Anthropologist Kathryn Takabvirwa serves as cultural consultant for Steppenwolf play


Takabvirwa talked with the actors about the context of the story, and why seemingly modest elements of the dialogue and direction were so important. From acknowledging the relevance of ancestral connections that extend relations beyond that of parents and their children, to understanding the appropriate ways of sitting, clapping and greeting an elder, Takabvirwa brought vital insights to the story, and in some cases, helped Taymor avoid making unintentional missteps.Taymor recalls one scene in which the father and daughter are watching football together, and when the team scored a touchdown, she had them celebrate with a chest bump. “I didn’t think twice about the interaction, it was just a moment of celebration,” Taymor said.
But Takabvirwa demurred. She explained that a man in Zimbabwe would never thump chests with his daughter, and that the scene had to be altered or would interrupt the realism of the interaction. “It was a small moment but it had so much impact,” Taymor said, noting that she changed the direction to a fist bump. “I didn’t have the knowledge to pick up on that, but she did.”
Takabvirwa also helped Taymor rework positioning to ensure younger characters always showed respect to their elders. In Shona culture, a younger person would never stand and talk to an older person who was sitting down or choose a position higher up.
“It seems like a small thing, but the way you sit matters,” Takabvirwa said. 
Taymor used that knowledge in one scene where Maggie, one of the aunts, remains standing while her two elder sisters are seated. “It is a deliberate way of reminding the audience that she has been out of Zimbabwe for a long time,” Takabvirwa said.
Familiar, which has been called an “exceptionally insightful…layered, compelling depiction of the unescapable pull of family and history,” is playing at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs …

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