Abate Mekuria, a renowned Ethiopian director, choreographer, and producer who worked in film, television, and theatre passed away this week of prostate cancer at the age of 76. Abate was one of the few directors who made a real impact on Ethiopian theatre.
Some of his prominent works include, ‘Hahu Besidist Wor’, ‘Abugida Keyiso’, ‘Melekte Wozader’, ‘Yementa Enat’, ‘Mekdim, ‘Gamo’ and ‘Alula Aba Nega’. He gave rise to Emperor Tewodros II with his unique insight and direction. Most of the plays he directed were written by Tsegaye Gebremedhin, and are full of long speeches in a highly allusive and extremely educated manner. Abate’s talent was to transform these long speeches in a captivating presentable manner. According to the World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Abate has a good control of crowds and his larger-than-life direction suits both Tsegaye’s plays and the vast stage. “The adaptations of Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet have endured in public memory not only for the beauty of the verse but also for the quality of the dramatic performances that they gave rise to under the direction of Abate Mekuria,” the encyclopedia read.
One of the prominent works of Mengistu Lemma, ‘Yalacha Gabcha’ (Marriage of Unequal) was also directed by Abate.
In addition to stage plays, Abate was able to experiment with outdoor spaces. One of his plays, Oedipus the King, was staged around a fountain commonly known as the kissing pool on the grounds of Addis Ababa University.
A couple of years ago, he also restaged one of the works of Kegn Geta Yoftahe Negussie—‘Afagegshign’. In addition to that, he scripted and directed a musical called “Shoeshine Musical”, which deals with contemporary social issues. This musical got him a critical acclaim and an international award.
Abate established Mekuria Theatre Studio and Entertainment PLC. This studio is the National Ethiopia Chapter for the East African Theatre Institute as well as a Center of Excellence for Theatre Development in Ethiopia. Abate received a Bachelor of Arts in English minoring in drama from Haile-Selassie I University. Abate was trained in film and media at the German Broadcasting Institute—Der Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). He also studied theatre and music directing at London Opera Centre, the Abbey Theatre in Ireland, as well as Western and American theatre in the US.
He also served as director of theatre at the Ethiopian National Theatre and director of Addis Ababa University Cultural Center. In the 1960s he also worked at the entertainment department of Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation formerly known as Ethiopian Television as a senior producer and director. Abate Mekuria has also directed the renowned reenactment of the preparation for the Battle of Adwa which was staged outdoors as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Addis Ababa and a documentary film along with it. This film brought together more than 400 people. In addition to EBC he contributed for BBC and ITV, Rediffusion, Granada Studios and ITN communication Media and Television College of Glasgow, UK in the late 1960’s.
His profound works also got him prizes from tge International Windybro Arts Festival, Johannesburg in 1966, UNESCO Award as African Guest Director and the Haile-Selassie I Prize. Abate was severely ill of prostate cancer some months. He had surgery a few months ago and was taken to Egypt for an advanced treatment. Later on his health deteriorated and was again hospitalized at Addis Hiwot Hospital until he passed away. Abate, who was laid to rest at the Holy Trinity Cathedral yesterday, is survived by his two children and grandchildren.