On Tuesday 28th March, Africalia welcomed Israel Tshipamba Mouckounay, artistic director of the Tarmac des Auteurs, actor, director and author. He was in Belgium for the Corps de Textes literature festival at the Théâtre de Liège, “Ça ne se passe
pas qu’à Kin”, a nod to the Tarmac des Auteurs festival, “Ça se passe à Kin”.
The festival took place in the “cité ardente” (Liège’s nickname, literally “the fervent city”) from 14th to 23rd March, showcasing the richness of Congolese culture and literature, with performances, readings, exhibitions and events.
After two years under the shadow of a health crisis, that meant we were unable to meet and interact with our implementing partners, Israel’s visit gave new team members the chance to find out more about the Tarmac des Auteurs, the impact that the health crisis has had on their activities and what the next few months have in store in light of the new 2022-2026 programme.
The Tarmac des Auteurs is an organisation run by six people and described by its artistic director as a cultural space designed to be a theatrical incubator. “We support writers, young companies and young artists who are keen to make progress and eventually become professionals”. They are given a platform during the festivals that are organised, and the Tarmac also offers training for professions relating to the performing arts.
The fruitful partnership with Africalia was launched in 2009. It marked the beginning of the structuration of the Tarmac des Auteurs, and the theatre scene in the Democratic Republic of Congo more generally. Before then, collaboration had been more punctual and project-based. Today we can see that this solid, long-lasting partnership with Africalia has really borne fruit : as Israel says, 8 of the 10 performing arts professionals that have come out of the Congo were nurtured by the Tarmac des Auteurs in a range of theatre-related disciplines. In addition, the partnership has helped to reinforce the operational team at the Tarmac des Auteurs, thanks to a range of training courses offered by Africalia to consolidate the team’s skills. He is also aware that this means an increased credibility in the eyes of potential funders.
However, like everyone involved in the cultural sector all over the world, the Tarmac des Auteurs has felt the effects of the health crisis with firstly an impact on the audience.
People have got out of the habit of meeting and mixing
The Tarmac des Auteurs is based in the municipality of Kitambo, where the town meets the countryside. Before the pandemic, this specific, favourable location meant that the public, coming from different socio-economic backgrounds, could come together at the Tarmac for theatrical performances. Unfortunately, two years of inactivity have meant that people have got out of the habit of meeting up. Government restrictions, such as limiting the public and closing spaces, also put a stop to the organisation of certain activities, not to mention the resulting in a loss of revenue. Some project funding that had previously been secured was lost.
Be that as it may, the health crisis has propelled the Tarmac des Auteurs into the digital era. In fact, in 2020, in the light of the crisis, the “Festival de Lecture Scénique” was able to take place on the radio for the first time. It has also shown that, if we want to avoid any false starts when activities restart, we need to make use of digital technology as well. This is a huge challenge for future programmes, but essential if we want to raise visibility and expand the audience of our events.
Poking fun at the congestion that Kinshasa residents face on a daily basis, Israël notes : “There are a lot of traffic jams in Kinshasa. People spend a lot of time in their vehicles because of the congestion. I think if a good drama is on the radio, people will follow it because they will be “stuck” in their cars. Radio is a tool that is available throughout the country. Radio is everywhere in Congo”.
On the one hand, despite the fact that people are not very proactive when it comes to going to cultural events, there is a demand for cultural activities. Digital technology will be an excellent way to attract new audiences. On the other hand, the major challenge for the Congo’s cultural scene during this recovery will be the development of alternative distribution channels for productions.
The Tarmac des Auteurs is its backbone
When asked about Tarmac des Auteurs’ position on the Congolease theatre scene, he answers with barely contained pride : “The Tarmac des Auteurs is its backbone !”It supports and develops initiatives focused on theatre. A huge majority of the artists and actors who are making a name for themselves today started out at the Tarmac. Their main goal is not to produce finished products : quite the contrary. “This is why Africalia must continue to support us in the years to come.”
To sum up, the organisation’s future looks very promising, with a number of projects bubbling away behind the scenes at the Tarmac des Auteurs. Haitian director Guy Régis Junior has been commissioned to put on a play, which is due to begin soon with a writing residency, and which will deal with the relics of Lumumba ; the 10th theatre festival “Ça se passe à Kin”, is scheduled for 1 to 7 June 2022 ; the 3rd project promoting emerging theatre, “Emergence théâtrale” in partnership with the Théâtre de Liège ; plus there are plans for television series and films. Last but by no means least, regional exchanges are being organised with artists from Rwanda and Congo Brazzaville among others. It is so important for artists in this part of the world to be able to travel so that productions can be seen by as many people as possible, even though this travel is made so difficult thanks to the bureaucracy of visas in particular, as well as the excessively high cost of transport.
Emergence théâtrale= This approach supports artists who want to flex their artistic muscles for the first time within a professional and vocational framework, resulting in a programme that is part of the theatre season.
Interview by Norbert Nzarubara
Brussels, 28th March 2022