African Politics and Policy is delighted to present to its readers our 15th interview organised with James W.A. Kitchen, Executive Director of Light of Youth Creative Organization (LYCO), a Lilongwe-based youth theatre institution, that currently is running a National Schools and Youth Arts Festival (NASFEST).
In this interview we talk about the role of culture and arts in the creative and artistic transformation of the youth, discuss the transformation of the theatre itself from a classic style western concept to contemporary understanding of theatre-for-development, and how theatre can be used as “a weapon of mass destruction for change in all angles”, and also look at the various challenges for a Malawian artist provoked by the lack of the cultural policy in the country.
APP: Dear James, please let me start with the art project you are currently organizing – a National Schools and Youth Arts Festival (NASFEST). Could you please tell more about this art competition and how did it start?
James W.A. Kitchen: NASFEST is an initiative which is being implemented by LYCO. The main purpose is to lay a great platform for youth arts practitioners. National Schools Youth Arts Festival it’s an annual high school theatre competition in a basis of a festival. It was first launched on 4th May 2009 as Light of Youth Creative Organization was recognized as an Organization. Despite drama being dominating the whole festival LYCO introduced Poetry, Music, Cultural and Contemporary Dance, Visual arts and Short Story Writing as part of Nasfest activities in order to strengthen and upholding the national cultural identity through all arts disciplinary by the youth for the youth.
APP: Why was the necessity to lunch Light of Youth Creative Organization (LYCO) realized in 2009? What were your first steps and who supported you?
James. W.A. Kitchen: LYCO was established in order to transform and educate youth through arts and culture thereby exposing talents of the students and youth as one way of disseminating information and promoting them and sustaining their future careers.
Immediately LYCO introduced National Schools Youth Arts Festival as a key to open and drive its main objectives.
Since its inception in 2009, LYCO has initiated a number of activities and created a platform for young people to nurture and showcase their talents and indeed keep alive their dreams and ambitions.
All events were self-funded from membership contributions and later partners started to assist us.
APP: We think that this is a great slogan of your activities and for people you want to involve in: “You Have a Role to Play”. According to the vision of the organization, LYCO is playing an important role in developing “a well-informed, transformed and educated youth, creative, artistically empowered and culture preserving young and healthy generation for a productive nation”. What do you do to “transform and educate youth”? What is the role of art and culture in this transformation?
James W.A. Kitchen: Every year LYCO organizes a number of cultural and arts trainings throughout the country so that youth are well informed and transformed.
The role of art and culture in this transformation is that it changes the mindset of youth and community in a positive manner.
APP: Thinking about the range of stories, ideas, cultural practices that theatre performs, what is theatre for you? What do you prioritize in your definition?
James W.A. Kitchen: Theatre is gradually a key of transforming the society in a strong effective way, using it’s like having a weapon of mass destruction for change in all angles.
APP: What are the plays LYCO Arts Theatre platform offers to the audience now? How do you chose the plays to put on stage? What are the plays you want to perform on your scene?
James W.A. Kitchen: Lyco Arts Theatre usually use contemporary theatre productions and form of theatre for development (TfD)
The plays are selected based on the information or message we want to disseminate to the target audience. Contemporary plays are mostly used.
APP: What are the challenges for the theatre involved in engaging audiences in the debates about different social issues? For example, your late engagement to HIV and early pregnancy issues?
James W.A. Kitchen: The main challenge rose from how theatre was introduced in Malawi, at first in early 1970s theatre was firstly introduced in Malawi in a Classical style from western countries so such style was so difficult to use it in theatre for development (TfD). As the contemporary theatre was born in late 1990s it helps a lot up to 2010.
Despite the use of contemporary theatre style in disseminating information, challenges were there in term of communication since issue of HIV and early marriage is fond of technical language which was very difficult for local communities.
APP: Nowadays many theatres are producing works that emphasize the socio-political issues, and this is very good. At the same time, we wonder whether this kind of art has impact on what is going on in the country?And, if yes, how do you think the plays you put on stage affect the society?
James W.A. Kitchen: Professional theatre productions has been in front of producing political plays, in the interest of political movement, but when such plays are being staged out by youth from our platform they are more powerful in emphasizing socio-political fact and less interested attacks.
The society hastily respond to such messages delivered from political plays.
APP: Your organization is focused on promoting reading culture, stage acting, music visual arts, traditional dances among Malawian youth. What the current state of Malawian culture? What are the challenges and opportunities for being artist in Malawi?
James. W.A. Kitchen: Currently Malawian culture is being affected by globalization which is removing the origin aspect of traditions and brought in the western culture. Being a multicultural society with more than 15 tribes and thousands clans, Malawi has being country which is fast in adapting other foreign culture.
Many artists in Malawi live as a part time job as an artist just because the arts and cultural policy has not been implemented by the government, with the current economy it is very difficult to live as a full time job as an artst.
APP: Dear James, do you have anything to add on or to share with us we forgot to mention. Please feel free to speak your mind.
James W.A. Kitchen: LYCO has its vision of creating youth intercultural exchange platform in the basis of benefit or exposing the youth across the global.
The challenge with arts sector especially in Malawi is that government doesn’t invest in it. Little is being done by the government to promote and support arts and culture.
Malawi and Africa as a whole has a good and vibrant culture. Not all cultural practices are negative or bad. The same as western culture. And our culture needs to be respected.
LYCO’s website: http://www.lycomw.com
Phone: +265 881 083 871