By Daniel Nigussie
An entertainment industry beleaguered by the aftereffects of a pandemic, political instability, and trademarking issues sees a ray of light as the creative minds behind some of the most striking theater productions in recent years prepare to take their most recent hit abroad following acclaim from local audiences.
BereketBelayneh and GirumZenebe are the men behind popular productions such as Festaleand Agendaye that have received wide acclaim for their poignant political commentary. The duo’s latest offering –Boletika– is another success.
The production offers a refreshing approach in the form of stand-up comedy. Unlike the pair’s previous works, Boletica does not rely on a structured narrative that unfolds from start to finish.
Instead,GirumZenebe’s performances are characterized by a series of humorous anecdotes, witty observations, and comedic routines that keep the audience engaged and entertained throughout the show.
What sets Boletika apart is its consistent and dedicated following. The program is showcased twice a week at a specific venue Alem cinema, drawing a significant number of people who eagerly await each performance.
It is evident that Boletika’s comedic talent and ability to connect with the audience have played a pivotal role in building a loyal fan base.
Girum’s stage presence, charisma, and relatable content create a lively atmosphere that resonates with spectators, prompting them to return for more laughter-filled evenings .The visibility and impact of Boletika have been further enhanced by the consistent attendance and positive word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied audience members. The regular schedule and exclusive location of the performances have contributed to the comedian’s growing reputation and recognition in the world of one-man theater.
Boletika has successfully established itself as a prominent and sought-after act, known for its unique blend of stand-up comedy and the ability to captivate audiences with its humor and wit.
It is the culmination of a lifelong journey for bothBereket and Girum.
Born and raised in Assela, Berekethas introduced a new dimension to Ethiopian theater with Girum and their dynamic one-man productions. Bereket’s journey as a writer and journalist began before he completed his secondary education at AselaChelalo School.
Reflecting on his childhood in Assela, Bereket fondly describes growing up in a happy family with three brothers. It was during his high-school years that he began experimenting with writing poetry and short stories with his friends.
However, it was not untilBereket began pursuing a degree in psychology at Jimma University that he began to realize his true calling lay elsewhere. The Jimma Art Center helped his passion for literature take flight and, following graduation, Bereket joined the state-run Fana Broadcasting as a journalist before delving into the world of literature.
It was then that he penned his famous book of poetry, “Spirit Height,” in Amharic, a decade ago.
“A lot of my initial creative ventures happened during my time at Jimma University. The Art Centre was instrumental in shaping my artistic sensibilities and encouraging our literary endeavors,” shared Bereket.
In 2013, while attending the monthly Poetic Jazz Night held at Addis Ababa’s Ras Hotel, Bereket had a life-changing encounter. GirumZenebe’s mesmerizing performance of AwgechewTerefe’s short story book, “Eyasmezegebku New,” left a profound impact on him.
“Girum’s portrayal of the character was so captivating that I felt a strong connection with the audience’s reaction. I knew we had stumbled upon something special,” Bereket reminisced.
Inspired by Girum’s performance, Bereket approached him with an idea to develop the character further and create a monthly series based on it. Initially, Bereket had contemplated writing about AwgechewTerefe’s character, but he felt it didn’t align with the core ideas he wanted to convey.
This led to the birth of a new character, “EyayuFenges,” who could address the pressing issues prevalent in Ethiopian society, government, economy, and politics.
Elaborating on the creation process, Girum underscored the significance of the character’s name.
“We wanted a name that encapsulated the negative aspects of society and brought attention to the challenges we face.’Fenges‘ perfectly embodies this idea,” he said.
The first live performance of EyayuFenges took place on July 4, 2013, during another rendition of the Poetic Jazz Night at Ras Hotel. Although the performance lasted just twenty minutes, it received an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience.
“Seeing the audience’s reaction to EyayuFenges was truly gratifying. It was evident that people connected with the character and the issues we were addressing,” Bereketsaid.
The success of their initial performance fueled the duo’s motivation, and they continued to develop EyayuFenges over the next twenty months, captivating audiences at the Poetic Jazz Night.
In 2018, Bereket and Girum turned EyayuFenges into a full-fledged theater production. Their first play, titled “Festalen,” ran for an impressive two and a half hours and was performed at Adot Cinema and Alem Cinema four times a week.
“Festalen was a turning point in our journey. The audience response was exceptional, and we were performing to sold-out shows four times a week for ten months,” Girumsaid.
Following their success in Ethiopia, Bereket and Girum embarked on a tour of the United States, showcasing their unique theater production in over twenty-seven states for eleven months.
“Our American tour exposed EyayuFenges to a wide range of audiences. It was heartening to witness the positive impact our character had on people from different cultures,” Bereket shared.
Agendaye, their following theater production, was intended to be a continuation of the first play Festalen.
However, the progress of Agendaye was abruptly halted due to the challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and the outbreak of war. The combination of these factors led to the declaration of a state of emergency, forcing the play to come to a temporary halt.
Reflecting on the situation, Bereket expressed his disappointment, stating, “It was disheartening to witness the interruption of Agendaye due to the prevailing circumstances. We had put significant effort and dedication into the production, and the sudden pause was a setback for us.”
While the theater industry has faced challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and political instability, Bereket believes in the transformative power of politics and its impact on society.
“Politics is the foundation of any country. It shapes the course of a nation and affects all aspects of our lives. Through our theater productions, we aim to shed light on these issues and spark conversations,” Bereket emphasized.
Despite the current low audience turnout in film and other media, Bereket and Girum’s theater productions consistently sell out.
“We have witnessed a decline in audience numbers for other forms of entertainment, but our theater productions continue to thrive. It is a testament to the impact and relevance of our work,” Girum pointed out.
While their productions have received praise and adoration from audiences, both Bereket and Girum acknowledge the challenges facing the Ethiopian art industry as a whole. Copyright infringement has become a prevalent issue, with artists falling victim to the theft of their ideas.
“Protecting intellectual property is crucial for the growth of the Ethiopian art industry. We need stronger copyright laws and awareness among artists to prevent unauthorized use of our work,” Bereket highlighted.
As partners in this creative venture, Bereket and Girum share their income equally, driven by their mutual respect and admiration for each other’s talents.
“I believe Girum deserves a higher income, given his exceptional contributions. However, we have always believed in equality and have chosen to split our income equally,” Bereket affirmed.
Looking towards the future, Bereket and Girum have ambitious plans to tour their new one-man theater production Boletika in foreign countries, including Europe, Australia, South Africa, and America. The demand for their shows abroad is already high, and they are excited to bring their unique production to new audiences.
The duo also aims to expand their presence in television programs and digital media platforms, exploring new avenues to reach a wider audience.
Bereket and Girum express their gratitude to their dedicated fans for their unwavering support.
“We are immensely grateful to our fans for their constant encouragement. We promise to continue delivering thought-provoking and engaging theater productions that resonate with our audiences,” Girum said.