Friday February 22 2013

Angella Emurwon: Playwright with a rising international profile

Angella Emurwon: Playwright with a rising international profile

Angella Emurwon is an admiration for Ugandan as well as international playwrights. Courtesy Photo. 

By John K. Abimanyi

Angella Emurwon told BBC radio on Wednesday night of the sheer sense of excitement that gripped her, just knowing that renowned author, Wole Soyinka, had held her works in his hands, and, what’s more, that when he did, he liked what he saw.

He called it, “one of the zaniest radio plays I have ever encountered.” In fact, not only did he appreciate her work, he voted it as the third in the African Performance playwriting competition.

That was the year 2010. And the play was The Cow Needs a Wife.

It marked the entrance onto the BBC African literature and playwriting scene of a young woman who had not even intended to do so in the first place. She was shoved into the act by a persisting friend, and only went ahead to write the play “to really get her off my case,” she told this newspaper two years ago. But despite all this - she wrote the play in two weeks - and because her first attempt had not even enlisted a response from the BBC team, she hoped she would get at least a comment this time. She did better than that. She emerged third.

Two years later, she has even gone to greater heights. Angella Emurwon won first prize in the English as a Second Language category for 2012’s BBC International Playwriting Competition, for her play, Sunflowers Behind a Dirty Fence. She is currently in London to accept her award and watch her play recorded and staged. This achievement underscores her already illustrated talent as a playwright, a fact that all who speak about her are quick to point out. It also distinguishes Ms Emurwon as a notable playwright, now with international repute to even boost her works farther.

The Cow Needs a Wife was a story about a man who after being duped into thinking his girlfriend was pregnant, was left frantically searching for a cow as bride price to marry his girlfriend. He realised too late that he had been duped. So even when he cancelled the wedding, he had to get someone else to marry because his uncle had held a fundraising ceremony for the wedding, and people were waiting.

A humorous work of art, it had lessons to pick on how our society treats brides and bride wealth. The play spoke of ingenuity and originality of its creator’s mind. Premarital pregnancies were themes that have featured before in African art, and so has been bride wealth. But Emurwon had a different way of telling stories that had been right before our eyes all this long.

And in Sunflowers Behind a Dirty Fence as well, Emurwon’s abilities have gone on to earn her praise. Judges described the work as “a touching, purposeful adventure in which the characters jumped straight off the page.”

People who have worked with her speak in tones that make you conclude it is no surprise she is where she is now, and that she is even destined for more. In fact, the signs were already showing that Emurwon was an intelligent bright woman destined for success. She for instance, completed her four year Mass Communication course at Daystar University in Nairobi, in three years, getting a first class degree and finishing on top of her class. Jackson Dre Otim, a performing artiste and published poet who has acted in plays Emurwon has directed, speaks of an unceasing burst of energy that runs through her, even when the rest tire off.

While everybody else took lunch breaks as they worked on a performance, Emurwon instead took a working break, and continued to work through her scripts, he says.

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, a writer and founder of the annual BN Poetry Award, says of things she has learned from Emurwon, “I am still learning how to spend uninterrupted hours on a single manuscript, which is a habit acquired over time.”

Emurwon also treads where a few dare to. A case in point here is The River and the Mountain play, which tells the story of a homosexual businessman killed by his own employees. Emurwon was one of the play’s directors. Uganda is not a very welcoming place for homosexuality, and the play got its producer, David Cecil arrested and later deported back to Britain. Choosing to direct a work like that showed resolute nerves for Emurwon.

Emurwon told BBC radio that she is a shy person. For this reason, she said, she would rather avoid taking the lead role in plays, and choose instead to play background roles, say, one of a number of market women. People who know her adduce to this, describing her as an introspective character. And maybe, it is out of this depth of her inner thoughts that the brilliance of her works has been erupting like a volcano.

Her feats have not only got her worldwide acclaim but have also generated good international press for a country that does not get many. There may not be as big a crowd or even a presidential breakfast waiting for Emurwon when she touches down at Entebbe International Airport, as was the case for a former Big Brother Africa housemate or an Olympic Gold medal winner. But you sense it is for people like Angella Emurwon that such treatment should be made.

jabimanyi@ug.nationmedia.com

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