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In a recent raun blong me to Port Vila for some consultancy work at University of South Pacific’s Emulas Campus I took some time to visit the famous Wan Smol Bag Theatre. Many of you in PNG will know them from their Love Patrol TV series which has been shown on Kundu2.
The play showing was called ‘Zero Balans’ which told the story of a young politician and the pressures he faced from family, constituents and fellow politicians as he tries to go about doing the right thing by his office and himself.
As is the custom I rocked up to the theatre after some kava with some friends at a Nakamal around the corner called ‘Last Chance’ (or something like that). I then proceeded into the cosy theatre to take my seat in the stand. What struck me immediately about the theatre, as the play began, was the sophisticated lighting setup and the music. The lights were used extensively and with great effect and all the music and singing for the play was performed live. (Most plays I’ve been to lately, elsewhere, have recorded music playing so this was certainly a treat).
The other thing I loved about the Bislama spoken story was the way it was put together. The story starts off with the politician in the middle of his wheeling and dealing, but then he becomes ill and is about to die when two angels visit him and give him a chance to redeem himself. So what then happens is a very clever switching back and forth of scenes from the past and then back to the sick bed as the angels show the politician what he did wrong in the past while giving him a chance to go back to fix things.
The acting was of course superb with lead actor Noel Aru still being legendary. I also liked how they had a variety of ages among the actors.
Using different and engaging media to discuss politics is important in any democracy. With the present political merry-go-round happening in Vanuatu this was a timely production to engage the public in discussion about their leaders. Vanuatu does not have an ‘Organic law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates’ like we do in PNG, so as was the case with PNG in the past, members of Parliament keep hopping about to the party with the best chance of making it into government.
Back home, it’s been a long time since I have seen any political plays in PNG. There were allot more in the late 90’s when I was at UPNG where students held regular productions but I have no idea if that has continued.
Even more distressing, and one has to ask, what’s happened to our Raun Raun Theatre? This was exactly the question that was raised by PNG film maker Martin Maden in his blog post about developing an indigenous film industry. Film making is an obvious evolution from community theatre but it seems we are still stuck at square one in PNG.
But I think the saddest thing about my happy trip to visit the happiest people on earth was when someone involved in the Wan Smol Bag Theater mentioned to me that they had been inspired years ago by what they had seen with the activities at the Raun Raun Theatre. Tok indai…