2. Definition of African/Ugandan theatre
3. Theatre under the missionaries and the British colonialists
4. Theatre as financial income
5. Theatre as cultural programme for development
6. The Makerere Free Travelling Theatre
7. Writing under censorship
7.a. Byron Kawadwa
7.b. Wycliffe Kiyingi
7.c. Robert Serumaga
8. The end of political theatre and the beginning of entertainment
9. Theatre for Development
10. Rose Mbwoa “Mother Uganda and her children”
11. New challenges for the theatre
Referring to Uganda’s long history, theatre also has a long past. The country has experienced a various number of influences by the missionaries, colonialists, Milton Obote’s destruction of the Buganda Kingdom and reign of terror and Idi Amin’s economic war strategy. It is difficult to define truly African theatre.
Theatre always stood under observation from outside. In this way how could it be possible do develop an own Ugandan theatre form?
Even before those influences Uganda already hat its own cultural tradition and when alien powers came to the country, life and art still developed but under certain circumstances. In this essay I would like to try to explain the difficulties of defining African especially Ugandan theatre. After that I would like to elaborate on how all those influences contribute to an own theatre form in Uganda if that’s really the case.
On my way to explain Uganda’s theatre tradition I will talk about the whole development up to date, starting with the missionaries that came to the country to “civilize” the people, also through drama. In the 1920’s people discovered that drama is also a possibility to do for living. By that time the first travelling theatres came up.
In the 1940’s cultural programmes by the Social Welfare used drama to improve peoples’ economic status.
The 1960’s under Obote’s regime were the birth of political theatre like the Community Theatre and the Makerere Travelling theatre which was founded by students of the Makerere University, Kampala.
Amin’s politics let no freedom for cultural development in the theatre arts. Writing under censorship needed new forms by dramatists. Therefore I will show up some representative dramatists for Ugandan literature. Selected examples will be Wycliffe Kiyingi, Byron Kawadwa and Robert Serumaga.
With the escape of many artists into exile, a new era of entertainment and commercialisation of the arts developed.
In the 1980’s the new Theatre for Development came up and I will present the example of Rose Mbowa’s Mother Uganda and her children.
With the end of twenty years of civil war, theatre became more free but had to deal with new challenges. Commercialisation, privatisation and mediation make it difficult to produce new qualitative plays.
In my conclusion I will present that there is a truly African/ Ugandan theatre dealing with the fact, that in every country, life and art are influenced by actions, experiences, opinions which are part of the cycle of life.
1. Definition of African/Ugandan theatre
To define real Ugandan theatre is almost impossible. As any kind of art or life in general it is shaped by different influences. Trying to explain what Ugandan theatre looks like I would like to show the similarities and the differences to the European one.
In the eyes of critics there was no African theatre before so they see its origins in the formal scripted form brought along by the missionaries.
Rose Mbowa’s describes this opinion as follows: “This is a valid remark only if one considers the uran bourgeois theatre form of the 18th and 19th centuries as the only valid form of theatre.” (Mbowa: “Luganda theatre and its audience” p. 227 ll. 28/29)
But what about oral traditions that tell legends and myths? What about African rituals such as circumcision, wedding or funeral ceremonies? Didn’t they already exist before the European forms were brought into the country? In this case theatre or at least theatrical performance goes back to the beginning of humankind. Referring to Uganda in typical there have been other traditional forms at the Kabaka’s court, too. Trained musicians informed the people about current events trough narrative songs. That was also a long time before.
Therefore theatre must be something natural that takes place wherever people are going to meet but they don’t meet naturally at a purposely built venue talking about the theatre building.
By the time when European theatre forms were brought to Uganda, there was a clear separation between performers and audience. The audience was passive and was only allowed to show it’s participation at the end of the play. In Uganda in contrary, every spectator is important for the performance itself. It is the tradition to comment the action through singing, shouting, dancing. There is nobody who just watches a traditional wedding ceremony for example. One can say that it’s therefore closer to real life.
The long tradition of theatre in Europe includes that there was a certain aesthetic and literary demand. I’m not saying that there is no in African theatre. But the difference is that Europeans conform more to the norms that have already started with the ancient theatre. Improvisation in African theatre leaves enough free room for comic effects, feelings, reactions so that the audience doesn’t have to follow a strict structure concerning the development of the plot.
The great thing for me about theatre is that there’s always a development. According to historical, political, economical, social and other changes, theatre is influenced and shaped. New forms emerge, older forms are rediscovered, different genres are mixed up. It does not only exist for entertainment, although entertainment is also part of life but in most cases it should express something. It’s something that certain people want to tell the others. Regarding to giving people a voice to articulate themselves, theatre in Africa/Uganda is nothing less or more than theatre in Europe or else where. Those various numbers of expression only depend on different cultures and formative situations where it’s sometimes hard to comprehend but in any case African theatre is never “primitive”, it’s just different.
2. Theatre under the missionaries and the British colonialists
Let me now come to the very beginnings that shaped African theatrical tradition from outside. In the 1880’s Christian missions, the Protestant Church Missionary Society and the Catholic White Father were fighting for power over Uganda. When the British declared their protectorate contract in 1890 the country was then divided by political parties.
But the British failed by thinking they could establish a political structure which relativises the ethnic tensions of the Ugandans. After all it was the British themselves who had created those tensions by making Kabaka Mutesa II president of the whole Uganda. One person only presenting one ethnic group. That was the start for enemy ship between different ethnic groups. Some felt excluded others felt disadvantaged and so on.