Hafeni Muzanima is sort of a wanderlust on an artist map. When the mildly eccentric pitchfork isn’t drooling creative ideas into a bucket of collective genius, he spends most of his time writing and erasing, writing and erasing and then writing words, once more, to elaborate perfection. In the comatose dark, you will find him fiddling with life questions and when he’s had enough of it, he will eagerly drop his thickset worries into a bottomless pit of “don’t worry. Be happy!” Valiantly fabulous, Hafeni seamlessly draws parallels between his time writing atypical poems and copy for ad agency, Adforce Leo Burnett Namibia, and congregating with his power ladies over a good wine.
It’s audition week at the National Theater of Namibia as my raging mental clock ticks on to my rousing gay satire, “Revere them those men.” I’ve got just about the right actors for the roles and each one to his or her own cracking to do – yeah – there is a particular precision that needs to be flattered where the character storyline is concerned and there’s cracking to be done in the Mother City.
It is what it is, here in Windhoek. If there is anything notorious about two men in an undisclosed bedroom, it is the groping of hands and the locking of lip and mouths everywhere; if anything, a consoling hug “gone wrong” would suffice as justified reasoning for two perfectly normal men caught in a moment of heat. Admitting to a same-sex relationship (platonic or sexual) is something above discomfort or condemnation, depending on which church you congregate, but still – what’s not to love about this City – it is home.
In essence, the play hinges perfectly on that. “The bedroom affairs” of gay Namibia and how far an individual is willing to justify free loving in an open space; to test the parameters of our hard-fought freedom as gay men, where parameters demand to be tested. I’m sitting in my director’s chair with my casting glasses weighing evenly on the lower part of my face; the attractiveness of an actor’s physical structure (These characters, that remain unspoken words for now, aren’t about playing around when it comes to their looks!) to his ability to kick box emotional signals out of me as if I where reinventing them again. One after the other.
In this time, I seem to be having a bit of trouble facing my own demons, because what I am asking these actors to do, is play out bits and pieces from my own life. I feel like I’m looking in a broken mirror, that cannot be fixed even if I tried to, and all I see are half-truths, promises unkept and bittersweet recollections tethered around my own horrific, however delightful, past. It is true that, as gay people, we go through a profound universal narrative that requires observation. I find it even more, fairly true, when one of the actors breaks down in front of me during an audition. “It’s too close to home,” says the almost fragile actor. Yes, it is, sadly, but that is just half of it.
I kept on thinking about why we don’t have more of these moments, where gay men (black and white) are given a chance to be vulnerable and share life stories – to seek and to be given validation. We inherited a painfully unresolved past, yet we continue with a present that honestly needs mending. We need the brotherhood that Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill speak about from their unrevered graves. “I should, perhaps, begin one here in my country.” That is a thought I quickly carelessly entertain, but if there ever was a time where Namibian gay men became valiant enough to begin an introspection, this is where it begins here.
After the financing production entity called for a recasting for one of the characters – something I wished never happened, but somewhere a realization dawned on me – one actor walked into the audition room, ran his eyes through the character profiles and walked out. In his words: “As a married man with children, morals and principles, I cannot. I just can’t do it!” I briefly read him the storyline of the play with some hope that I might persuade him of the compelling intent of the play and mentioned how it is an activism piece, then I asked whether he was an actor or not! Anyway, I sat there as I watched him walk out into the dismal abyss that is his self-trenched acting career. It is John Lithgow who nattily articulates this: “The most exciting acting tends to happen in roles you never thought you could play.”
So with nearly very little time and hefty rehearsals to go through, I’m finding myself slightly overwhelmed but with good reason. For one thing, I love working on something I feel strongly about with intense pressure while having to pull it off under those circumstances, but what a bite it is to chew on! My greatest hope is that my mental countdown reaches leaps of sincere courage while telling a story that is so relevant and critical to the Diaspora. There will be a sorrowful clutter after this satire, that much I will say: Every terribly misconstrued moral question regarding gay people by a less-informed public; every personal hassle or tribulation encountered by a gay man (or woman) and every splinter in my darkened past will find its way to the garbage bin.
Another wish of mine is that this play will create some sort of leeway for the healing process to circulate through. As gay men, or LGBT members, we tend to find ourselves, in pursuit of self-actualization, in a lost maze. This, particularly, occurs between “The closet life” and “The coming out,” where we are (most of the time) disoriented and lost in our own personal journies and desire for life. “Revere them those men” is, with every hope in me, that beginning; where we understand ourselves, mirror one another and make peace with what can and cannot be changed. Also, a play in which we find our hopes and aspirations genuine and valid. As an artist my duty is, firstly, to humanity and then to my gay brothers, secondly, and then to what Nina Simone describes as “reflecting the times in which an artist resides.”
Carrie Bradshaw (via whatwouldcarriesay)