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    Posted March 27, 2009

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President of Zambian Arts Association Visits New York; Meets Equity Leaders

L-R: Karen Master, Sankwe Michael Kambole, Flora Stamatiades, David Lotz

Sankwe Michael Kambole, President of the National Theatre Arts Association of Zambia (NATAAZ), was a guest of Actors' Equity in New York from February 20 to March 5, 2009 as part of a "Twinning Project" through FIA, the International Federation of Actors. Equity sponsored the trip as the first step in a partnership with NATAAZ to further the development of performers' rights in Zambia, and will be exploring future work with Mr. Kambole and NATAAZ.

During the trip, Mr. Kambole spent time with Equity staff and leadership, and also met with executives from organizations including the AFL-CIO, the Broadway League, The Shubert Organization, Disney Theatricals, Actors' Federal Credit Union, and Theatre Communications Group (TCG). He had the opportunity to see numerous shows including MAMMA MIA!, IN THE HEIGHTS, GUYS AND DOLLS, PAL JOEY, A WINTER'S TALE, RUINED and YOU'RE WELCOME, AMERICA, as well as an invited dress rehearsal of WEST SIDE STORY. He visited the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC, and observed LORT negotiations, SAG/AFTRA commercial negotiations, and a meeting of the Equity Council.

The twinning with NATAAZ is a project of Equity's Strategic Alliance/Mergers Committee, and the committee chair, Clarinda Ross, also traveled to New York to meet with Mr. Kambole. The details of the trip were arranged by Equity staff members Flora Stamatiades, National Director, Organizing & Special Projects, and Karen Master, Organizing & Immigration Assistant, and personally overseen by Executive Director John P. Connolly.

Following is a Q&A with Mr. Kambole.

Q: What is the purpose of the trip to Actors' Equity?
This trip is generally a study tour and mission launch for the long term cooperation between AEA and the performing arts fraternity in Zambia through the National Theatre Arts Association of Zambia (NATAAZ), one of the national arts associations in Zambia. As such, this trip to Equity is a learning and educational trip on how unionism for performers works since our main aim, and not too long in the future, is to form the performers' union in Zambia. We are glad that Equity decided to work with NATAAZ for this purpose.

Q: What is the twinning program?
The Twinning Project is the program that has been embarked on by the Federation of International Actors (FIA) to help the associations and unions in developing nations develop their full potentials and achieve their goals. This is achieved through having well established unions from the developed nations 'adopt' these less developed and mostly upcoming organizations. NATAAZ is a member of FIA.

Q: You are President of NATAAZ…Describe this organization Is this like a union?
NATAAZ is a national association representing the performing artists. The main goal of the Association is to foster and encourage performing arts/ theatre for economical development. NATAAZ has membership covering institutions and organizations as well as individual members countrywide. In undertaking its mandate, NATAAZ holds performing arts festivals for junior members (primary and secondary schools) as well as senior members (institutions of higher learning and colleges, independent theatre houses, community-based theatre groups and corporate sponsored theatre groups). This is an annual activity. In addition to this activity, NATAAZ conducts Women in Theatre Workshop (WIT), management and skills training for performers and managers.

WIT is of main interest in NATAAZ since these is always a drop in membership of female members once they graduate from colleges, technical institutions, universities, etc. Therefore, this annual event brings together female performers and they, among others, discuss the challenges and also learn management and artistic skills.

NATAAZ is not like a union and a lot of challenges are therefore faced in terms of protecting the performers since NATAAZ has no powers to bargain for its members' work rights, negotiate contracts and manage these contracts, as well as offer the many benefits that arise through unionism.

Q: What is NATAAZ's relationship to the National Arts Council?
The National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC) is the overall coordinating body of all the artistic activities in Zambia. The National Arts Council of Zambia is a statutory body established under Act No: 31 of 1994 of the Laws of Zambia. Among others, the mandate of the NAC makes it the supreme advisory body at a national level on policy and decisions on all forms of the arts in the country. NAC is managed by the board which is called a Council. The Council sits once a quarter and it is composed of representatives from the members of all the national arts associations. Currently, there are eight national arts association of which NATAAZ is one.

The uniqueness of this NAC is that it was agitated for by the artists and by NATAAZ then the only representative of the performing artists. Therefore, it can be seen that NATAAZ played a historical role in the formation of the NAC.

Q: Does the government support the arts ? How are theatre productions funded?
Yes, the government supports the arts through NAC and NAC gives out small grants to the national associations to help implement their annual plans. NATAAZ is currently receiving a grant of just slightly under US$ 4,000 annually from the government and this has never ever been enough! Theatre houses are mainly funded by their communities and some active ones get private companies to partner with them.

Q: How many professional performers are in NATAAZ?
There around 400 professional performers in NATAAZ.

Q: What opportunties are there for performers in Zambia?
Performers can earn their livelihood through theatre but only when other critical organizations like unions are established. This will guarantee rights to full enjoyment of work by the performers.

Michael and AEA Staff

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