Home » Dance and Theatre, Issue 009 May '11, Upcoming events

Street theatre is taking the floor in Uganda

Posted by start 28 April 2011 3 Comments
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What is “Street theatre” really all about? This writer grossed in wonder when hearing the phrase Street theatre performance. Is it like an acrobats show, or a magician act? Or a kind of voodoo done in public? How wrong one can be! The performance is an artistic potpourri that evokes important issues in our society.

Written by Grace Atuhaire, Bayimba Cultural Foundation

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Street theatre is defined as a theatrical performance presented in a public space for a non-paying audience. It can be used to convey simple social messages to the community, for instance to demonstrate and practice skills for social development and sustainability. And the real effect emerges when the performance manages to provoke a debate and dialogue between the performing group and the audience.

It is always challenging to capture random people’s attention. To this, the Street theatre performers have got a great deal of skits – i.e. sketches, parodies and spoofs – to offer. And it is needed; since in Uganda there is so much misunderstanding of social responsibility and cultural development.

From the Street theatre performance in Jinja, March 2011.

As Prynce – a model and an actor participating in the street theatre workshop – explains: “With acting in general, you don’t exaggerate. With this kind of training, I have learnt how to loosen up and control my body parts to get better at expressing myself in my acting career. I now know how to be loud without shouting.”

Organising a six-day workshop

“With poetry, you can write an experience without writing a script. With Street theatre, things are done spontaneously. It is abstract like writing poetry, and I have loved every minute of it,” says another participant, Otim, a poet.

The Street theatre workshop lasted from March 21st till March 26th 2011. It was facilitated by the international acclaimed artists Andre Dienske and Warner van Wely, and organised by the Bayimba Cultural Foundation at the Uganda National Museum.

From the Street theatre performance in Jinja, March 2011.

“Our communities have totally forgotten about the contribution of art and culture to development, which calls for action! With the current situation, there are several topics to present on the street that are of great importance to address. And who knows – maybe we are identifying some solutions,” says Faisal Kiwewa, the Director of Bayimba Cultural Foundation.

Desire, a dancer and a choreographer, have one thing in common with all other Street theatre performers in Uganda: Street theatre performance requires both mental and bodily meditation. These skills were practiced in the workshop among other basic elements or actions.

“To learn to communicate using only non-verbal body movements have been inspirational to me. I will use this knowledge to build up my creative props on stage; so grace yourself to more laughter on Barbed Wire comedy nights. It is going to be more hilarious,” affirms Okato, an actor and a comedian, another participant in the workshop.

From the Street theatre performance in Jinja, March 2011.

The premiere performance in Jinja

“I am impressed by the numbers of people that came to this event,” says Rosette, the workshop coordinator of Bayimba Cultural Foundation. This opinion was shared by many, including Mark, a freelance journalist who attended the event.

The first Street theatre performance was held on March 26th 2011, at the Bayimba Regional Festival of the Arts in Jinja. This event was given at the main street roundabout and took the crowd by surprise. The performances ranged from covering social issues, such as family relationships, to presenting a religious perspectives on politics and economy of Eastern Uganda.

“Now, what is this thing that they are doing…” a reveller commented as another one shouted on the phone to the receiver to come and see the “drama”. A comment like that shows exactly that our communities have not understood the value of their own Arts and culture, which is one of the objectives that are being addressed by the Bayimba Cultural Foundations through Arts Festivals.

From the Street theatre performance in Jinja, March 2011.

At the end of the day, I talked to Prynce again, a member of the performing group, and he said he expected to perform in front of either a disinterested bunch or a small crowd. He was overwhelmed by the turn up. It clearly shows that the grassroots in fact are eager to appreciate arts, but up until now they have not been given a good chance to be exposed to it. Thus, the local audience is still associating arts with tourists and expatriates more than finding themselves as the target group.

“One of the revellers came to me after the performances and asked which company we were advertising for, as they related to the yellow colours we wore to a telecom company or a political party. But he also recognised the different acts that we were performing and asked more detailed questions about the ‘Play’, as he called it,” added Prynce.

After Jinja: What is next?

In most places around the world people are always busy. They go on with their lives and only a few selected ones will give up time to attend an educational event voluntarily. However, in Uganda, where any slightest incidence can register hundreds of people, most people enjoy being entertained. And if the entertainment can come to you, even better!

From the Street theatre performance in Jinja, March 2011.

This was confirmed in Jinja, because regardless of how little people knew about the event that was taking place around the Mina street roundabout in advance, the crowds stayed and watched till the bitter end.

“Now, to perform these acts, these people must be taking Ganja,” another reveller suggested to his colleague.

Street theatre is a symphony that requires a flexible body and mind as anything can be stimulated by the environment. Up until now, this trend is still fresh among participants and consumers. But we are looking at the beginning of some tremendous, wonderful acts in Uganda.

The Street theatre group is here to stay as they are determined to carry on the performances to other areas in Uganda and the world. From April till September; they will feature at the Bayimba Festivals of the Arts in Arua, Gulu, Mbarara, Mbale and Kampala among other avenues. Read startjournal.org’s Events calender for specific information about time and place.

Grace Atuhaire is a writer in Uganda. She is currently working for the Bayimba Cultural Foundation.
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3 Comments »

  • okello ogwang said:

    A lot worthier paying attention to than the stuff that has been coming from the streets of Ugandan towns of recent

  • Linda N said:

    Great work Grace… I like the details
    🙂

  • Start – A Journal of Arts and Culture in East Africa » Blog Archive » Bayimba Festival: Champion of the Arts said:

    […] In addition we are supported by the Commonwealth Foundation, which funded the street theatre workshop. The interested results of that one have already been showcased in many regions of Uganda, and festival in Kampala will now be the final performances.” (Startjournal.org wrote about the experience of the street theatre workshop and performances in this… […]