This article is about the theater art form, which is supposed to have been created with the creation of humans or their entry into the world. The emphasis will be on the strength and energy of theater art. The author of this essay briefly discusses selected practices and activities that may represent worldwide theatrical arts experiences to facilitate analysis.
In connection with this, there will be an observation on our country’s theater movement. One example is bringing Babylon to the Salon Theater.
The power of theater in different countries and countries
It might be remembered that in Greece, where the theater is said to have originated, the strife or fight between the people of Athens and Sparta, where the Athenians beat the strong Spartans to their knees, formed the energy of the theater art.
It is known in Rome that they investigated the art of theater in the philosophy of the Roman era’s infinite desert, and it was a medicine for conquering the misery and tragedy that occurred during the Greek invasion at the time.
The middle ages saw the introduction of theater within the church. Spiritual preachers of the time used it to teach by presenting Bible stories in the form of theater, which could not be easily imparted to the congregation through oral preaching.
This can be interpreted as another method of communication. Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and other writers ruled supreme during the Elizabethan period.
The theater was crucial in teaching new terms to the English people. Words introduced by playwrights, particularly by William Shakespeare, are still used by the English today.
Don’t you wish to leave a theater art legacy? Many problems concerning the power of theater art can be raised at any age and in any country.
According to the researchers’ records, one of the key strategies employed by promoters of various ideologies or views that originated and were presented to the globe in order to explain their beliefs and instill followers in their people was theater.
On the other hand, it is well known that there is a debate between those who believe that the benefit or purpose of theater art is solely for the art itself and those who believe that the issue or purpose of theater art is only useful for others. Debate and litigation are still ongoing.
The important point is that both sides feel theater is useful and strong, but neither knows why.
New theater philosophies introduced in Europe after WWII among people struggling with the tragedy of Sinai, who were in the memory and trauma of the chaotic and horrifying events created by the war at the time by theater people like Samuel Beckett, introduced absurd theater forms or forms for their benefit.
Finally, they harnessed the power of the theater to spread their ideas. In recent years, experts with strong beliefs other than those who claim that the benefit of theatrical art is to entertain and educate, or that it is for its own sake, have developed.
These organizations are the promoters and practitioners of the theater for the oppressed movement. Augusto Ball, a Brazilian, is the main proponent of this topic.
This movement was presented as a master’s degree in the Department of Theater Arts at Addis Ababa University in our nation called Theater and Development six or seven years ago. Theater practitioners are adopting this movement or idea under several names, such as theater therapy, Newspaper Theater, Forum Theater, Museum Theater, Theater in Education, Legislative Theater, Community Theater, and so on.
The issue is theater art’s potential and drive. It is about employing what we believe and say is correct.
The points I cited above prompt me to look into a topic linked to theater that I recently witnessed on a TV show. These are the issues that prompt me to inquire and allow others to answer.
The point is, in that particular TV broadcast, the person claims to have seen Babylon in the Salon, which has been performed in the Ethiopian National Theater for the previous 22 years and has been shown 76 times at the Salon Theater.
Wudneh Kefle, a prominent writer, wrote the play, and Tesfaye GebreHana directed it. Professionals such as Alemahehu Tadese, Fikadu Kebede, Lule Ashagari, and Hintsete Tadese are always participating in theater performances. Rachel Teshome, Daniel Tegegne, and others are players in the play, and others alternately act in it.
Is it possible that this theater was able to continue for 22 years because the public enjoyed it? How did the audience manage to watch it 76 times without becoming bored?
Although factual support is tough to come by, it is not unreasonable to assume that there are spectators who have watched the theater 40 or 50 times. It should be noted that in the preceding paragraphs, I attempted to support the potential of theater art.
So, what is Babylon’s potential in the salon theater? Is it about the story’s subject and the message it conveys? Wudneh is one of the few playwrights in our country whose works feature a front row. He once wrote four Sunday plays for four different venues at the same time. That’s why I referred to the prolific author as the author above.
Despite this, it should be noted that he had numerous plays written after Babylon that were taken down after their stage time. Among them, the fact that it has only lasted a fourth of Babylon’s stage life distinguishes Babylon.
So, what is the secret to its two decades of uniqueness? Is the play staged in an interesting or novel way? Or did the performers’ acting skills shine through when it came to costuming the characters they played?
In this situation, no theater has ever appeared on this stage in our country’s history of the theatrical art movement. As a result, no one in the crowd has seen the same theater 47 times. Including the author, director, actors, technical teams, and experts, as well as the theater itself, the audience is also historical.
During the interview, the audience said, “I’ll keep looking forward to the future as long as Babylon is on stage and I’m still living. I said Babylon or death.”
What is the source of this theater’s strength and vitality?
A similar issue was once posed to me as a theater teacher by the makers of an ETV entertainment program. The program was planned about the same time as Babylon celebrated its 14th year on stage.
“A question can only be answered when focused research on the issue is performed,” I responded at the time. However, this theater has survived another eight years and is now in its 22nd year. The need to find answers to problems is growing and has reached a height today, with a new research focal direction for the same.
“I shall continue to watch it as long as I live and the theater is open. Babylon or death in the salon,” as the saying goes.
Attempting to answer the following questions will provide energy to the issue I’ve presented, but it will not move me out of the line of thinking I’ve raised. How did our country’s governments utilize theater at different times? What is the current state of affairs?
During Emperor Haile Selassie I’s rule
With his great love for education, the monarch emphasized that the profession should be backed by knowledge, so he dispatched people like Tesfaye Gesesen (Ass. Prof.) to study theater in foreign countries. It was beneficial to send and learn. But what exactly is Ethiopian theater?
The query was not addressed. The question persists to this day for these and other reasons.
During the Derg regime
The regime was utilizing theater as an echo of its ideology, denying absolute creative freedom. Theater cannot progress without creative freedom. So it’s clear what the level of wisdom was in doing theater at the time.
In the EPRDF Era
It presented something that even experts in the specific art form found perplexing. It has no distinct philosophy known as “developmental theater.” Was it done consciously or unknowingly by the regime?
I can respond by arguing that it was intentional.
The artist was forced to become a member and cadre of the system, preventing them from exercising their artistic independence and becoming autonomous. Either participate in the system or lose your job.
At the time, these were the only options accessible to theater professionals. If they refuse, the passage of time causes them to search for and chase them off the road of wisdom. Or they will make them bitter and quit their jobs Wisdom is lost when the wise die.
For these and other reasons, it can be claimed that the potential and vitality of theatrical art were not utilized during the EPRDF era.
In the Prosperity Era
It would be laborious to try to enumerate the drawbacks other than to say that just one of the five theaters in Addis Ababa that were in operation during the current prosperous regime is currently showing relevant plays.
It is deserving of what it means to have a theater performance on the Sabbath. What is the reason that Babylon in the Salon is able to stay on the stage as it was when all five theaters in Addis Ababa city were filled with theaters from Tuesday to Sunday, save for Mondays, and even now, when theaters are out of business due to renovations and relocations?
Time and system change are irreversible. What will be the secret of its reign without competition in the current globe, country, city, and people where lifestyles, beliefs, and many other things have changed dramatically?
So I’ve asked a lot of questions and tried to indicate what I thought would be the answer.
What do you think?
Until we have a satisfactory response, let us say “Babylon in Salon Theater or Death,” as the historical audience did!
(Ephrem Lemma Belayneh is a lecturer and Head of the Film and Media Studies Unit at Addis Ababa University, CPVA School of Theatre Arts. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].)
Contributed by Ephrem Lemma Belayneh