Decolonizing the Stage: Theatrical Syncretism and Post-Colonial Drama

Decolonizing the Stage: Theatrical Syncretism and Post-Colonial Drama

Decolonizing the Stage: Theatrical Syncretism and Post-Colonial Drama

Decolonizing the Stage: Theatrical Syncretism and Post-Colonial Drama

Synopsis

Decolonizing the Stage is a major study devoted to post-colonial drama and theatre. It examines the way dramatists and directors from various countries and societies have attempted to fuse the performance idioms of their indigenous traditions with the Western dramatic form. These experiments are termed 'syncretic theatre'. The study provides a theoretically sophisticated, cross-cultural comparative approach to a wide number of writers, regions, and theatre movements, ranging from Maori, Aboriginal, and native American theatre to Township theatre in South Africa. Writers studied include Nobel Prize-winning authors such as Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, and Rabindranath Tagore, along with others such as Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Jack Davis, Girish Karnad, and Tomson Highway. Decolonizing the Stage demonstrates how the dynamics of syncretic theatrical texts function in performance. It combines cultural semiotics with performance analysis to provide an important contribution to the growing field of post-colonial drama and intercultural performance.

Excerpt

The first impulse for this book goes back at least ten years. In 1985, during a tenure as post-doctoral student at the University of Munich, I received a letter from the Maori poet Hone Tuwhare containing information about his first play, On Ilkla Moor B'aht'at (In the Wilderness without a Hat), which had just been produced in New Zealand. This was followed by a copy of the script, which, on reading, I realized represented a new departure for drama and theatre in New Zealand. Not only was it a major play by the country's foremost Maori poet (at the time I erroneously thought it to be the first Maori play, full stop), but it contained an astonishing mixture of dramatic and theatrical styles. 'Western' naturalistic dialogue, a lot of which was in Maori, blended with the ritual intricacy and power of a tangi, a Maori funeral.

A year later I took up a position with responsibility for drama at another German university; it was suggested that this should include 'Commonwealth drama'. As I began preparing for these courses, I realized that, in terms of its integration of indigenous performance forms, Tuwhare's play was by no means unique, but was consistent with similar experiments throughout the post-colonial world. Tuwhare had, however, written his play independently and without knowledge of his post-colonial precursors such as Wole Soyinka or Derek Walcott, Ola Rotimi or Dennis Scott.

When it came to teaching these plays to German students, it became evident that the techniques of dramatic and theatrical analysis that had been developed for works from the Euro-American tradition had serious shortcomings when applied to post-colonial drama. It was not just a problem of historical and cultural background knowledge--many of the plays employed indigenous performance idioms which were entirely alien to their own experience, but which appeared in many cases to be central for grasping the works themselves. Neither the traditional approaches focusing on plot, character, and social-political criticism, or the more innovative thematic analysis coming from feminist and materialist schools of . . .

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