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Monday, January 7, 2008

Ugandan Theatre Needs So Much More

It all began with the creation of mankind. From the time hunters recounted their adventures by means of pantomime to when the first people expressed themselves through war chants and love dances, drama has been clearly manifesting itself.

Many years later, theatre has not only seen a tremendous improvement but also it remains an integral part of African culture in passing down traditional values while offering rich entertainment.

Since the foundation stone for the Uganda National Cultural Centre was laid in 1956 to officially usher in a new theatrical era, so many things have happened. Various theatres have since sprung up, the latest being the ultra-modern Theatre La Bonita –the new home of The Ebonies. Many actors: Alex Mukulu, Abby Mukiibi and Philip Luswata to mention three, have garnered fame and status as playwrights, directors, and actors.

Since November last year to March 2007, the Golden Drama Foundation (GDF) has been celebrating '50 Years of Drama,' a commendable event financed by Pilsner Lager, and aimed at recognizing the people and the works that have moulded the face of theatre and drama in Uganda over the past 50 years.

However, much more needs to done for Ugandans to ably compete on the global stage in regard to performing arts. It is discomfiting to find playhouses almost empty during performances. There is a need to interest majority people into supporting theatre because drama is the expression of the soul of a nation and will remain a vital force in the life of the people.

Although as early as 1642 English puritans condemned dramatists as "breeders of the plague and instruments of the devil" and banned stage plays, normalcy returned in 1662 when the government esteemed that plays and acting are "not only harmless delights but useful and instructive representations of human life."

Performers in the Western world have since been in held in high repute and productions supported by organizations and wealthy citizens. We need to rehash fine dramas by re-staging the world's most enduring plays from playwrights like Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Euripides, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, to mention a few, in order to attract the affluent and elite into supporting the industry.

As a drama graduate, I find most local productions monotonous and outright boring, clattered with poor dialogue, mechanical acting, dragging plots, repugnant humour and basically nothing fascinating about them. Could it be a result of staging plays primarily tailored to make money? Are directors only interested in giving theatergoers what they want so that they can milk enough money from them?

I'm not sure about that although I know that in the United States, creative directors scout for and bring fresh talent to pump new life into theatres. Plays are written daily, the best playwrights awarded and specialized schools of performing arts exist in every city. The International Thespian Society is there to recognize high school students participating actively in the dramatic arts program. The motto, "Act well your part; there all the honor lies" needs to be emulated by Ugandans.

As Katharine Anne Ommanney and Harry H. Schanker write in their book, The Stage and the School, "no matter what degree of mechanical perfection plus electronic effects television and screen drama may achieve, they can never create that intangible, magnetic quality which passes from actor to audience…or become the voice and movement, mass and perspective, imagination and reality which is a play produced by living actors before a living audience."

So then, we need a change in standards of production, methods of acting, content of plays, and the ideals of conduct in order to continue expressing the dreams of humanity through drama.

Published in The Uganda Theatre Gazette, Vol 6, Issue 1, 2007, pg. 9