Actress Tava triumphs over odds

HARARE - Award-winning actor-cum-director Eunice Tava’s story is a classic case of triumph over adversity.

Tava, 35, who is one of the most coveted names on the local theatre scene, became a breadwinner early on in her life following the death of her mother.

“I lost my mother when I was young. I didn’t know my father. I really did not get the education that I wanted …. My father came from a rich family but no one wanted to help me. In fact, I became a breadwinner to the extended family at a tender age,” Tava told the Daily News on Sunday.

When her mother passed on, the decorated actress/director went to live with her mother’s relatives in Mhondoro.

“I was born in Kwekwe, grew up in Mashonaland West then moved to Bulawayo. Biologically I’m Eunice Chiratidzochedenga Chikowore not Tava as you know it. There are so many issues involving this Tava surname but my surname is Chikowore,” she said.

Growing up, Tava never imagined that she would eke out a living on the theatre stage.

“When I was growing up I wanted to be a lawyer but then things changed along the way,” Tava recalled.

When the acting bug struck and left its sting, Tava went with the flow.

“My first play was Ganyau Express. Believe me, I was confused and I had stage fright as I could not believe that I made it that far. I started working with Rooftop Promotions then. I also worked as a freelancer with other theatre houses and producers,” she said.

But her fledgling theatre career faced stern opposition from her relatives and church members.

“Even my own family was not supportive. I remember at one point my aunt told me that a well-brought up child was not supposed to engage in the arts.

“When I had a European tour they financially benefitted beyond their imagination; that is when they started believing that my profession could bring food on the table.

“Also at church I was discouraged. Acting and the arts were considered as ‘worldly’ things, (zvemunyika). They could not understand that even in the Bible there was entertainment.

“David before he rose to the throne used to play the harp for King Saul. But I think things have now changed. They even invite me to train their children on theatrical performances,” said Tava.

She singles out her role in the 2005 play Heaven’s Diary written by Daniel Maphosa as the catalyst of her rapid rise on the theatre stage.

“I played the role of a mad woman. I remember reading a review of the play when the writer said ‘Eunice has acted like she has never done before.’

“Even people started saying Eunice wave kuzvishuvira kufa because it was around the time that John Banda had died when he was at the peak of his career.

“It’s one of the roles I loved most and I will be glad to go and play it again even if it’s for free. I felt I really did my best,” Tava said.

The award-winning actress, who never received any formal theatre training, is disappointed by the fact that women in theatre have to contend with male domination and obstacles created by fellow women theatre professionals.

“One of the challenges I faced as an actress in our industry is the ‘pull her down’ syndrome. There are a few women who can easily support you and give you courage. Most women feel threatened; everyone wants to be on top and in the limelight.

“Women artistes are sadly not supporting each other enough yet we are operating in an industry that is dominated by men. We are very few women especially when it comes to directors or even actresses. Some have quit due to financial challenges or because they were not benefitting,” said the veteran actress.

Tava was quick to point out that not all women in theatre are bad apples.

“My role model is Patience Tawengwa. I really feel that she has got it and is one of the most brilliant directors. I would love to have more time with her and be mentored by her.

“My wish is that we have many female directors in the country as we are only a few, at least one in each province to empower women actors.

“I have also tried my hand at editing. I was trained at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival by Nakai Matema. She (Nakai) is one of the few women who have women at heart. She made me do it for free and looked for people to help me out and train me.

“During the constitution-making process, I was one of the technical people. I have done advertisements for many companies as well. I have to do a lot of things to earn a living because our industry is not really paying,” she added.

Tava conceded that she has to strike the right balance between acting and directing.

“You just have to choose what to do at a given time. There are plenty of theatre professionals like Daves Guzha, O’Brien Mudyiwenyama and Jasen Mpepho who are both actors and directors and they are striking the right balance.

“In 2010, I decided to take up directing through Hifa-direct. My very first production Election Day penned by Christopher Mlalazi won an award that very same year and that boosted my confidence as a director. Colours of Dreams also written by Mlalazi was nominated by the National Arts Merit Awards (Nama).

“I have also directed The Past is for the Future, Diamonds in his Son’s Grave written by Stephen Chifunyise and a cancer play.

“I have directed five plays. I have staged plays locally, the Sadc region and in Scotland, England, Sweden, Norway and Denmark,” she said.

Given the experience she has garnered working with such theatre luminaries as Washington Masenda, the late Walter Muparutsa, Guzha, Cont Mhlanga, Mpepho, Mudyiwenyama, Sylvanos Mudzvova and the late Sebastian Maramba, Tava believes she has a duty to plough back into the community.

“I have plans to start some awards. I come from Mhondoro and I did my primary education at Mupereki Primary School. I think that’s where it all started. My headmaster liked me so much because of the acting roles that I took.

“I would love to have awards there named after me where we can recognise the talent there and scout. I would also want to have this as a nationwide venture as well,” she told the Daily News on Sunday.

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