WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Because “African stories, like African people, can be absolutely everything,” and African women writers are breaking new grounds and redefining the very art of writing from the authentic African perspective.
Language is powerful and a lot of human understanding starts with the pen, the scribe, the playwright. For too long, narratives in theatre have locked African characters in positions of desolation or disease. Fortunately, writers such as Jocelyn Bioh, Ngozi Anyanwu, Tori Sampson, Danai Gurira and Aya Aziz are actively shifting this narrative. Their nuanced storytelling humanizes the ordinary experiences of extraordinary characters who happen to be African or direct descendants of African people.
The majority of Western theatre audiences are white, Anglo and Euro descendants. I don’t mention this because it is impossible for those audiences to understand our stories, I mention this because I think it is very likely that they will. It is likely that they will absorb these stories as sheer irrevocable truth. African/Diasporan narratives are often distant from their own personal, familial, and cultural experiences, so they are more inclined to take the portrayals they see on stage at face value. If Ugandans in The Book of Mormon are all riddled with AIDS, then surely it must be an epidemic that touches everyone native to the country. If the most widely accepted African story is set in the pridelands of The Lion King, then surely untamed topography expands over most of the continent. In order to combat these long withstanding stereotypes, we need more stories. And we need to entrust these stories to the writers who have actually lived with them.
Here are some of the women writers that are revolutionizing African storytelling on stage.
‘School Girls’ most recent run was at Lucille Lortel Theater from October to December 2018. The play will be filmed by WNET-TV this year.
NGOZI ANYANWU | ‘Good Grief’
TORI SAMPSON | ‘If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be A Muhfucka’
DANAI GURIRA | ‘The Convert’
AYA AZIZ | ‘Eh Dah? Questions for my Father’
According to writer Jinal Shah, “The most notable thing about [Aziz’s] story is that it reflects the identity conundrum young immigrants face. Her story offers different perspectives on the larger conversation surrounding the current issues of race, religion, and identity in the country which she effortlessly explains through her impressions of her family members.” Seeing as Aziz is a young Egyptian-American herself, she placed this girl at the center of the story, gave her a position of power and then demanded some of that power be called into question. Audiences are rarely offered the opportunity to witness a character acknowledging and then chipping away at her own privilege. Hopefully, the vast majority of theatre patrons who sit well above the poverty line follow suit.
‘Eh Dah?’ will run from March 28 to April 14, 2019 at the New York Theatre Workshop. Check here for more info.
While African tragedies should always hold a place in the canon of great theatre, they can no longer reign supreme. Works set on or about the continent can also be hysterically funny, awe-inspiring, provocative, lustful, romantic and religious. African stories, like African people, can be absolutely everything. And if theatre, and art in general, is to continue to serve as a mirror to society it should reflect the diverse humanity of African people and be told from an African perspective. Hopefully, with the works of these writers on the frontier, the Great White Way won’t stay that way for much longer.