Friday, January 29, 2016

African theatre: why it’s important to transpose Western dramatic classics

Senior Lecturer in Directing and Performance Studies, University of the Witwatersrand
Disclosure statement
Samuel Ravengai has adapted and directed Greek plays to an African setting.

University of the Witwatersrand provides support as a hosting partner of The Conversation AFRICA.

Vumani Oedipus being staged at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. Wits Theatre
The Western dramatic canon has been a source of irritation to some Afrocentrists, who see it as providing unfair criteria for judging new work in Africa. Some call for its total abandonment and pursue performance modes that are relevant to Africa. I argue for its appropriation and repurposing in order to address Africa’s cultural needs.

There are several models in which this process can be carried out.
The Black Orpheus model
The first model is generally called transposition. Some American scholars call it Black Orpheus. African playwrights create African equivalents of Western dramatic classics with a direct one-to-one correspondence.

Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are Not to Blame, based on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, follows the same schema. In it Oedipus becomes Odewale, the setting changes from Thebes to Kutuje and all other names are changed to Yoruba equivalents. The Greek culture becomes a metaphor. A new text is formed which addresses African issues but with Greek structural underpinnings.

Welcome Msomi’s uMabatha which was first performed in 1971 at the University of Natal’s open-air theatre, did exactly the same thing. It was based on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but changed the setting to 19th-century Zululand during the reign of Shaka and Dingane. Banquo became Bhangane, Lady Macbeth became Kamandonsela, Duncan became Dangane and the Thane of Cawdor became Khondo. It was performed entirely in Zulu.

Through this process, Msomi was able to re-programme the play’s reception as an African play dealing with African issues. Apartheid South Africa was preoccupied with the Afrikanerisation of theatre and the sidelining African culture and performances. Due to the activities of the Black Consciousness Movement, most radical theatre activities were banned during the time.
The performance of uMabatha was allowed under the pretext that Africans were complicit in their cultural colonisation. Yet the transposition of Macbeth decolonises Shakespeare through the insertion of Zulu dances, songs, drums, costume and praise poetry. The Zulu culture under threat from apartheid is revived and celebrated under the guise of Shakespeare. It was an incitement outside of the controls of censorship.

The Black Athena model
The second model of repurposing Western dramatic classics, especially of Greek origin, is “reclamation” – sometimes called “Black Athena” by diasporic Africans in the US. The creative impulse emanates from the historical fact that much of the material contained in Greek plays is of African origin. According to the Greek father of history, Herodotus, the Greeks received their myths, gods and culture from ancient Egyptians who were phenotypically a combination of yellow and black.

Dionysus was a version of the African Osiris god. The Egyptians created performative theatre which was stolen/copied/appropriated by the Greeks as dithyrambic singing and dancing. But they later developed this into the dramatic canon associated exclusively with the West. According to this paradigm, to select material stolen from Africa and reinserting it back into Africa is not cultural colonisation, but a corrective returning of the culture to its rightful owners.

While the occult dimension of Western theatre has dissipated since the rise of the western bourgeoisie rule, it is still a part of the African theatre. My play Vumani Oedipus celebrates the power of the metaphysical world over humans.

The third model can be achieved through conceptual casting and re-historicising the old classics. In this model the origin of Greek culture is of little importance. The Greek play is taken as it is and performed in a new context to speak to a different set of history.
In 2004, I staged Jean Anouilh’ Antigone (an adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone) at the University of Zimbabwe’s Beit Hall Theatre. Zimbabwe was five years into an economic and political crisis. I used an all-black cast and invited the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to record the play. It happily accepted.

In the play, Antigone calls for civil disobedience over the dictatorship and heartlessness of Creon. Without changing a single word and through re-historicising and conceptual casting, the play had a different meaning to that of the original and was perceived as anti-Mugabe. ZBC refused to air it.
Similar results were achieved through the South African Antigone in 1971, which was performed by students involved in Theatre Council of Natal. The apartheid government gave the students blessings to perform the play, but the students used it to critique the government.

The play opened with a black man being hanged. They used projections of the slums of South Africa to draw similarities between the dictatorship and injustices of Creon and those meted on blacks in apartheid South Africa. In both cases the injustices of Creon were interpreted to mean the injustices of the local context.
Vumani Oedipus being staged at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. Wits Theatre

Vumani Oedipus was recently staged at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. The work is inspired by the classical playwright Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

I did not faithfully follow Sophocles’ play. Rather, I directorially reinterpreted and reworked it through, among other things:
  • adding new material from other texts;
  • collapsing other characters, such as priest and senator into one (Ndunankulu);
  • simplifying language and cutting dialogue; and
  • re-historicising the play and reprogramming the reception of the story, theme and character.
I also did not resort to the extreme method of adaptation which virtually destroys any link between the source text and the resultant performance text. I wanted to capture the spirit of the old story in a new South African context: Nguniland of the 21st century. The new setting is fictional, but interestingly familiar to South African audiences.
Is there value in reviving Western classics in post-colonial (South) Africa? Is this not perpetuating Western cultural imperialism?

While I respect the view that Western classical canon when used unwisely can perpetuate cultural domination, I put forward views that can be considered when deciding to adapt these classics to enrich African culture. In this globalised world, negative identity is inappropriate. The whole Western modernist tradition is anchored on ideas stolen from Africa and Asia, and Africa can do the same as I have suggested above.

Profile and History of the UZ Department of Theatre Arts

The Department of Theatre Arts is the oldest performing arts unit in the country with a strong tradition of excellence in creativity, teaching and research. The Department is aware of the role it is expected to contribute to the development of Zimbabwean cultural production through excellent creativity, the production and dissemination of knowledge and making available the expertise of its staff in the formulation of cultural and heritage policies. In terms of research, the Department produces high quality research in the form of publications which advance knowledge; creative works, compositions and performances which advance knowledge in the creative and performative disciplines and Masters and Doctoral graduates who have advanced methodological skills and are able to advance or to apply knowledge in their disciplines. The Department’s focus is on cultural production where our output centres on high quality theatre, dance and choreography as well as creative stage, sound and lighting designs and sets arising from these productions. The Department showcases students and staff performative works for public audiences and engages in creative writing for both theatre and the screen. In terms of quality assurance the Department has internal and external mechanisms and procedures which enable it to review regularly the efficiency and effectiveness of its activities. The infrastructure at the disposal of the Department comprising its production house, The Beit Hall Theatre, with an assortment of spaces for rehearsals and storing costumes and properties, has created a physical environment which is conducive to the realisation of its objectives.

Theatre Arts Department’s History and its Activities
The Department of Theatre Arts of the University of Zimbabwe began as a unit within the English Department in 1984 with Dr. Robert McLaren taking major drama courses. Dr Kiman Gecau, Dr. Thompson Tsodzo and Dr. Vimbayi Chivaura helped in structuring the unit into a department. The unit became a fully-fledged department in 1993 and began to offer undergraduate degrees by the end of 1994. Its first chairperson was Dr. Robert McLaren who was superseded by Dr. Fani-K Omoregie in 1995 and then Dr. Vimbayi Chivaura, Mr Musaemura B. Zimunya (both from the English Department) and Dr. Owen Seda. Its current chairman is Mr Nehemiah Chivandikwa. In 1995 the Department of Theatre Arts began to offer BA fourth year honours degrees. In 1996 the Department also began to take straight honours students (those who excel in their first year and are promoted to second year honours) and has been doing so ever since.  The Department also offers research degrees at M. Phil and D. Phil levels. Since 1994 the Department has produced five M. Phil graduates and two PhD scholars. As of 2013 we have five M. Phil and four D. Phil candidates. A taught MA in Theatre and Performance in the areas of Applied Drama and Theatre as well as Theatre Making and Practice has been approved by the university. For a long time, the Department had no taught masters and relied on sending fellows to South Africa and the USA for staff development. The fruit of this endeavour is the celebrated director, Samuel Ravengai, who is currently the only PhD holder in theatre and performance resident in the country.

Apart from training, the department also produces plays collaboratively with other universities or arts/media organisations. Such collaborative works have been done with the University of Calypoly (Pomona) in 2003-2004 in a project called Bus Stop Journals. The Department has worked collaboratively with Africa University. Dr. Seda was the chief organiser of the university’s annual arts festival. Here, the Department sends a production annually. In each given cultural year, the department also sends a production to the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA). Annually HIFA engages our students in the area of set design, lights rigging, media and communication where they will help in writing critical reviews of productions in daily newsletters produced by HIFA. While our students gain the necessary experience, they will also be gaining credits for their degrees. The Department has done consultancy research and productions with Amani Trust, CARE International, USA Public Affairs and Centre for Women and Law.

Theatre Arts Department
Creative Skills! Your passport to wealth and leadership!

The department aims to help confirm the status of Performing Arts as an important social and economic force in African culture.

The University of Zimbabwe’s Theatre Arts Department’s mandate is to serve the nation and world at large. It is our mission to produce a wholesome student with both theatre performing and administrative capabilities which reflect the highest standards of excellence and diversity indicative of the world in which we live.

·         To increase opportunities for all people to participate and understand the arts
·         To maintain a sense of identity and pride through the creative industry
·         To share the highest achievements of every culture and find a universal language which permits communication among all people
·         To develop and encourage national and outreach programmes

Department contact details
Theatre Arts Department
Old Arts Building, 2nd Floor
PO Box MP 167
Mt Pleasant
Email address:
Landline +263 (4) 303211/15 extension 14131

Academic Staff
Mr Nehemiah Chivandikwa 
Senior Lecturer and Head of Department,
M. Phil Theatre Arts (UZ), BA Hons IV Theatre Arts (UZ), BA (UZ)
Course Convenor: Applied Theatre.
Teaches across a range of theory and practical courses covering 20th Century Theatre Innovators, Applied Drama, Theatre Making and Acting

Dr Samuel Ravengai
Lecturer and Course Convenor (Theatre Studies, Theatre Innovation, Directing)   
PhD Drama (UCT), MA Theatre and Performance (UCT), BA Hons IV Theatre Arts (UZ), BA (UZ).
He teaches across a range of theory and practical courses covering Acting, 20th Century Theatre Innovation, Directing, Text, Performance and Communication. He has directed a portfolio of theatre and television productions that have been showcased nationally and internationally. As part of social responsiveness he was the Story Consultant and Associate Director of the popular soap opera Studio 263 between 2004 and 2006.

Mr Kelvin Chikonzo
Lecturer and Course Convenor (Dance, Film)           
M. Phil Film Studies (UZ), BA Hons Theatre Arts (UZ)
Teaches across a range of theory and practical courses covering Film and Media, Theatre and Society, and Dance

Mr Kudakwashe Shane Sambo
Lecturer and Course Convenor (Stagecraft)
M. Phil Theatre Arts (UZ), BA Hons Theatre Arts (UZ)
Teaches History of Theatre, Stagecraft and 20th Century Theatre Innovators

Mr Ngonidzashe Muwonwa
Lecturer and Course Convenor (African Theatre/Performance)
 M. Phil Film and Television (UZ) BA Hons (UZ)
Teaches across a range of theory courses covering African Theatre, Theatre Criticism/ Performance Analysis. He was the Head Writer at the popular soap opera, Studio 263 from the mid 2000s.

Administrative Support Staff
Mrs Maria Paratema,
Ms Topsey B Nyakurimwa
Administrative Assistant

Contract Academic Staff
Ms Mhako Doricah
Teaching Assistant
 BA Hons Theatre Arts (UZ)
Teaches Theatre in Zimbabwe, Scriptwriting, Introduction to Acting & Performance
Was Associate Writer at Zimbabwe’s popular soap opera, Studio 263 from the mid 2000s
Mrs Florence Majachani
Part-time Lecturer,
MA (Wits), BA Hons (UZ)
Teaches Arts Administration, Heritage and Cultural Management

Mr Tatenda Mangosho
Teaching Assistant,
BA Hons Theatre Arts (UZ)    
Teaches Design for Dance and Applied Acting. He has wide experience in high schools drama, directing high school theatre productions, several of which were nominated for the AFDIS competition.  Mangosho has been actively involved in theatre/performance, with his efforts resulting in a NAMA nomination for one of the many productions he has been involved in.

Mr Peace Mukwara
Teaching Assistant,
BA Hons Theatre Arts (UZ)
Teaches Design for Dance and Applied Acting. His interest is in acting and has performed in not less than five stage and film productions since he graduated. His research interest is in Zimbabwean video films. As part of social responsiveness, he has been involved in coordinating festivals and even taking one production to the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA)

Programmes offered
The Department of Theatre Arts offers courses to students undertaking the following degree programmes:
Bachelors Degree
Bachelor of Arts degree (BA)
Bachelor of Arts Honours in Theatre Arts (HTHA III)
Bachelor of Arts Special Honours in Theatre Arts (HTHA IV)
Postgraduate Degree by Coursework
The department offers the MA in Theatre and Performance with two orientations:
MA in Theatre Making and Performance (MTMP)
MA in Applied Theatre and Performance (MATP)

Postgraduate Degree by Research
Master of Philosophy in Theatre Arts (M. Phil) in Theatre Arts
Doctor of Philosophy degree by research (D. Phil) in Theatre Arts

List of Theatre productions since 1982 (provide link)

Qapela Merman (Deconstruction – W.Magwa’s Njuzu)
Samuel Ravengai (3, 4 Dec. Staged by BA Hons II)

BA Hons II Contemporary dance and BA I traditional dance
Choreographer, Kelvin Chikonzo (30 Nov. 6.30pm)

A Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry)
Produced by Almasi Collaborative Arts & directed Patience Tawengwa with Julia Wharton as Co-director and dramaturg  (Staged reading with UZ Theatre Arts students), 30 Nov, 2pm.

The Zimbabwean Blues (Bekezela Dube)
Bekezela Dube (28 Nov)

The Coup (Stanley Makuwe)
Daves Guzha (Rooftop Promotions, 19 Nov)

Wusiku (Stanley Makuwe)
Charles Matare (26 Oct)

Alcatraz (Nikki Hwindiri)
Nikki Hwindiri (20 Oct)

Miss Julie (August Strindberg)
Global Arts/Complete Arts Projects Innocent Mwapangira/Peter Churu (19 Oct)

Comrades (August Strindberg)
Patience Tawengwa (12 Oct)

Remorse (Churchill High School)
Gideon Wabvuta (10 Oct)

My Father is a Goat (Mutasa)
Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi (5 Oct)

  1. Maidei: The Woman of Manhood
  2. Doc Vikela: Stand up Comedian
  3. Churchill Jazz Band
Princess Sibanda (22 September)

Tirivangani (Noel Marerwa
Samuel Ravengai (26, 27, 28 Sept, 02 October. Staged by Hopley Farm Thespians
Macbeth: Oracle of the Weird Sisters (adapted from William Shakespeare
Innocent Mwapangira (30 Nov). BA Hons II. 6.00pm

Nyaradzo: The Spirit of Nehanda (Adapted from Lysistrata)
Innocent Mwapangira (17 June, 23 Sept)

In the Continuum (Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter)
Co-directed by Danai Gurira and Patience Tawengwa, (28 Nov, 1300hrs)
Nyachide (BA I workshop)
Innocent Mwapangira (15 June)

The Government Inspector (Nikolai Gogol)
Innocent Mwapangira (7 Dec 2010)

Author’s Voice (Richard Greenberg)
Innocent Mwapangira (24 March)

Dilemma of a Ghost (Ama Ata Aidoo)
Innocent Mwapangira (22-24 March)
The Advocacy (BA I workshop)
Innocent Mwapangira (9 Dec 2009)
Painful Passions (BA I workshop)
Innocent Mwapangira (10 July)
Anatol (Schnitzler)
Samuel Ravengai (BA Hons II Acting Students)

Decades of Terror (Maposa)
Samuel Ravengai

Upcoming Playwright’s Interview (Muzondo)
Samuel Ravengai (April)

If...A Tragedy of the Ruled (Ola Rotimi)
Owen Seda (July) BA II class.
The Good Woman of Sechuan (Bertolt Brecht)
Gudula Muller-Towe, BA Hons II

Bus Stop Journals (Owen Seda)
Co-Directed Nehemiah Chivandikwa, Owen Seda (21 April)

Ghetto Superstars Bekithemba Ntini
Choreographed and Directed By Bekhitemba Ntini (21 April)
The Coloured Museum (George C Wolfe
BA Hons III and IV. Directed By Joy Wrolson, 13-14 April. 6.30pm

Master Pierre Pathelin (Anonymous)
Owen Seda (April) BA II Class Production

Bus Stop Journals (Owen Seda)
Owen Seda (September)

Muramu (Chifunyise)
Samuel Ravengai (April), Savannah Arts cast.

The Lion and the Jewel (Soyinka)
Samuel Ravengai, BA Hons II students

Conquered Plans (George Nyamuzinga)
Stanley Mambo (21 July 2005)
The Sisterhood (Eresina Hwede)
Producer, Elton Mujanana, Director: Walter Muparutsa. 6 & 7 October, 7.15pm.

uNosilimela (Credo Mutwa)
Owen Seda BA II (June)

Antigone (Jean Anouilh)
Samuel Ravengai (19-21 May) BA Hons III

One for the Road (Harold Pinter)
Samuel Ravengai (27-28 May) BA Hons II

Waiting for Godot (Samuel Becket)
Samuel Ravengai
The Mwambene Play (FK Omoregie)
Owen Seda (June) Staged by BA II.

Sons and Daughters (J.C de Graft)
Owen Seda. BA II (June)

The Dilemma of a Ghost (Ama Ata Aidoo)
 Samuel Ravengai BA Hons III, 14-15 July at 6pm and 14: 15 respectively.

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller)
Samuel Ravengai BA Hons II
Holding Talks (Ola Rotimi)
Owen Seda (13 April). Staged at the Faculty of Arts Research Day

The Government Inspector (Nikolai Gogol)
Owen Seda. (May) BA Hons II Class production

No Good Friday (Athol Fugard)
Owen Seda BA Hons III & IV class production (April)

(Shona, unpublished)UZ Theatre Arts Students.
O. Seda, E Dhlamini, N. Chivandikwa. (February)
Joe Turner’s Come And Gone (A. Wilson)
Owen Seda (February 2001) Staged by  BA Hons III

(Shona, unpublished)UZ Theatre Arts students
O. Seda, E Dhlamini, N. Chivandikwa. (October)
Holding Talks (Ola Rotimi)
Owen Seda. Play Productions Theatre Company (March)

Jekanyika (adapted from a Shona novel Jekanyika, Francis C. Mugugu)
Farai Wonderful Bere (New Angle Cultural Productions), 2-6 March, 7pm.
The Mwambene Play (unpublished-FK Omoregie)

F-K Omoregie/Owen Seda (July). Staged by Play Productions Theatre Company, a UZ based group

Zviri Pakati Pavo (Shona/Ndebele unpublished/Workshopped-PD I
Owen Seda (October)

Masvanhikongonya (Shona, unpublished/Workshopped PD I
Owen Seda (October)

When Madhuku Came Back (unpublished, Workshopped) BA Hons IV
Owen Seda and FK Omoregie (May)

Foreign Affairs (unpublished FK Omoregie) BA Hons IV.

F-K Omoregie/Owen Seda (September 1996)

Who Is Afraid of Nzarayebani? (unpublished, FK Omoregie.

F-K Omoregie (July)- Faculty of Arts Major production. Owen Seda played Nzarayebani, the lead role.

Shingirirai (unpublished)FK Omoregie BA Hons IV

F-K Omoregie/ Owen Seda (October)

Hopes of the Living Dead (Ola Rotimi) BA II and Hons IV.
FK Omoregie/Owen Seda (September)

Chembere Masikati (Shona/Ndebele-unpublished/Workshopped Practical Drama I
Owen Seda (October)

Pasi Rapinduka (Shona, unpublished/Workshopped BA Theatre I
Owen Seda (October)

The Strong Breed (Wole Soyinka) (Departmental production)
Owen Seda and FK Omoregie (July)

Nyika Yake/Ilizwe Lakhe (BA III workshop)
Robert McLaren

Waiting for Lefty (Odet)
Robert McLaren
Will These Walls Stand? (unpublished/Workshopped BA Theatre I
Owen Seda (October)

Midnight Hotel (Femi Osofisani)
FK Omoregie/Owen Seda (July)

Simuka Zimbabwe/Arise Zimbabwe (Zambuko/Izibuko)
Robert McLaren

Nhamoinesu (Shona, unpublished/Workshopped)
 Robert McLaren/Owen Seda (May)

Ndakatamba Nematope (Shona, unpublished)
Robert McLaren/Owen Seda (May)

Siyaphi/Tiri Kuendepi? (Shona & Ndebele, unpublished/Workshopped
 Owen Seda (October)
The Darkness of Our Light (BA I Workshop)
Robert McLaren

Tsinzinyai Titadze (Shona) Practical Drama I class
Robert McLaren/Owen Seda (September)

Women and marital rape PDII
30 October, 1 pm
Credit to the Family (Daniel Pearce)
BA English Gen II Students (26 September, 7pm)

Poetry Performance by various members of Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe
Official launching of BWAZ, 30 June 1990

Devil on the Cross (adapted from Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s novel)
Ngugi wa Mirii & ZACT at 4pm during the launch of BWAZ on 30 June 1990

Mandela, The Spirit of no Surrender
Zambuko/Izibuko & Rob McLaren
Manqoba, Joyce Sikakane & Black Fist by Lingesabi Bo (Anti-Apartheid plays), 2 play from Bulawayo                 
Iluba Elimnyama 23 March 7.30.
Watch Me Fly
Robert McLaren

Samora Continua
Robert McLaren, Zambuko/Izibuko, 13 October, 7.30pm.

The Contest (Rugyendo)
Munashe Mashiri and Godfrey Muyambo, 21-23 & 27-28 July, 7.30pm. 23  July at 2.00pm for schools

The Wretched Ones (Mujajati)
Godfrey Muyambo & Dumisani Hwacha

Chokwadi Ndechipi/ Iqiniso Yiliphi
Robert McLaren BA ALL Students, 29-30 Sept, 1, 4-5 October, 7.30pm. Oct 1 at 2.30pm.

Egoli (Manaka)
Drama Students, Wednesday, 17 August, by public demand, played by  Bekezela  Ndlovu & Dumisani Tsheza, 7.30pm
Kremlin Chimes (Pogodin)
Robert McLaren, March 17-18. 7.30pm. To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the great October Revolution

Katshaa! (BA and Zambuko Workshop)
Robert Mclaren

The Good Person of Gondokoro (adapted from Brecht)
Robert McLaren, 14-16 May & 19-20 .7.30pm

Ndiwo Hupenyu Here/Yiyo Impilo Na?
Robert McLaren 13-15 & 18-19 August, 7.30pm, BA ALL Students.

Workshop Negative (Cont Mhlanga)
Amakhosi/Cont Mhlanga, Friday 20 March. 7.30pm at the New Lecture Theatre 400.

A 20th Century Macbeth (adapted from William Shakespeare)
Robert McLaren, July 1987
Robert McLaren

Ndicharoora Kana Ndoda (I Will Marry when I want
Robert McLaren

A Woman of Courage (Chifunyise
Robert McLaren, 20-22 May. 7.30 pm, Department of English Students. 21-22 May 1pm.

Not for Sale (Chifunyise)
Robert McLaren, 20-22 May. 7.30 and 1pm 21-22May. BA English students
The Mourned One (adaptation Samkange)
Robert McLaren

Mavambo (adapted from Katiyo’s A Son of the Soil)
 UZ Drama Club. 2-3 & 4 and 11 May. 7.30pm

The Adamant Eve (adapted from Wollstonecraft)
Robert McLaren, July. BA English Honours Students

Seri Kwesasa/Okusemsamo
Robert McLaren

Fusani’s Trial (Alfred Hutchinson)
Robert McLaren
Mavambo (BA Workshop)
Robert McLaren
The Honourable MP ( Gonzo Musengezi)
UZ Drama Society
Vakasiiwa Pachena (1982 UZ Arts Festival)
Juliet Chikanza