A community theatre group based in Għargħur is this week marking its 50th anniversary with a celebratory performance. Postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 health restrictions, BijograFija features a five-part documentary recounting Dwal Ġodda’s history and various vignettes reviving interesting characters brought on stage since the troupe’s inception in 1970. 

“The leitmotif will not only be a dose of nostalgia but also a surge of joy and courage for the future,” artistic director Martin Gauci says enthusiastically.

Dwal Ġodda is perhaps best known for its annual performance on Palm Sunday but the group has staged diverse productions, circa 400 in all, and while initially they performed for the Għargħur community, they have reached out to a much wider audience along the years.

One of the first Palm Sunday productions of Dwal Ġodda in Għargħur square in 1979.One of the first Palm Sunday productions of Dwal Ġodda in Għargħur square in 1979.

“The Good Friday performances intertwined with the traditional Good Friday held on Palm Sunday have put the group’s members’ theatrical input on the cultural calendar of our islands. Now it’s the ‘sincerity’ of their productions that attracts audiences from all walks of life, including those that do not feel ‘at home’ at the Manoel, Spazju Kreattiv or the MITP,” Gauci remarks.

“Besides using their theatre space at Għargħur, they have adapted their productions to be performed in various localities and different ambiences such as theatres, school halls, churches, caves, rehabilitation centres, squares or alleys,” he adds.

Dwal Ġodda has collaborated with various organisations such as Caritas, OASI, Kana Movement, bBrave and YTC and with various theatre practitioners/directors, among whom are Joe Friggieri, Albert Marshall, Mario Azzopardi and John Schranz. 

Over the years, they have staged plays by established Maltese playwrights such as Francis Ebejer and Ġużè Diacono as well as canon texts by Luigi Pirandello, Oscar Wilde, Neil Simon and Alan Ayckbourn, among others. 

Caravaggio by Joe Friggieri, staged at the Manoel Theatre in 2007.Caravaggio by Joe Friggieri, staged at the Manoel Theatre in 2007.

“Tackling such texts has inspired the members themselves to write texts or devise plays for the group. Furthermore, the group has had the opportunity to be invited by other communities to devise productions for some celebratory occasions of theirs or as basis for discussion groups,” the artistic director says proudly. 

The group has continuously strived to keep up to date and in tune with the times to appeal to contemporary audiences.

“We’ve kept our ears on the ground, our hands tenderly on the heart, our eyes closed for reflection or to render an attentive compassionate look and our thoughts continuously analyse the present and project into the future,” Gauci points out. 

“After all, ‘you’re as good as your next success’. Although success is not our main aim but sharing.”

The group members fluctuate between 25 and 60 in number, sometimes reaching 100 for some big productions, with a core-group of about 10 hardworking members. 

“All depends on availability, health, work, study and family commitments. It has to be kept in mind that the group members are ‘amatores’, meaning they do not do theatre for a living but putting their heart into their theatrical input, sometimes forking out money for their productions so as to see their ‘dreams’ come true,  sometimes against seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. This year’s celebratory documentary, 50 Years+ in 50 Minutes, is a case in point,” Gauci notes.

The cast of the Palm Sunday production in 1980.The cast of the Palm Sunday production in 1980.

This week’s performances, which start tomorrow, consist of a five-part documentary, which not only highlights the salient points in Dwal Ġodda’s history.  

“We want to open our hearts for our audiences to share the contrasting emotions that have tingled the hearts of our members and actors over the years,” the artistic director says.

“Some ‘characters’ from past popular productions will be ‘resurrected’ on stage in our times by the ghost of Dwal Ġodda’s past, present and future.” 

Another Palm Sunday production in 1976.Another Palm Sunday production in 1976.

Group members have also devised vignettes about self-love, blasphemy and bullying. “The aim is not one of self-congratulatory, ‘resting on our laurels’ or a mere thank you to our audiences but to instigate ourselves and challenge our audiences to help us envisage our path into the future.”

Through the group’s 50 years of experience, Gauci can safely say that theatre in the community, by the community, for the wider community is still valid. Technological advances, entertainment platforms and, of course, COVID-19, among other factors, have certainly dampened the community spirit but humans’ emotional need for belonging is still very much alive.

The production Ħajjin vs Mejtin, staged in 2019. Photo: Baskal MalliaThe production Ħajjin vs Mejtin, staged in 2019. Photo: Baskal Mallia

“As we approach the mid-21st century, the sense of community is waning. But humans are social beings, so the sense of belonging – something we all yearn for – is missing. Sometimes, we are not even aware of this need, which is worse,” he says.

“Theatre gives a community feeling bet­ween the actors themselves, between the audience members and between the actors and the audience. Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal maintains that ‘theatre is a weapon and it is the people who should wield it’. Rather than a single soldier, it is better to have an army discovering how to wield this marvellous weapon together. And the theatre space is a ‘safe’ space where to test the waters and how to meander well-armed, as a community, in a seemingly dangerous world.”

BijoGrafija is being held at Spazju Teatrali in Għargħur from Thursday to Saturday at 7.30pm and on Sunday at 6.30pm. For bookings, call on 7909 2624/7986 4212 or send a message on the group’s Facebook page. All patrons must present a valid vaccine certificate and their ID card. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page at www. facebook.com/events/4645691862149216.

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