Theatre in Ghana
A historical review of theater in Ghana includes traditional theatre, concert party theatre or popular theatre, literary theatre, and development theatre. Festivals, burials, weddings, and religious rites all featured traditional theater. Under the moonlight, moral stories were told to an attentive audience. These were not only for entertainment purposes, but also for artistic, political, social, and spiritual reasons. Traditional dance and music are frequently used in theater/drama. Theatre for development attempts to communicate development messages to target groups such as youth empowerment, teen pregnancy, social vices, and health education. Contemporary playwrights create literary theatre, which is influenced by traditional theater. Theater in Ghana is associated with traditions, customs, and rituals that are deeply embedded in people’s daily lives.
A History of Theatre in Ghana
Drama or plays are the most common forms of theatre in Ghana. It began in precolonial times on the Gold Coast and was formally established in the 1950s. Ghana’s theatrical arts have progressed from oral traditions and folklore manifestations to the proper staging of complex dramas. Drama in Ghana began as a way for people to enact oral traditions using body movement and dialogue to better illustrate the stories told, and gradually evolved into Ghana’s first form of stage drama.
Drama in Pre-colonial Ghana
Most pre-colonial Ghanaian ethnic groups, particularly the Akan, celebrated the full moon with storytelling and enactment. Reenactments of folk tales and past historical events involving ancestors to the younger and older generations alike took place in such displays. To entertain and educate the young, such performances included musical intermission (known as mboguo in Akan), poetry, and proverbial recitations reflecting the lessons learned from the stories. Back then, there was no electricity and there was a strong sense of community. These elements evolved over time, following the arrival of western culture (colonization), into themes, scripts, plots, diction, directors, actors, costumes, music, and special effects.
Theatre in Colonial Times
After a long day’s work, the colonial British masters of the Gold Coast entertained themselves. As a result, for entertainment and comedy, they attempted to recreate and reenact stories from England. There were numerous missionary activities in the country, with various Catholic and Protestant groups attempting to convert the locals to their respective faiths. One method they used to convey the message was to act out bible stories. Theatre was one of the subjects taught as part of the arts curriculum, and some of these children who grew up carried these skills into their communities.
Theatrical Arts after Independence
Following Ghana’s independence in 1957, the government introduced a new form of theatre arts, one that reflected an independent Ghanaian identity, as opposed to its predecessor, which was heavily infused with western colonial elements and did not promote Ghanaian culture. The government provided funding in 1958 to establish the Experimental Theatre Players, driven by Efua Sutherland and Joe Degraft. Efua Sutherland believed in using theatre to reach and engage as many people as possible, as well as to use drama as a means of social education and change.
‘The Ghana Studio’
Ghana’s government decided to increase the Experimental Players’ provisions and funding after being impressed by Efua and her team’s efforts. The president at that time, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was clearly impressed by how Ghanaians reacted to the group’s stage plays and programs. As a result, he established the National Symphony Orchestra in 1959. He recognized the value of interacting with people through theater. Following its success in 1961, the government endorsed the Experimental Players, and the project was renamed ‘The Ghana Studio.’
National Theatre of Ghana
The Ghana government commissioned the construction of a National Theatre in 1992, which eventually replaced the Ghana Studio. While the National Theatre was being built, the Ghana Studio was temporarily relocated from its previous location to the University of Ghana. The National Theatre was designed to resemble sails caught in the wind, propelling Ghana’s affluence out into the world. This new studio spawned stage plays by other great Ghanaian playwrights. The Ghana Studio was renamed The National Theatre Company upon the commissioning of the newly built National Theatre. The newly constructed Theatre is a multi-purpose venue for concerts, dance, drama, and musical performances, screen plays, special events, and exhibitions.
Its three resident establishments are the National Dance Company, The National Symphony Orchestra and the National Theatre Players.
The National Theatre Players has produced plays like:
- In the Chest of a Woman (by Efo Kwadwo Mawugbe)
- Saints and Sinners (by Latif Abubakar)
- Dear God Comma, Blackmail (by Uncle Ebo Whyte)
- The Slaves, the fall of Kumbi (by Mohammed Ben Abdallah)
The appreciation for theatre in Ghana is still growing. Many more people are getting introduced to the modern theatre with all its lighting and special effects. This is also encouraging playwrights to write more intriguing stories which drive social change.
The Concert Party
A Ghanaian concert party was a performance from the early twentieth century. It’s a popular theatrical tradition that includes everything from Latin phonograph records to African American spirituals to highlife tunes. The concert party presentations include dance, humor, music, and drama. Actors wore minstrel make-up and played a variety of mischievous characters, similar to Ghana’s popular figure Ananse the spider. For the majority of the twentieth century, roaming, marginalized, autonomous touring groups entertained large audiences in rural areas. In some parts of Ghana, people organize concert parties on occasion.
Notable Theatre/Drama Institutions in Ghana
There are a number of theater/dram institutions in Ghana. Notable are the:
- National Theatre of Ghana
- T. S. Drama Studio, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra
- School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra
Sources: culturalencyclopedia.org, greenviewsresidential.com