By Charles Tjatindi
Prominent Namibian playwright, Frederick Philander, was recently honoured for his contribution to the Namibian theatre sector.
Philander, who has been in theatre business for over 20 years, was honoured with a award recognising his tireless efforts in setting up and serving Namibian theatre, at the Namibian Theatre Awards 2007 held last week.
Beside this lifetime award, Philander scooped the Best Overall Play award for his political satire “Katutura 59”.
Philander also walked away with the Best Stage set, Costume and Technical Presentation award. The actors and actresses from his group, Committed Artists of Namibia, shared in the spoils also receiving recognition.
From humble beginnings in 1980, Philander has managed to turn community theatre into a formidable entertainment industry, which now boasts professional and semi-professional actors and playwrights.
Philander fondly remembers: “When I came to Namibia in 1980 from South Africa, community theatre in Namibia was literally non-existent. There was an urgent need to introduce community theatre, which was a completely new concept to many Namibians.”
Through dedication the man, now dubbed the father of community theatre in Namibia, managed to bring a few young theatre aspirants together to form the first black theatre group, The Windhoek Theatre Association, as a counter to the then all-white SWAPAC (South West African Performing Arts Council).
The formation of the group set the stage for community theatre in Namibia, an industry dominated by whites at the time.
“To me theatre was a platform through which I could vent my political frustrations. I soon discovered I could portray the political situation at the time through theatre, which attracted a lot of interest from locals,” noted Philander.
The political powers at the time soon picked up on Philander’s activities and his group. With Philander then declared a troublemaker, his group was put under tremendous pressure that often made performances impossible. These efforts from the government of the day did little to deter Philander’s intention with regard to theatre in Namibia. The seed of community theatre had been planted and nothing could reverse the process. By independence, the Namibian community theatre industry had established itself, through hard work and dedication by Philander and others.
With the worst battles won, Philander turned to formal education and started teaching at the Jan Jonker Afrikaner Secondary School.
While there his artistic skills caught up with him and he started a school-based theatre group, which later evolved into Committed Artists of Namibia, setting the stage for the grooming of amateur actors into professionals.
Consequently, the formation of the Committed Artists of Namibia marked a new era for Philander’s work. He wrote, acted in and directed a myriad of plays among them the “King of the Dump”, which won an international award in New York, US for Best Drama – Africa.
A few more of his other plays also gained international recognition, through either nomination for awards or winning awards. Philander has written 20 plays to date, with half of them published in South Africa and Namibia.
“Most of my plays after independence were more focused on depicting the socio-economic situation prevailing in the country. Before independence, the plays were more political in nature,” said Philander.
For a man that has won most local awards in theatre, Philander remains modest by enlisting as many young actors into the sector as possible, in a bid to further develop the sector and ultimately turn it into a formidable industry.
“Theatre is still a foreign concept to many people. People still look down on theatre as a Western concept. This is a mindset that needs to be changed at all costs,” said Philander.
The community theatre activist, however, remains optimistic that more people will come on board and support local theatre initiatives. All it takes, he says, is dedication and commitment from those already in the industry. Image is also of vital importance if new players are to be enticed into coming on board, Philander said.
“Our actors and actresses in the industry need to portray a good image. Some of them are really bringing the good name of theatre down by abusing alcohol and involving themselves in unruly behaviour. They should change as they are derailing the progress of the industry as a whole,” he said.
As part of his prize at the recent Namibia Theatre Awards, Philander will tour an African country of his choice to perform his winning play, an all-expense-paid trip.
He has opted to take “Katutura ’59” to the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) in Harare, Zimbabwe, in April next year.