By Godwin Muzari
One night in the early 1980s, veteran theatre practitioner Daves Guzha got in trouble with his mother. He vividly recalls the incident. He arrived home around 11pm from a play and found his mother in the kitchen at their Malborough house.
The light in the kitchen was off. He did not expect to find her awake. As soon as he switched on the light after unlocking the door, Guzha came face-to-face with fury.
“Davie, why did you steal my clothes? What is happening? What is the problem?,” questions rang in the still night.
It was not easy for him to respond. He was guilty as charged. He had stolen his mother’s shoes, blouse, skirts and handbag to beef up stage attire for a play he was doing with a female counterpart titled “Hello and Goodbye”.
But that night he had no chance to say hello to his mother and he could not immediately say goodbye or goodnight. He had a case to answer. He had to explain the strange occurrence.
Although he laughed when he recalled the incident as he went down memory lane on Wednesday, he reckons that night tense, but it also changed his journey in theatre.
“I was 18 years old then. We had started a theatre company called Margdave with Margaret Indi. We had a new play titled ‘Hello and Goodbye’. It was our first play and it received massive response. But we had a problem with female costume for our premiere. I connived with the maid at our house to get clothes that my mother had worn that week so that I could return them before she noticed,” Guzha recalled.
“For some strange reason, my mother asked for the shoes and handbag. She rarely used the same shoes and handbag within a week. When the maid was cornered, she spilled the beans and that was how I got into trouble.” However, after apologizing and explaining the situation to his mother, the theft became a blessing in disguise.
She had a rough idea of his theatre exploits, but that night she got interested and started assisting him.
“The following morning she gave me her old clothes that said I could get them when a similar need arose. When she showed interest, I took the opportunity to tell her how I was struggling to get money for my theatre classes at Stage Studio where I was training. She offered to assist. I was doing my A ’Level and theatre was part time venture.”
Stage Studio is where Guzha’s journey began. He had enrolled at the studio when he was in Form Two with the assistance of his English teacher at Bernard Mzeki College.
Guzha had revealed his interest in acting during a career guidance session and many were surprised by his ambition because the profession was not lucrative in the country then.
Only his English teacher who came from Canada understood the aspiration and offered to assist. She helped him enroll at Stage Studio and would take him to Harare every Friday for lessons.
“She paid the fees for the lessons and every Friday afternoon we came from school to Harare. I attended classes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we would go back to school after the lessons. I did not want my parents to know about it because my father wanted me to be a lawyer.
“My advantage was that my parents had businesses in Chiweshe and every Friday they drove out of town and came back on Monday. We never met during my visits to Harare and I also pleaded with our maid not to tell them that I was coming home every weekend. That is why they never knew much about the beginning of my acting career.”
It was difficult to keep the secret when Guzha transferred to a Harare school for his A’Level, especially when he had to be on stage in the evening after school. That was how his cap was blown up. His father was always against the idea and most of his exploits had to be under cover.
He had made a decision to take theatre professionally. It was a passion that grew in him when he fell in love with television series “Dallas” while he was still at primary school in Chitungwiza.
“We were staying in Chitungwiza then and my parents bought a television. Ooh, it was such a great achievement those days. I remember how other children would come to our house to watch the television. Some would peep through the window just to get a glimpse of the motion picture without even hearing the sound.
“My new love for acting was also enhanced when I attended Safirio “Mukadota” Madzikatire’s show at a community hall. I enjoyed his comedy skits more than his music.”
The talent Guzha saw in films and on stage led him to make a decision to become a professional actor when he was young. It is a passion that has decorated his life and given birth to one of the most active theatre hubs in the country, Theatre in the Park, which he runs through his Rooftop Promotions. Since the days of “Hello and Goodbye”, Guzha has professionally dedicated his life to the stage.
Rooftop Promotions was formed in 1986 as Rooftop Promotions and Players. The play “Hello and Goodbye” had spurred Guzha to fame as a young actor and it gave him confidence to start another project.
“After the collapse of Margdave, I sat down with my friend John Chimunhu and decided to come up with a theatre organization. We formed Rooftop Promotions and Players in 1986. Interestingly, the idea was mooted as we sat in the Harare Gardens during a break from school. We never thought Harare Gardens would be home to Theatre in the Park many years later.”
The organization started doing a number of plays in various venues in the capital. One of their most successful plays was “Strange Bedfellows” that starred Guzha and Georgina Godwin. It was based on racism and attracted a lot of interest, consequently touring 54 countries in 18 months.
Because he wanted a constant venue, Guzha came up with Theatre in the Park project in 1995 after striking a deal with Zimbabwe International Book Fair and Harare City Council to use a gazebo in the Harare Gardens.
For 17 years, that small gazebo witnessed massive theatre activity. Actors and actresses that include the late Walter Mparutsa, the late Mackey Tickeys, Jasen Mphepo, Zenzo Nyathi, Enisia Mashusha, Eyara Mathazia, Tafadzwa Muzondo, Daniel Maposa, Chipo Bizure and Eunice Tava among many others took turns to perform in the gazebo.
International plays also came to the venue while many productions that premiered in Theatre in the Park went on international tours.
A row between Rooftop Promotions and ZIBF led to closure of the space in 2012. Two years later, Theatre in the Park found a new home at the other part of the Harare Gardens where a bigger structure was constructed.
Activity returned to Theatre in the Park in 2016 and Guzha continues to steer it with the passion grew in him when he was a young boy. The Herald