Theatre, one of the earliest practices of multipartite form of fine art, is one of the highest expressions of human’s brainpower in the history of man. The reincarnation of words, thoughts and ideas through characters realized by means of the actors’ unique sense of acting and talents in front of an audience pin points its origins to the time of the ancient Greeks and their amphitheaters.
The one man stunt wearing big masks covering his face and head, while shuffling in multiple characters, in the semi lunar “place of viewing”, théatron, was well designed to have the sound echoed in a time of no amplifiers in front of an audience of approximately twenty thousand. In Greek the act of observing and seeing the work of stage is called theáomai. The overall aim of theater was to educate people of each decision’s, bad or good, consequences. An educational start that saw its photosynthesis, in comedy and tragedy, through different eras under the influences of social and historical factors.
Just rapidly frisking through the pages of the history book of théatron, I shall mention the names of memorable names in the arena such as Senecca and his tragedies, Molière and his chase for scandals during the Renaissance and let’s not please forget to mention the Shakespearean theater following the splendor England saw during the Elizabethan theater. Ancient Chinese have a prominent history of bringing smiles and joy through their theater of puppet shows, mimics and acrobatic shows dating back to the Shang Dynasty.
Theatre exists within societies. The very fact of one person standing in front of friends, family or companions to reenact day to day events must be a primordial form of theatre standing still. Therefore, the fact that theatre existed and still does in every part of the world is not a matter of debate.
The contemporary sense of modern theatre includes a rainbow of performances comprising visual and sound effects of plays and musical theatre. Theatre is nowadays a stage for magic where human mind and soul retain actors’ bodies seemingly to be boneless. The stage is a marvel of wits and talents with technology obviously ornamenting the primary magnificence of it all. Ballet, opera, acrobatics, musical theatre, animal circus, magic shows and acqua drama are some of the conventions related to acting in front of an audience. There is actually a real and proper science to it, which, by the way, involves countless professionals all contributing in carrying a successful stage performance to its smallest detail.
In Eritrea, modern theatre emerged under the Italian occupation. Alongside the building of Africa’s modernist city, Asmara, the culture of theatre grew simultaneously. Talents were housed in the magnificent ‘Teatro Asmara’, habitually called Cinema Asmara. The architectural wander was where few Eritrean actors and many from around the world came together in the artistry of theatre to the pleasure of Italians.
Nevertheless, despite the reservation of theatre exclusively to Italians, local bands flourished in notable numbers and music started going up in booze houses in less privileged districts of Asmara. Following colonization the Eritrean bands took on the stages of downtown. Their charming and entertaining factors were applauded even by none Eritreans and expatriates. Deep down theatre became a big part of the Eritrean revolution with its concealed messages behind the love letters of Romeo-like characters. At least, hidden to the eyes of the colonizers, the ardent desire of freedom was being resonated in the stages of Asmara. Going to theatres and cinemas soon became the hobby of Asmarinos and a way for patriots’ reunion. In few years the Eritrean theatre reached its splendor followed by a big jump in openness and publicity of the notion of nationalism, freedom and equality in the then very loved and followed stages, in the fields, during the armed struggle.
Sadly, the past couple of decades saw he decadence of Eritrean theatre. However, the vibrant young artists mostly of post-independence generations, are keen to uphold the legacy of Eritrean theatre. With the help of their much-loved teacher Efrem Kahsay, theatre professional director and instructor, aka Wedi Quada, theatrical art classes have been on the rise in the past years. Young boys and girls crowd in the hall of Kuwa five days a week trying to learn the basics of acting, writing and directing. Classes are facilitated by the Commission of Culture and Sport.
The most fascinating aspect is that these young students are aware of the importance theatre has in assisting the expansion of their developing country. They are intense and strong in their endeavor. They take their classes very seriously. They are proud of their history and the history of Eritrean theatre. They are also convinced that one day the Eritrean theatre will glow in international stages. It is, in fact, the reason why they heartily celebrate World Theatre Day, which fell on the same day as their own graduation.
This year, on the 27th March, Asmara, especially theatrical art graduates, celebrated the 70th anniversary of Word Theatre Day. World Theatre Day was initiated in 1961. The event is marked by different events in big theatres worldwide. Eritrea celebrated World Theatre Day last week for the 10th time in the celestial architecture of Teatro Asmara.
Alemseged Tesfai, renowned historian and writer, opened the ceremony with a message of the day underscoring the uniqueness of this year’s international Theatre Day for being commemorated at a time of the renaissance of the Eritrean Theatre.
As is customary, Ivory Coast’s multi-disciplinary artist’s WereWere Liking’s speech was also translated and recited at the event. World Theatre Day is famed for the circulation of the International Messages on the theme of Theatre and Culture of Peace. The first World Theatre Day International Message was written by Jean Cocteau, from France, in 1962.
Afterwards students put up monologues of a famous Eritrean poet, Mr. Beyene HaileMariam. A play entitled “Bella Robba’ was then staged by the students. It was a play that portrayed the life of Abashawl, Asmara’s poorest quarter, during the Ethiopian occupation. The comedy was brightened by the talent of these young student actors who were able to take the audience back to a time of atrocity and oppression, on the one hand, a time of great patriotism, companionship, brotherhood and youthfulness.
The event ended by an award giving ceremony of the trainees. The Commissioner of Culture and Sports, Ambassador Zemede Tekle, handed over certificates to the trainees.
During the play I heard the chattering of two women behind me. Upon seeing their children play as an Amhara booze owner woman and her lover, speaking in seemingly fluent Amharic while shouting war songs typical of the Amharic tradition, one mother asked the other if they were really their children and not of an Amhara kinship. The other answered saying “they are just extremely good, they are still our children”
This is how good, talented and promising these young trainees are. So much so that their own mothers couldn’t believe they came out of their own womb. Thanks to them and their instructors this is how bright and prosperous the future of Eritrean theatre looks like. This is how colorful the World Theatre Day’s celebration was in Asmara.