Theatre 203: F/History of Theatre Since the Seventeenth Century

African Theatre: South Africa and Nigeria:
Brockett ch. 19 pp. 631-640, 657-665

PRECOLONIAL AFRICAN PERFORMANCE (emphasis on difference from western theatre)

Conventions of performance, training, and reception different from Europe and USA.
No distinction among performance genres: performances use music, dance, storytelling (griot) and mimesis. Text is never central element.
Theatre is to religious and social ritual (like ancient Greece), as well as entertainment
Improvisation, trance, mask, call and response, audience physically participates
Costume and mask most important visuals (photo p. 635)
Generalizations hard: over 800 languages and millions of people -> localized traditions. We'll look at two different ones: Nigeria and South Africa


Golden triangle (slave trade) and missionaries, c. 1450-1865
Most of today's African Americans come from West Central Africa (see map p. 632)
By 1900, Europe laid claim to all of Africa save Liberia and Ethiopia
Native performance traditions, along with language, religion, and politics, is suppressed


NIGERIA (WEST COAST) cap. city = Lagos, economy of agriculture and oil

Geographical unit created by British colonials 1914, includes over 200 language groups.

YORUBA (southwest): city of Ifa
Egungen festival celebrates ancestors
HAUSA (north)
IBO (southeast)
FULANI (north)

European performance begins with dramatized Bible stories

Yoruba Opera (or traveling theatre), Hubert Ogunde
The Garden of Eden and the Throne of God, 1944 38 Operas until 1972
Professional company, most deal with social issues
Now about 100 companies

Duro Ladipo: Yoruba myth, music
The King did not Hang, 1964

Alawada Theatre's Baba Sala operas

Wole SOYINKA (b. 1934) Yoruba, educated Nigeria and England, Royal Court in London
1960 Masks company: A Dance of the Forests celebrates independence in 1960
The Lion and the Jewel, 1964
detention and exile for work against neocolonialists
Death and the King's Horseman, 1975
1986 Nobel Prize for Literature (photo p. 637)

John Pepper CLARK (b. 1936) Ijo, uses myth
Song of a Goat, 1964
English professor, founds professional theatre (photo p. 638)

Femi OSOFIAN (b. 1946) radical critic of neocolonialism and class hierarchy
The Chattering and the Song, 1976
Morountodun, 1979 use theatre to politicize farmers (photo p. 639)

1970, Nigeria divides into many states; individual governments and universities support and teach theatre

SOUTH AFRICA (Brockett pp. 657-65)
southern tip of continent, agriculture in east, desert west, long coastline, diamonds and gold in mountains. Cape Town and Johannesburg major cities.

African tribes: Zulus, Basutos, Xhosas, Pondos (collectively called Bantu)
European immigrants: Dutch (Afrikaners) from 1652, English 1800

Union of South Africa, 1910, really an agreement between Dutch and English Member of English Commonwealth, 1931;
Full independence 1961 -> RSA

APARTHEID: caste system evolved through 20th century

4 groups/classes by racial background: white, colored, Asian (Indian) and black
Blacks live in homelands, must carry passes, restricted education and work (Consider parallel with Native American reservations)
Student riots in Soweto, 1976; beginning of the end;
Leads to international boycotts of RSA goods
Dismantling of system begins 1990, under FW DeKlerk
Nelson MANDELA: African National Congress (ANC) leader, imprisoned nearly 30 years, now president.

Final end to apartheid, but government corruption remains huge problem, also lack of solid, fair police control (lots of people beaten to death in prison as of 12/98).

European theatre arrives 1780, African Theatre built Cape Town 1801

Afrikaans develops as own language;
1st play 1897 Magrita Prinslo
1907 1st Afrikaans theatre company: amateur and tours agrarian communities
Paul de Groot established 1st professional co 1925

English: many touring companies
local amateur theatres thrive from 1920's

1947 National Theatre Organization: gov't funds and encourages professional theatre in English and Afrikaans, white audience is focus.
1963 becomes Performing Arts Councils in each province.

Black performance in European style theatres began 1920's
1927 Xhosa play: Debeza's Baboons by GB Sinxo
1927 Lucky Stars: company of Black actors, Zulu performances
1933 Bantu Dramatic Society
1953 Union of South African Artists, to protect Black artists' rights
1959 King Kong; first TOWNSHIP MUSICAL about a black boxer, local hero


Theatres (Black, White, and mixed race) advocate social change, within and without the political system, with eloquence.
Topics are contemporary, presentation highly stylized fusion of European and African styles

African Music and Drama Association: founded from Union Artists, with money
from King Kong.
Training and producing organization in Johannesburg.
Rehearsal Room is its theatre.

Gibson KENTE: founds own company, produces township musicals he writes
Sikalo, How Long (1973, gets him imprisoned).
Most popular Black company into 1990's

People's Experimental Theatre 1973; out of Black Consciousness Movement

1965-77 mixed race audiences illegal.
Growth of native drama: in all languages.
Space Theatre in Cape Town and Market Theatre in Johannesburg break law on
stage and in audience.

Market Theatre's producers: Mannie Manim and Barney Simon (worked at Theatre Workshop in London w/ Joan Littlewood)

introduce works by Black and White writers, mostly in English (photos pp. 660-1)
Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winton Ntshona's Sizwe Bansi in Dead, Statements after and Arrest Under the Immorality Act, The Island (1971-73) The 1st is white and last 2 black: close collaboration in writing and performing
Fatima Dike's The First South African (Black woman)
Woza Albert, 1980; written and performed by Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngema (photo p. 661)
Simon and 8 actors: Born in the RSA, 1986

Ngema and Mtwa: Bopha (1985) (photo p. 662), Sarafina (1986) Township Fever (1990)

1980-90's: growth of traditional African performance in Black communities and

Afrikaans playwrights: Bartho Smit (The Maimed 1960) and PG du Plessis (Seer in
the Suburbs 1971)

Athol FUGARD (b. 1932)

lives Port Elizabeth, writes in English, though part Afrikaans.
Blood Knot 1961, Boesman and Lena 1969, (70's collaborations above), Master Harold and the Boys 1982, My Children My Africa, 1989, Playland 1992
His work exported by government as international propaganda
Several Tony Nominations and Awards

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