer and whisky, consume the meats and organ meats and yes, even the Blood! It is salty and odd, and I suppose I am now, at last, finally, prepared to make my guest appearance in Twilight. (I sense my sensitive Jewish stomach is saying: what – the fuck! But – it doesn’t matter.

What matters is the connecting. The reaching out. The discovery – of people living so many miles away, but sharing with us, their lives, their expressions, their language (gorgeous Amharic) and soon – so much more as we embark on this cultural theatrical journey. Everyone will learn – me most of all, I am certain.

Sundance has made this adventure possible, and I am deeply grateful. More to come in the days ahead.


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A man in a beige shirt and with medium-length dark hair kneels in the dirt and looks over his right shoulder at the camera

Who Was… Mark Silverman?

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