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From the stage to the streets

By Vision Reporter

Added 25th September 2011 03:00 AM

A group of 10 artistes have taken a brave stand. They have let the general public label them “mad”. They are the Street Theatre performers.

A group of 10 artistes have taken a brave stand. They have let the general public label them “mad”. They are the Street Theatre performers.

By Emmanuel Ssejjengo

A group of 10 artistes have taken a brave stand. They have let the general public label them “mad”. They are the Street Theatre performers.

Street theatre, in the ideal sense of the word, is new to Uganda. It has only been with us for less than a year, but whenever it takes place, it attracts crowds, who react differently to the performances. There is the reasonable shock. Then there is the sheer amusement and sometimes, some audience members will heckle at the performers.

History
From time immemorial, there have always been street performances in Uganda. In more traditional societies, there were renowned performers, who used to move from village to village and perform for anything. There are street preachers, who put up some of the most memorable performances. Dikula and the Omudedeso groups are some of the more recent popular street performers. They have ranged from musicians, clowns to acrobats. However, without elaborate sets, professional costuming and well-written scripts, they just did not fit into the internationally recognised definition of Street Theatre.

Humble beginnings
In March this year, two internationally-recognised Street Theatre performers and directors came to Uganda and held Street Theatre workshops courtesy of Bayimba Cultural Foundation. The workshop participants formed a Street Theatre group thereafter. Since then the group has gone ahead to perform in Kampala along Parliament Avenue, Jinja, Arua (where the audience braved a drizzle), Gulu, Mbarara and Mbale.

The group’s play, Flying Potholes, is a farcical presentation that is not only a tale of potholes in Uganda but also of spiritualism and physical strength.

What’s the fuss with street theatre?
The major attraction to street theatre comes from the fact that it is native to Uganda. Paying for entertainment is foreign. In past years, entertainers simply used to call on people, place a collection basket where people would drop money for the performers. In later years, street performers would first tease an audience, then ask for a minimal amount of money to be raised before the main performance kicks off.

In case the audience failed to come up with the required amount those who contributed would be refunded. Sometimes, performers would be rewarded with food, alcohol and other presents.

With this background to street performances, Street Theatre steps in to cover an entertainment void. Unlike most other street performances, Street Theatre is run professionally. It is scripted and directed. Costuming, stage sets and use of props is paramount. Streets are often noisy places and Flying Potholes uses less dialogue. It depends on the visual intelligence of the audience.

Censorship
Street Theatre has often provided the answer to censorship in many countries. Uganda is no exception to the rule. Managers of playhouses have the power to cancel a production they deem unfit. And in the same breadth, the Government too has the power to stop a play.

The most recent such incident took place in2005 when the Government stopped the staging of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. Street theatre takes place spontaneously. However, because it may cause chaos, Uganda’s Street Theatre company often gets Police permission before a performance.

Last Friday, the company took its performance to National Theatre’s parking yard after Police denied it permission to perform on the streets for security reasons. Throughout the Bayimba Festival last week, the group regularly came up with skits that took attention away from the main stage.

The Ugandan audience is unique. It often gets involved and easily incited, so while an actor may comfortably “play” with fire; an audience member trying the same could burn up an entire building.

And often times, Ugandans do not silently watch on during these performances. They shout out their reactions to all and sundry, which might disturb the peace of others not interested.

From the stage to the streets

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