- All prompts are open to interpretation.
- Ignore or change prompts that do not speak to you in the moment, come back if they speak to you later.
- Leave your tech behind and go for a walk. Notice things that you would not normally notice.
- Be prompted. Let your subconscious do all the work of piloting, try not to judge what surfaces and enjoy the trip.
- Promise to fill the gaps and embellish with glorious detail all the prompts that spark your imagination. See the theatrical world unfold before you with the clarity of a clairvoyant and complete the show in your mind.
- There are no obligations.
- Your resources are limitless.
Skipping back and forth along the spectrum of the speculative fiction genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, utopia, dystopia, alternative history, post-apocalyptic, superhero and the rest, Prompts for African Futures are little invitations to engage with how Africa is imagined and might imagine itself in, and into, the future. Inspired in part by Elinor Fuch’s EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to ask a Play (2004), the prompts function as small worlds for which there is no border control. These fragments become exercises in speculative imaginings from, and about, Africa and are designed to contest the legacy of futurist narratives that have been dominated by depictions of the future in literature and film in which black Africans do not feature at all or do so in the most marginal of ways. They are also an invitation to escape the development programme narratives that often plague conversations about the future in Africa and to conceive of African futures outside of a linear progression of events from the past. The reader/theatremaker/audience is here invited to join the growing list of other artists who have viewed the world from the African continent and through a speculative lens including, Nnedi Okorafor, Jepchumba, Teagan Bristow, Frances Bodomo, Wanuri Kahiu, Wangechi Mutu, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Kapwani Kiwanga, and Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum.
As a place to encounter the unimaginable and the unknown, the speculation is deeply fundamental to theatre making and the re-occurring characters of Edward (Nkoloso) and Esther (Phiri) ensure that past, present, and future are made to co-exist in the theatrical world as they do in the non-linear particularity of African time cycles. Nkoloso was a school teacher who is (in)famously known for founding the Zambian National Academy of Science Space Research and Philosophy, driven by the belief that Zambia would beat the Russians and Americans to space. Phiri, on the other hand, is a boxing champion and currently Zambia’s most famous athlete. They criss-cross through the prompts as time-travelling figures from different eras who each evoke a special kind of independence.
SPACE: A landfill of functioning and durable electronic goods
TIME: Manje-manje – Just now, now now, just past or just approaching. Circular
CLIMATE: Dystopian, graphic novel
MOOD: Charged, fatalistic with small gaps for planting seeds
SOUND: Dated Central African punk rock
ACTION: Out of this pile of obsolete but recyclable material rises a shape, a figure, slowly, painfully dramatically…triumphantly a superhero, a timetraveler made of lead, mercury, glass, cabling, batteries and electric chords, transistor chips
CHARACTERS: Afrosteampunk superhero
ASTRONAUTUS AFRIKANUS VOLUME II
SPACE: Zambian Academy of Science Space Research Religion and Philosophy in Lusaka and an all girls Catholic boarding school in a small town in South West England and The Pan African Space Station in Cape Town
TIME: 60’s 80’s 00’s
SOUND: Zambian 60’s punk rock
IMAGES: Inside of a space ship, inside of a girls dorm, inside a turntable
CHARACTERS: Mwaba Mwamba – afronaut
SPACE: Hospital maternity ward
TIME: Nowish or at least manje-manje
SOUND: A melodic composition of beeps, whirrs, breathing, heartbeats, sighs, births, deaths
FIGURES: Babies everywhere
SPACE: Transit Lounge
SOUND: Counting in as many African languages as possible
ACTION: Setting up tents
CHARACTERS: 3 Generations of African women. All time travelers
INTERACTION: Life or Death
ACTION: 10 Africans busy building personal teleportation devices from new things and old things. They often stop to listen. The children have TV’s for heads
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE
TIME: Dream Time
FIGURES: She becomes a desert plant with ancient healing properties. She becomes an alone. He becomes a fractal. She becomes a night sky. He becomes yesterday. She becomes a portal. He becomes an animal skin. She becomes a hot spring. He becomes a desert lizard. She becomes a King. He becomes a bird. She becomes a masquerade. They become a play
POWER: Plenty of it. Equally
ECHOES: My Africa is Always in the Becoming – Faustin Linyekula
TIME: Returned from Time
MOOD: On the brink
FIGURES: Sangomas appear from everywhere. Young and old. They fill the area. They keep arriving. They bring their people
SPACE: Sand Dunes. Skeleton Coast shipwrecks on dry ocean beds
CLIMATE: Desert hot
FIGURES: Desert Beetles
QUESTIONS: What kinds of characters emerge from the oldest desert in the world
SOUND: Zambian National Anthem
FIGURES: 3 versions of Kenneth Kaunda: His younger self who plays with a wire space ship; On his first day in office as the first Zambian head of state; On his last day in office as President of the country after 27 years
IMAGES: Eagles, kingfishers, water, copper
CHANGES: All his selves enter a wire space ship. There is countdown. It blasts off
EAST WEST DUST PLUMES
CHARACTERS: 2 characters attempt to traverse the Namib desert through east west dust plumes. They try. Lose everything. Sit. Try again. In Act 2 they try to keep the desert off the Yellow Brick Road
SPACE: Under a Shepherd’s Tree
ACTION: The characters perform a series of solos until they become extinct
CHARACTERS: Namaqua chameleon, Namib long eared bat, Aardwolf
SPACE: Dune Slopes. Dune Streets. Inter-dune Valleys. Slipface dunes.
CLIMATE: Unstable. Intense easterly winds
FIGURES: Sidewinder Spiders
ACTION: Wind blown plant detritus accumulates in cushions on and within the slipface. It is re-exposed as the slip face moves
ACTION: Mass migration of Europeans and Americans to Africa. The towers reconstitute. The planes land at their airports
FIGURES: People, Objects, Ideas, Animals try different ways of returning from the past. Some succeed
SOUND: Organic matter growing
ACTION: Indigenous plants live, survive, replant themselves. They migrate all over Johannesburg and slowly take over the buildings and roads
SPACE: Your choice
INTERACTION: A physical text, a poet, an image, a live sound core, a person to watch. A play
CHARACTERS: The play is about the person watching
FIGURES: Women. Black Ones.
POWER: The institution and the work of mothering / motherhood. The characters perform their mothering and motherhood in a way that makes them and their children abundantly joyful and truly content with the totality of their life choices
SPACE: At odds with Time
TIME: At odds with Space
CLIMATE: At odds with Sound
SOUND: At odds with Climate
ACTION: A full stage. A repeated action. A stuck record. A new day that looks remarkably like the last one
RESTLESS GHOSTS AND TOO MANY QUESTIONS
SPACE: Ordinary. Recognizable
PATTERNS: A play about restless ghosts and too many questions
MYTH: Hero’s Journey
ART LIVES HERE
SPACE: Art Gallery. Empty Plinths, frames and glasses cases – different shapes and sizes to accommodate different future works
ACTION: The audience is given headsets as they enter. As they approach each empty plinth, frame, etc. they each hear a different and thoroughly engaging description of the future work before them
INSIDE THE OTHER SIDE
SPACE: In utero
TIME: Uterine time
ACTION: 3 people recall dying. 1 person listens
BUSINESS AS USUAL
SPACE: some mythical place where there are Jacaranda trees in summer
TIME: In an unbelievable time
INTERACTION: Groups of people rush to stage singing. They are shot and fall and die, and keep singing.
POWER: Different people take to the loud hailer to announce that the programme continues today as normal despite a series of disturbing incidents over night. The voice assures us all that there is nothing to worry about while the group cycles through singing and dying
ESTHER & EDWARD
TIME: My birthday
SOUND: John & Alice Coltrane
FIGURES: Esther Phiri & Edward Nkoloso as children. She washes tomatoes to sell at Kamwala Market. He collects scrap metal
ACTION: Repeat. Revise. Reference
THANK YOU VERY MUCH
SPACE: Joburg suburbs and Joburg informal settlements
TIME: A nighttime that lasts until the action is complete
ACTION: Small groups of people approach Joburg’s high suburban walls with tools of various kinds to break the walls down brick by brick. These bricks are collected and transported to where other houses are being built. All this with the careful assistance of every available suburban security company. When every wall is down and as many new houses as possible are built from their bricks, Time may, if it so wishes, proceed once more
TIME: Dream Time
CLIMATE: Raining jacaranda flowers and then wigs and then foam balls covered in ‘java print’. When the stage is knee deep in this someone comes to clear a perfect square, which is lit dramatically. In this square a chair appears and someone comes to braid, weave or cut someone’s hair
PRETORIA GIRLS HIGH
SPACE: A hair salon. A portal
TIME: A past time and a future time
SOUND: Central African pop
FIGURES: Hair stylist Diviner. Black women, many of them
ACTION: A long, long, long line of black women waiting to be attended to. One by one, the hair stylist/diviner braids, weaves, twists, cuts, parts, persuades hair into ancient African hair styles. Not all of which are now making a comeback. The person being braided is transported each time
ECHOES: Shani Crowe’s ‘Braids’ exhibition
SPACE: A recognizable African city. Familiar and futuristic
TIME: A future
INTERACTION: Everyone in this world is a superhero except 2 people. Only 2 non-superheroes allowed per non-superhero lifetime. They attempt to live, love, and work as foreigners in this place
A DEEP SILENCE
SPACE: Inside a deep silence
TIME: A deeply silent one
SOUND: Deep Silence
ACTION: Something emerges
I WANT PROTEAS FOR CHRISTMAS
TIME: Time un-writes and re-writes itself trying to send messages to the future.
ACTION: Various stages of raging fires and proteas growing and dying on a repetitive but disjoined loop that does not repeat in the same order each time
SOUND: Voice over of different people, in different languages re-imagining the rules for spatial and temporal travel
INTERACTION: Solos and duets created from the following physical vocabulary: bend, fold, twist, erode, interrupt, complete, flatten, stamp, engage, sweep, slide, rest, settle, hide, hope, take, smother, grind, birth, bridge, sharpen, trace
SPACE: Measureless spacetime. Above the earth’s atmosphere
TIME: Dream time
ACTION: Space ships – all the famous ones takeoff, land and crash as per historical record. We see their astronauts. On another part of the stage, Esther and Edward wake up early. She polishes tomatoes and he collects scrap metal
SPACE: African cities
FIGURES: Transformed statues
ACTION: The statues of African heads of state melt into life. They come down from their concrete stands and re-convene the ‘Berlin Conference’ somewhere else. They call it something else and make different decisions
ONCE UPON A NIGHT AT KIPPIES
SPACE: Kippies, Johannesburg
SOUND: Only just recognizable Brenda Fassie
ACTION: Brenda returns to tell us what it is like on the other side. Esther and Edward sit in the front row
SPACE: Immersive for the audience
INTERACTION: Between audience members and the messages they receive
CHANGES: Everything, depending on how audience members respond
ACTION: Water is scarce. Audience members are assigned to rescue groups. They receive a message via text, whatsapp, twitter, facebook or skype…from some someone who informs them of a family at the brink of death from lack of water. The audience group must make a plan to get water to this family. Each audience group is immersed in a different natural disaster scenario
LEGENDS OF KAMWALA MARKET
SPACE: A corner of Kamwala Market in Lusaka
TIME: Before Esther Phiri became a famous boxer
IMAGES: tomatoes, rituals, boxing gloves
ACTION: Mohammed Ali goes to the market to buy tomatoes. He sees a girl selling them. He is drawn to her. Something in her eyes. They shake hands. She has a good grip. He returns every week to buy tomatoes from her and foretells her future in which she is a great boxing champion. She believes him
FIGURES: Mantis, Tortoise, Spider, Hare, Elephant, Lion, Snake
ACTION: The figures re-write their fables so that their kind are the audience. People feature as enemies, ghosts, strange creatures to be avoided, tricksters, liars, and thieves. Metaphors are made of our stereotyped attributes and by these the animals learn right and wrong
THEY KNOW US FROM WHAT THEY FIND
SPACE: Desolate, ruble remains
TIME: A time when the world as we know it has finally imploded
CLIMATE: Too hot, or too cold, too wet or too dry, depending on what kind of world ending, climatic catastrophe the theatre makers imagine has destroyed us
PATTERNS: Endings and beginnings
ACTION: A team of archeologists from another world have discovered remnants of our civilizations. They know us from what they find
SPACE: A zoo
SOUND: West World sound track
ACTION: Blacks visit human zoos of white people. They are naked, shackled, pathetic, bedraggled, translucent circus freaks
ECHOES: Brett Bailey’s exhibits A & B
SPACE: Slave Ship holds
MOOD: Deadly and then jovial
SOUND: Static white noise and then dance party music
ACTION: In the slave ship hold, stacked to the brim are white people packed head to toe. They rise slowly, helping each other. Slowly the slave ship transforms into a cruise ship and the white people drink and party. This goes on for a while until the ship hits an iceberg and sinks. Quickly. There are 2 survivors who have very different stories to tell
OH SO ORDINARY OR WHAT A BORING PLAY
SPACE: A world of inter-racials and their brownish offspring going about their business. Just that
SPACE: A selection of African countries simultaneously
FIGURES: Fathers and their left-handed sons
ACTION: The sons teach their fathers how to write. The fathers raise their sons as feminists
ACTION: Audiences are each invited to come and sit in front of a mirror and on a circular floor cloth of shiny wax print. They are instructed to describe the ideal version of themselves as an African. This version appears before them. They converse
MYTH: Snow White
A PLAY ABOUT WHATEVER YOU LIKE
ACTION: An excellent piece of creative work in Zulu, Bemba, Twi, Yoruba or Swahili with Zulu, Bemba, Twi, Yoruba, or Swahili subtitles depending on who is in the audience
THE MARVELOUS PLAY
FIGURES: Utterly marvelous
CHANGES: Everything, marvelously.
CHARACTERS: Esther and Edward
MYTH: The spit of African babies is prized above all else for its capacity to reveal people’s destinies when applied to the area between the shoulder blades
KWAME NKRUMAH UNIVERSITY
SPACE: Kwame Nkrumah University in Kabwe, Zambia
MOOD: On the brink of something extraordinary
LANGUAGE: Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi, Tonga, Ndebele, English
ACTION: Edward Mukuka Nkoloso addresses the very first intake of students at Kwame Nkrumah University (then known as Kabwe Teachers College)
TIME: A time when countries as we know them now have been abolished
ACTION: People move when and where they desire for purposes of their choosing. They are restless, rootless, nomadic
A GET TOGETHER OF THE GODS
SPACE: The heavens, as it were
TIME: Heavenly, as it were
ACTION: Rain god, Sun god, Sky god, Earth god, Wind god wine and dine. They are intoxicated and eat a decadent meal of humans. They spare only those who can speak multiple languages fluently. These will re-populate the new world. Among those spared are Esther and Edward
SPACE: Somewhere familiar
FIGURES: 2 identical people. One of them is a robot
ACTION: A human and their identical robot / a robot and their identical human have a heated argument. One of them kills the other. It is unclear if the human has won or the robot
. . . I PRESUME
SPACE: A grand hall that turns into a music box
TIME: The Queen’s Birthday
MOOD: Sordid and celebratory
SOUND: Something that’s good for a duet and Happy Birthday
IMAGES: Mosi ao tunya (the smoke that thunders)
FIGURES: David Livingstone, The Queen of England, and armies of Africans
ACTION: David and Liz dance a duet. They are surrounded by armies of armed Southern Africans who kill the pair in more and more inventive ways at the end of each dance while singing Happy Birthday (one of those nasty, playground versions). Each time David and Liz die for a moment, rise and dance again until they become 2 bloody figures on a music box
SPACE: A ward in a laboratory on the continent
FIGURES: The space is filled with people in beds on wheels. Each is hooked up to a portable dream capture device. Dreams are examined and recorded as history
SPACE: A classroom
ACTION: Audience joins a class of learners studying what we know as observational astronomy, astrometry, planetary geology, physical cosmology, and other branches of space science in Swahili, Twi, Yoruba, isiXhosa, Bemba, Shona, or any other languages of the director’s choosing. Esther and Edward are among the audience
A DAY AT THE AFRICAN IMMORTALITY LAB
SPACE: The African Immortality Laboratory
FIGURES: The newly born, the newly dead, and the long dead
SPACE: Empty stage
FIGURES: Everyday Africans
INTERACTION: People arrive one by one or in small groups. They look up, smile, and silently agree to keep the secret of what they have seen, between them
AND SO WE LIVED
TIME: A time when life expectancy is determined by the depth of one’s capacity to dream
USELESS GOOD ENGLISH OR THE DECOLONIAL PLAY
TIME: Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s future
FIGURES: Brownish, Brown, browner, brownest people
LANGUAGE: Anything but English
IMAGES: A pile of burnt English dictionaries
ACTION: Decolonization in practice
OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS TO TRY TO DO
SPACE: Impossible fantasy
FIGURES: Refugees, nomads, exiles, travelers, visitors and any other migrants of all shapes and sizes
IMAGES: Whole cities built of suitcases
CHANGES: Levels of failure
ACTION: Different attempts to stop human mobility
SPACE: A migrant camp
TIME: Just Now
LANGUAGE: A new Creole
ACTION: A migrant camp has grown so large that it has taken over the host city. The migrants call a meeting with the few remaining hosts who have neither fled or died
PATTERNS: A collection of monologues about border crossings – Monologues about making it across.
UNCONDITIONAL HOSPITALITY OR WHEN WILL THE PLAY START
FIGURES: A single figure
ACTION: The audience waits for the play to start. It doesn’t.
APPEARANCE OF FIGURES:
Manje manje: A temporally fluid southern African phrase directly translating into English as ‘now now’ and commonly used to refer to a time that has either just past or is soon approaching.
Sangoma: Traditional Healer.
Kenneth Kaunda: Zambia’s first President.
Jacarada’s: A tree common to the Southern African region with a distinct and fragrant purple flower.
Esther Phiri: A current boxing champion and Zambia’s most famous athlete.
Edward Nkoloso: Founder of a Zambian Space Program in the mid 1960’s called The Zambia Academy of Science Space Research and Philosophy.
‘Java’ Print: Also known as wax print, Dutch wax print, Java print, or Dutch Java. Mass produced cotton fabric with origins in Indonesia and produced by the Dutch for distribution in Europe where it was unpopular and dumped as surplus on African shores. It has come to be associated distinctly as ‘African’ fabric.
Pretoria Girls High: A High School in Pretoria, South Africa, where in late 2016 students protested against the school’s racist code of conduct that stipulated they must chemically straighten their hair.
Kwerekwere: A derogatory term used across South Africa to refer to African nationals from other parts of the continent.
Proteas: South Africa’s national flower (and name of the national cricket team).
Kippies: A legendary Jazz Club in Johannesburg named after saxophone player Kippie Moeketsi.
Brenda Fassie: Famous South African Afropop vocalist known also as ‘Ma Brrr’, ‘Madonna of the Townships,’ and ‘The Black Madonna.’
Kamwala Market: One of several large shopping markets in Lusaka.
West World: An American science fiction television series.
Brett Bailey: South African theatre maker and festival curator and Artistic Director of the theatre company Third World Bun Fight.
Faustin Linyekula: Congolese contemporary dance choreographer and dancer, and founder of Studios Kabako.