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BWW Interview: Creating in the Time of Covid-19 - Vongai Shava

A look at artists who continue to inspire...

BWW Interview: Creating in the Time of Covid-19 - Vongai Shava

Though we're moving through the year with ever more hope, the realities of Covid-19 are still not totally behind us. As the live performing arts world is slowly revived from a forced hibernation, artists who continue to adapt and create continue to need our support.

My goal in creating this series of interviews was to explore the unique ways in which artists continue to inspire. Whether it's the music that helps us get through the day, that movie that makes us smile a little more, or a virtual dance workshop that banishes the ennui even temporarily, art has proven to be critical in times of hardship. Perhaps the hard times are when art is needed the most.

Meet Vongai Shava, an accomplished young actress and global citizen.

Tell us a bit about you and your artistry.

I am an award-winning actor, singer, and writer who has been based in New York for the last six years. I have worked in theatre, film/tv, and voiceovers. Before life in the Big Apple, I was born in Harare (Zimbabwe) and raised in London (UK) and Beijing (China) which makes me a proud third culture kid. I hold a B.A (Hons) in Film and Television Studies from Brunel University in London and had the privilege of classically training in acting, voice, and movement at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts NY.

In 2018 I won the award for Best Drama Actress at Catalyst Content Festival (formerly ITVFest) for the short film, Patiri In The Promised Land and most recently you can hear my voice in the Universal Pictures' film The Photograph starring Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield as directed by the phenomenal Stella Meghie.

As a result of my international upbringing I was raised to see the world through the eyes of a global citizen. I have a deep appreciation for different cultures and it has given me this hunger to learn more about the world and help tell people's stories.

How have you been affected by the impact of Covid-19?

I began 2020 with the intention of making it my best year yet especially as it was my Golden Birthday Year. Little did I know the world as we knew it would be flipped upside down.

When COVID-19 hit New York, it put an end to my survival jobs which involved ushering for a Tribeca Film Festival venue and assisting patrons with buying Broadway show tickets. On the acting front I went from averaging about two auditions a week for projects that truly excited me to nothing.

The cherry on top was the fact I had just begun the process to renew my artist visa, a process that became more complicated with the industry in limbo and projects being postponed. I wrote and created a piece about it called Quarantine Is which premiered as an entry to the Global Forms Theatre Festival produced by NY Theatre Salon and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

How are you staying creative (if you are)? How are you coping?

I have found it highly beneficial for me to throw myself into dance parties almost daily. The playlists differ based on my mood. Some days it's Beyonce's Homecoming album, other days a 2000s alternative, or I take it back to the 80s (I wasn't alive then but I feel spiritually connected to the decade.)

I have deepened my love for listening to podcast interviews from inspiring people, reading books, and journaling out my ideas. As an ambitious Capricorn I always have multiple ideas bouncing around in my head so this additional time has given me the space to finally explore and develop some passion projects. Over the holiday season I created an IGTV series called Sleigh What?! in which I rated the latest holiday movies.

In terms of coping I do not think I would have lasted this long if it were not for my wonderful family and friends who text, FaceTime, and have streaming parties with me. Having my support system has made a world of difference.

How are you supporting yourself?

I have been supporting myself through a mixture of savings, teaching acting, virtual acting gigs and I am also very fortunate to have help from my parents as well.

Did any good things happen in our "new normal"? What positives or potential have you seen?

During this new normal I have been able to connect with other Zimbabwean-born artists based in the United States and across the world who are absolutely killing it in their fields. As a result I co-founded a community which encourages people to collaborate, support, and celebrate each other. I truly believe we have this wonderful opportunity to redefine the Zimbabwean arts narrative and show younger generations what is possible for them. Out of that initiative one of our members created a virtual summer camp called Zimbabwe Kids Summer Camp and it gave me the opportunity to teach acting to Zimbabwean children being raised in the diaspora. It was a full-circle experience because I see myself in those children and I never had the opportunity to learn my culture in such an exciting and encouraging way.

While the increased visibility of police brutality towards Black people brought up much trauma and outrage, it has been encouraging to see people have the tough conversations surrounding racism. The folks at Broadway Advocacy Coalition have done a tremendous job with hosting their BWAYFORBLM forums and holding space for Black artists to come together, heal, and strategize a way forward to addressing inequity within our industry. I have also noticed an increase in opportunities for BIPOC within Film and Television both behind and in front of the camera. Not only are we seeing more in-depth storylines centered on people of color, that feature fully developed characters, we also have more opportunities to tell our own stories on a global scale.

My biggest takeaway from this new 'normal' has been the time and space it has given me to re-examine what I want out of life and whether the old normal was serving me or working for my highest good.

What have you learned from the past year?

This past year grew all of us in ways we could not have anticipated. I feel I learned the true meaning of the phrase "life is happening for you not to you". The pandemic brought up issues that have been long overdue for acknowledgement and healing. It taught all of us that the old normal did not work for the majority and with the current global shake-up we have an opportunity to envision a new world and a new normal that works for ALL of us.

What advice do you have for artists who are struggling right now?

Be gentle with yourselves. Take it day by day and moment by moment. Celebrate the small achievements (even if it was just getting up from bed. Hooray!) Cultivate moments of joy which will help fuel and inspire your creativity. Above all, remember to allow yourself to dream because these circumstances are not permanent.

How are you feeling about and approaching the future?

I have enrolled in a 16-week mindset and inner development course that has been helping me identify my patterns and the ways I have self-sabotaged or kept myself small. I am only on week two but I have been vibing so high and feel really empowered about the new trajectory I am creating for my life and future generations. I also cannot wait for our industry to be back in full swing, I look forward to the powerful and transformative art we will create to make up for a year of deferred time.

Anything else?

Thank you so much for having me. I have an exciting digital project I am hoping to release later this year, for updates check me out on www.vongai.com and follow me on Instagram @vongaiofficial.


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