Uganda Theatre ready for 2010?

21 05 2010

 

Theater for 2010?

The African continent is excited by the year 2010. The sporting fraternity especially football fans  have predicted 2010 to be the year of change and prosperity in the sport, with major tournaments including the prestigious world cup being organized in Southern Africa. What about the Arts, especially theater? Are theatre practitioners excited about 2010 and beyond? Do they see a better environment and a bounty season as far as the industry is concerned? This could only be a dream if there are no efforts to change the industries current statuesque.   

In the early 90’s, theatre was buzzing with activity. The NRM had just taken over and the atmosphere was fresh. Theatres were everywhere, Pride, Riverside, Biwologoma, Nile theatre, Neeta (Labonita), Batvalley, National theatre to mention but a few.  Today, the state of theatre is alarming with Labonita, Batvalley and National Theatre as the only functional play houses, which cannot accommodate all artists in the country in a given year. This is largely a disservice to the profession. With over 150 groups active in the early 90’s, the number has greatly reduced to about 20 theater groups with some resorting to seasonal performances. Construction or adoption of performance would be the likely option but this also calls for huge amounts of capital. 

Theatre in Ugandan largely depends on spontaneous imagination and adlibbing as opposed to writing a play script. Play titles are churned out every year with some attracting large audiences but if you challenge the director to produce a script, you will be surprised.  The standard of theatrical performances in Uganda has been average for quite some time. Performances have lacked the luster and grotesque appeal compared to theatrical performances within the east African region. The day and night performance are different with some actors providing soccer updates as the play progresses. This has greatly undermined the capability of Ugandan practitioners to feature on the international scene or even to take part in international festivals with the exception of dance troupes.  This phenomenon may be attributed to numerous factors ranging from lack of government support and censorship, to the need to excel beyond our borders. During the EATHI (2008) festivals in Addis Ababa, our Kenyan counterparts presented a play “Footstep on me” with such levels of energy rarely displayed in Ugandan performances. The power and delivery was unique and with such precision that the cast deserved the standing ovation they received after the professional performance. I wondered why this is not the norm back home.

Could it be the quality of people who join the ranks of theatre? The Department of MDD at Makerere has released quite a number of theatre graduates but a few are actually practicing theatre. Theatre groups have resorted to recruiting students and drop outs that are still forging a life. Alex Mukulu, an renown artist with international acclaim, once said that  the batch of upcoming artists do not appreciate theatre as an art but are rather keen to amass as much money as possible in time. To them theatre is not a job, but a part time activity. They cannot rehearse for long hours, nor concentrate to grasp their lines before the next rehearsal. This clearly shows that today the fight is over economic survival and not the integrity of the Arts.

Comedy nights are fast becoming a craze in the Ugandan entertainment arena. These are presented in open spaces and the duration is much shorter than a full length play yet they attract a size able audience.  Could this be the next generation “thing”? With the growth of this new phenomenon, I predict that stage plays will few, less consequential and highly undervalued by society at large unless a miracle happens.  Personally I do not see the situation getting any better in the next 10 years. However, within this period, the next generation will nurture and formulate a new beginning.

The media has passionately reported on the Arts in general. Both the Print and Electronic media houses have written and talked about Art, followed artists through their shows and presented a diversity of arts to the public. Mass Media and the Arts have a symbiotic relationship: each depends on the other in an intimate collaboration. These two fields are both the result of creative minds at work. They both have a powerful influence on people’s life and therefore both have the potential to contribute to social, economic and political development of society.  However, the lack of theatre critics and journalists trained is this area has ensured an all praise media display.  The absence of constructive criticism from the media makes the wider awareness notion a fallacy.  The new media has proved to be a better option as far as awareness and mobilization is concerned, but have the artists embraced this technology? How many artists or theatre groups have  a website today?

A serious national discourse through the Uganda National cultural centre must be undertaken to reshape the industry by exploring the existing environment and embrace the rapidly emerging technologies to foster hope and promote professionalism in the theatre industry. This way the artists will remain faithful to quality and diversity which we desperately need for 2010 and beyond.

Abu Kawenja

Adzido Entertainment Service LTD.

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