“Africa does not tell her stories enough. The fact that this one man who saved the lives of millions of Africans is largely unknown is a problem. I tell this story now because it does not exist in the stories we tell of Africans solving their own problems…”
The Maitisong Festival 2015 is an arts and culture extravaganza that’s taking Gaborone by storm for the rest of this week (22nd – 26th April). Among the amazingly talented performing acts is the unstoppable Donald Molosi who leads a stellar cast in the production of his award winning play Today It’s Me on the 25th. We were lucky enough to steal Donald away from his hectic schedule for a little chit-chat. Enjoy!
Tell us about your participation in the Maitisong 2015 festival? How did you get involved? Was it a contest, special selection?
I am elated to be performing at the Maitisong Festival 2015 as a headline act. I submitted my work like any artist and then the Director later informed me that they would be leading the theatre aspect of the festival with my show, Today It’s Me.
How has the public’s reacted to the festival?
The public loves this festival and its staying power 30 years later stands as testament to that. Batswana love seeing many different arts in one place so Maitisong festival provides exactly that. In a way, my show Today It’s Me is a microcosm of the festival in that my show has movement, dance, theatre, acting and live music.
You’ll be performing your award winning play Today It’s Me on the 25th of April, tell us about it.
Today It’s Me is a biographical story I wrote about Philly Lutaaya, the first prominent African to declare that he was living with AIDS. The play explores his courage, musical legacy and struggle from a humanist angle that leaves the audience very inspired and encouraged.
Why this play? What informed its choice for this festival?
Africa does not tell her stories enough. The fact that this one man who saved the lives of millions of Africans is largely unknown is a problem. I tell this story now because it does not exist in the stories we tell of Africans solving their own problems without the problematic intervention of the West. I have not performed in Botswana since three years ago when I performed Sir Seretse Khama’s story so this is an opportunity for me to show what else I can do.
How challenging has it been embodying Philly Lutaaya?
This is so far the hardest role I have taken on. I had to learn Luganda, both language and culture, and also do research in languages I did not know before. I spent years looking through photographs of his, listening to and dissecting his music, speaking with his family and truly beginning to embody him before I wrote the play. It has been a wonderful 5 year journey with his story so far and I look forward to it getting out more.
In performance actors always seek to reveal layers of truth about their characters. Is the pressure to do this amplified when the character is a historical figure?
Pressure is not what I call it. I just call it basic work. Every character must be given the privilege to exist off-stage so that whatever you perform is a slice of a full life. With real historical characters, that work is even more crucial because you are more consciously creating an oral or performative archive about a people’s story. I enjoy every bit of it and it makes me a better human being to know so intimately the legends on whose shoulders we all stand on.
Your body of work reveals an affinity for historical African figures in your dramaturgy, and we must say it is always brilliant to see someone representing an aspect of the African continent that doesn’t get enough mainstream exposure. How has this focus on historical figures affected you as an artist and an African?
Thank you for seeing value in my obsession with African history and having it color my acting work. Too many Africans self-hate without realizing and those are the ones who ignorantly ask me why I tell African stories. So, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear you call my choice “brilliant.” Through my niche I have created a unique identity for myself in Hollywood, Broadway and at home in Botswana. I am a brand that is lucidly understood because the thread of African history runs through all my work. As a human being I have evolved a lot from learning about our communal human ancestors and seeking to live my life in honor of their efforts that in the 21st century I can be on Broadway telling an African story.
How impactful are events like the Maitisong festival on Botswana’s arts and culture scene? Would you say they demonstrate the economic potential of arts and culture in Africa?
Maitisong unites artists that ordinarily don’t cross paths so the networking aspect of the festival must be stated. It is a hub of activity that university students can use for internships and the like, so the festival goes beyond just thrilling audiences. It takes its social responsibility seriously as a gateway to international arts markets. Maitisong does not demonstrate our potential. Rather, it demonstrates our excellence in its fullest glory. I am past the days of celebrating potential and I celebrate excellence because excellent is what I want to always be.
The festival is only a few days away and preparing for it must have been a challenging but exciting journey. What has left the biggest imprint on you, thus far?
I have been fortunate to be working with amazing actors. I will always be grateful to be in such good company and to perform alongside Kgomotso Tshwenyego and Donn Swaby, both of them international actors of note. I am truly grateful and inspired especially that I am doing what I think is the hardest role of my acting life!