AZEB WORKU: A Writer Who Dares to Push the Walls

Azeb Worku’s is a well-known performing arts personality that some may know better as her character in the Dana TV series. FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, LUCY KASSA had the opportunity to sit and engage with her on her work and her aspirations and the role of women in the arts and in society.

Azeb Worku’s is a well-known performing arts personality that some may know better as her character in the Dana TV series. FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, LUCY KASSA had the opportunity to sit and engage with her on her work and her aspirations and the role of women in the arts and in society.

Azeb:  Do you think I am fit to your picture taking?  It is a rushed week.

Fortune:  You are okay, but I see that you are not so much into make-up. Is it that you are too busy this week or this is your regular way?

No I am not really into that.

How much of your time do you spend in taking care of yourself/paying attention to your looks? Say, going to the hair dresser, spa or anything related to that?

Oh me I hardly have time for that. It would be nice if I could, but……..

Would it be wrong to assume that the dominant figures in your work both in TV series and theatre do not have time too? The role you played in the theatre you adapted and produced Semintu Setoche and the Hilina of the Dana TV Series which you have authored, have this trait of prioritising work and not looking after themselves.

No I try to be realistic in presenting the women; I have never thought there is one clear description or definition for women. They are just as diverse as humankind is. So if you watch both the works you mentioned you find the different kinds of women you find in your daily life; personalities that can be found in the different women.

In the Simintu Setoch theatre I want people to understand or evaluate the potential of the woman, not the characters represented in the theatre but the fact that it was done by women; script writing, producing, directing all was done by women. But the characters are as ordinary as anything.

Look, let’s take Dana TV series, you find all kinds of characters: Hilina, the journalist (Meron Getnet) the lead character, is simply a woman of integrity in all her walks of life. By the way I really love ‘Hilinaye’ (the ‘ye’ is added to indicate degree of liking or loving). And there are the other characters – Betty, Hilina’s friend and supervisor – with her strength and weakness, Kalkidan – the jealous yet loving wife, and the rest, all represent women across the different walks of life. They/we are not perfect, but one has to be able to understand why that imperfection came about.

Do you watch Ethiopian movies?


Let’s say you come across an Ethiopian movie that you never saw before and do not exactly know what it is all about, do you have the confidence to watch it with your children for the first time?

Yes I do, and there were incidents where I found myself in an awkward position, when my child asked for an explanation of some uncomfortable scene. The absence of Parental Guide (PG) rating both on movies and TV series makes it difficult to decide whether to do that or not from the outset.

You have been away from the stage especially on radio and TV, where the wider public identify with you. You have been very popular in your early works like Abiye Zergaw radio serial and other TV dramas five years ago, until we found you writing the Dana TV series. What happened? Tell us about those missed times?

I started as a member of an art club called Afelegna with other artists. It was a time when the number of art clubs was mushrooming. We were one and I can say that we did a good job.

Why couldn’t you sustain that group?

Unfortunately we could not sustain the vibe due to financial constraints. Our work then was almost all the time sponsored by NGOs like MarieStopes, and Family Guidance Association. The sponsorship however came with limitations, it was exclusive and we were not allowed to engage in any other activities. Members then wanted their liberty to discover themselves and started leaving the group.  We never had the network to join the mainstream art area. It was stalled for almost five years.

What were you doing in those times then?

It was a tough time for me. I never knew my potential to write and focused on acting and somehow was lost for a while. I focused on other social engagements, established a family and used to do some classes, like French language. It was while trying to develop my French that I saw this movie in French from the 1970’s. I loved it and decided to adapt it to our audience. People however related my absence from the industry with my marriage, some even asked directly.  After few years I managed to adapt, direct and act in the theatre Simintu Setoch, which gave the female members of Afelegna a chance to reconnect. People loved it and I was immediately back to where I was with only one work.

Why did you opt for translation when you have the potential to create, which later was witnessed in Dana TV series?

Artistic works usually go beyond borders and temporal limitations, classic works usually are like that. Of course some could be culturally and contextually specific, but as I said most go beyond that.  For me the adaptations I made before I authored original work were a stepping stone for quality. But I can tell you adaptation is much more cumbersome work than creating anew.

Looking back on your work and the team which came along, it seems that you come with different people. Of course it is understandable that working with many people could be good. But how about building on the foundation and relations you already built.

As I said all the female members of the Afelegna group took part in Simintu Setoch. But as a principle even if professional groups break-up our personal relationships are always intact.  And whenever you cast you think of those people. For example Solomon Alemu, Afelegna member, who used to write most scripts, had a role to play in the Dana TV series, which I authored. We both were happy to work together and in reverse roles. It tells that our foundation is one, and a good one.

Can somebody be everything in a theatre or a movie? You have done these roles simultaneously. Wouldn’t this have an impact, lack of focus or specialisation in the sector?

I started with acting, moved to adapting which required good command of language and writing skills. You find your different talents in different contexts. I discovered my different layers of talent and developed the skill of writing. You cannot swim if you don’t find yourself in water. I believe as long as a person works in the art field, he/she should be open to learn new skills which will help in understanding and integrating with the system.  I am happy I did them all. And as an overall principle I say it has to be judged by the output, and not by the number of people involved in the production. Of all the roles I take in this industry I found writing for TV serials the most difficult. It has huge stress, non- stopping daily deadlines. I can simply say writing Dana for two years consumed all of me.

Dana – It was common to see people glued to TV on Sunday afternoon waiting anxiously for Dana to start. People are still waiting but nobody is sure whether a new season will start or not? What do you [the author] say?

Dana TV Series was originally planned to have 11 seasons. East African film production and Ethiopian broadcasting Corporation (EBC) however had a dispute on the issue. It seems like EBC has decided to terminate the contract unilaterally, despite the Production Company’s claim that all eleven seasons must continue.  So as a second option, the production company is now finalising preparation to continue the series on another TV channel. But my journey with Dana is over. My contractual agreement to write is over. So I hope Dana will come back to its audience better.

What is the reason behind these kinds of aburupt changes in cast which is common and now writers? And at times the series is just discontinued without any explanation, except competing interest and assumptions?

I think this is natural for an infant industry of TV series in the country. The culture of producing and acting and all is just in the making. I think it will get better and stability will come as the culture grows. In general though as the series extends over a long period of time changes are highly likely. Externalities have high impact on process, and with the uncertainties come irresponsibility on the stakeholders.

What should we expect from Dana next year?

Dana is going to continue and Hilina Getachew is going to be back again. As the third season closed she came back again after her medical leave. It is highly likely that the next writer will keep her.

Is the character of Hilina Getachew in the Dana drama the reflection of your personality? People say they see some resemblance in you two.

We might share some things but we are completely different. But as I said I really do like her.

How do you evaluate last year in terms of success, happiness or bad experiences?

[The year] 2007 was successful for me as it was in that year that Dana drama was being made, condominium movie was displayed as well as Yemist Yaleh was distributed in CD.

Do you read newspaper? What kind of newspaper do you love to read and what news impressed you this year?

Yes I read Amharic news papers. I do not remember the news that impresses me from newspapers. But from the news I looked at the social media I was shocked by the rape committed on Hana Lalango and the Libyan beheading shocked me.

If we are to meet next year at the same time like now what should we expect from you?

I am going to start the year with Crossing Boundaries, festival of performance art in which 12 countries are going to participate. I am the artistic director.

After that I have a plan to release a new theatre production, I’m already completing the cast though I am also busy of the crossing boundaries. In addition to that I have a plan to start one TV series drama.

Published on Sep 07,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 801]



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