The search for a definitive concept of "black theatre" has ultimately led to the resources of the Yoruba pantheon of the gods. That the definition of a theatre should be sought in culture and deity is, of course, nothing new. We only need to look at the way the theatre in Western culture can be traced to the mysteries of Dionysus, from which it was possible to derive concepts of tragedy and comedy. Similarly, the origins of European theatre can be said to be located in the church-oriented, God-centered culture of medieval drama. Both these developments, in fact, suggest the ritual beginnings of theatre.
Scholars and practitioners of black theatre also have continued to reach out into the traditional culture in order to locate features of black expression. Plays abound, some of which will be examined later, which attempt to give expression one way or another to the black experience. Critical works that pursue concepts of this experience include Addison Gayle The Black Aesthetic, Errol Hill's collected essays in The Theatre of Black Americans, Amiri Baraka's ( LeRoi Jones) "The Revolutionary Theatre," Paul Carter Harrison The Drama of Nommo, and Wole Soyinka Myth, Literature and the African World.1
Regarding a concept of black theatre such as that I wish to define, Soyinka, for instance, has already set a precedent by locating tragedy in the mysteries of Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron and metallurgy.2 In Ogun, the creative essence, Soyinka argues, we find the origins of black (Yoruba) tragedy. For he was "the first creative artist (actor), the first suffering deity, first creative energy, first challenger and conqueror of transition"--the transitional gulf between the "chthonic realm" of the gods and the world of humans.3 However, Soyinka has not specifically explored much beyond his African locality, and it is only by mental extension that his concepts, especially as established in chapter 1 and the appendix, embrace the theatre in the black world.