Writings of the general word's body

Monday, March 24, 2008

Rotozaza in West Africa

JG writes in on Rotozaza's tour of Ghana & Nigeria...

Etiquette recently arrived in Nigeria from Ghana where the Rotozaza company was, it seems, hosted by the British Council for March 6, 7 and 8. Information about the visit was carried by the Accra Mail and the Ghanaian Journal, but this was ‘last minute’. In fact, the Ghanaian Journal posted details on line only after the tour had begun! This seemed to be the result of a late press release and/ or perhaps lazy arts journalism . In any case, the press releases seemed to be slotted more or less straight into the publications.

From the press coverage, it seems Rotozaza ‘(facilitated) workshops for students at the University of Ghana drama [?], Eagle Productions and NAFTI.’ I don’t think they went out to Legon, but I gather that some Legon drama students were invited to experience the work at the British Council premises in Accra. Otherwise, the Council concentrated on those concerned with acting for film / video.

It seems that the production involves participants repeating lines or responding to instructions delivered over head-phones. Etiquette is designed to be eminently ‘portable’ and will have a life of its own after the Rotozaza team have moved on. For example, the ‘show’ will travel to Kumasi so that those interested there have a chance to participate. For this is, above all else, participatory theatre.

In Nigeria , initial on-line coverage of the tour has fought shy of analysing and exploring the local reactions, but has turned up some material of interest. For example, writing in News Day on 18 March under the title ‘British Council Introduces Experimental Theatre to Students’, Funmi Ogundare, incorporated an illuminating quotation into her text:

The Director of Rotozaza Theatre troupe, Mr. Antony Hampton recalled how the experimental drama started. "There is a friend of mine in France who is a visual artist but had never been on stage before. I had a vision of him working around just in his own world, doing things on stage. But I knew he would want to perform what I was thinking of, that is getting him on stage so that he can be relaxed without having to worry about doing the job of an actor.

So we came up with the idea of listening to instructions and we proposed it to him that he should just follow it and that we would create something for him, which was not difficult to do but would be compelling to an audience. He agreed to it and it was fascinating and we started trying it with different people. After a few years we realised that this is not just one show but a whole practice and we needed to expand upon it and create new shows that uses the same strategy. We have used our strategies in a lot of ways. Sometimes with the head phones, actors on stage giving instructions live and whispering into their ears, among others."

It will be fascinating to get responses to performances in West Africa .

Taking a broader view, it is intriguing to try to see how Rotozaza fits in with the British Council’s drama policy. A brief glance at what has happened during the last sixty or so years in Ghana shows that initially the Council encouraged amateur theatre in Accra . That is to sat, the Council (founded 1944) backed a group that took the name ‘The British Council Players’ and put on a variety of British texts, including Blithe Spirit, Candied Peel, and, no doubt of greater interest to local audiences, assorted Shakespeare. In1963, the Council funded a major tour to West Africa of productions of Macbeth and Twelfth Night by the Nottingham Playhouse. Six years later, the Council promoted Judi Dench and James Cairncross on a tour of the country in a programme of scenes from classic British plays.

More recently, the British Council in Ghana has become adventurous and ‘engaged’. For example, they are currently supporting Theatre for a Change, an interactive, Boalian group.

Rotozaza, an innovative company that has been making waves at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere, is the latest choice.


19 March 2008

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