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What Is Modern African Drama? by timibofa1: 10:48am On Jul 07, 2016
Improvisation in Modern African Drama


Ayebanoa, Timibofa
Department of English
University of Uyo

Giving modern African drama a definite definition has remained a literary challenge over the decades. Therefore, this essay is a product of the above problem. It attempt to define modern African drama anchoring on relevant scholars. The paper also brings to fore a few definitions by a few scholars which however, do not stand the test of time due to their inability to meet certain criteria. Beside that the writer also brings to light the concept of improvisation, a central tool for the modern African dramatist for his creation. The study concludes that giving modern African drama a definite definition will remain a research topic for scholars and will remain a major headline of conferences, seminars, symposiums etc until African writers see African literature (drama) with same lenses.

What is modern African Drama?
The definition of modern African drama has always generated argument among scholars over the years, just as scholars have not been able to give a standard and harmonious definition of African Literature generally. Over the years, the unsettled issues have always bordered round language, characterization, setting, authorship, theme, culture reflected in the text (local colour), and audience, etc. While some have argued that, before a work could be called an African work, it should be written in indigenous African languages. Some argue it should be able to reflect the African culture through local colouration and the audience should be African. Yet others see it in line of authorship that is; the writer of an African play must be an African and should be able to demonstrate the African experience by assigning roles to characters that bear their origin to Africa. More so, some insist that any work tagged African must capture the African ugly experiences which should form his/her central theme and focus.
Yemi Ogunbiyi, a popular dramatist of Nigerian descent in his book Drama and Theatre in Nigeria: A Critical Source Book, offered a relevant definition on modern African drama. According to him, African drama is a product of man’s desire to establish a link between him and his presumed invisible being and please him through various forms of rituals and enactment which later became ritualized as drama. Therefore, to him, modern African drama is an innovation or an improved version of traditional African drama. He sees modern African drama as that form of drama that has been influenced by the European language and tradition still reflecting the African culture and experiences in it which may or not be written by Africans.
Another, famous scholar whose contribution has offered modern African drama much recognition is Abiola Irele, is his essay ‘’The Criticism of Modern African Literature’’ consider modern African drama as that form of literature with a legitimate African signature that captures modern African culture detached from western influence except language. He sees modern African drama as that literature that exhibits authentic African experiences only which must be composed by an African.
Similarly, modern African drama has also been described according to Dasylva, Ademola in his Cross-cultural Influences and Correspondences in Contemporary Nigerian Drama as any form of literature that reflects the contemporary issues in African society in diluted European languages usually by an ideal African. His position is not different with Bakari’s who looks at modern African drama as theatrical plays written to mirror the modern life style and culture on paper or stage.
Accordingly, Steve Ogude, et al; in Eagle In Flight: The Writings of Sam Ukala, Considered modern African drama as an offshoot of the traditional African drama in distinct language and style. Same is the position of Ikiddeh in his ‘’what is African literature? – Restatement of the Problems and Propositions’’. From the above it clears that; the idea of a definite definition has remained a serious problem. However, having considered the positions of the above scholars, we can define modern African drama as that kind of drama that is influenced by European models, with a diluted language pregnant with local colouration encapsulating the African experience using vivid African imageries with African characters situated in African soil by an African targeted towards improvised African setting, audience, concentrated on Africa culture, reflecting its thematic preoccupation and focus .In order words, modern African drama is a new form of drama composed in the tradition of Europe but with African colouration in terms of theme, language, setting, authorship, culture, audience, improvisation.

Modern African Drama And Improvisation

Mineke Schipper-de Leeuw in his ‘’Origin and Forms of Drama in the African Context’’ argues that modern African drama is a by product of traditional African drama. This to him is true because, a cursory study of modern African plays reveal that they owe much of their style to oral tradition. But one thing is sure, most African dramatist never lived to see those epics, myth, legends, and folktale but reads them on paper. Therefore, to really capture there vividness they use the theatrical tool of improvisation to give the audience a true picture of the idea.

What is improvisation?

This is a form of dramatization without the use of script (Lawal, 12). However, on a broader sense it means the process of creating theatrical tools or element to convince the reader. No doubt, modern African dramatists do this a lot in their works. A study of modern African plays reveals that their characters, setting, audience are improvised. This is because writers want to give vivid but diluted images of the past. Clark’s Ozidi is perfect example of an improvised character and stage. Clark attempts to tell the story of an Izon legend using improvised characters and locale to send home his message. Another improvised play is Morountudun by Femi Osofisan. What about Kurunmi by Ola Rotimi where he improvised the Ijayi and Oyo warriors. From North and South Africa we see same in Ebrahim Hussien’s Kinjetele and Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi is Death respectively. The above play are all improvised because they do record the exact event and scenes but related ones using similar audience, setting and characters.
Improvisation is an element of modern African drama because as a tool, it enables the modern dramatist to create something out of nothing. In a way, improvisation is another form of imagination because it gives the dramatist an ample opportunity to visualize the ideal stage, characters, audience and locale.

This paper has attempted a definition of modern African drama using relevant authorities as its base. It has also averts the divergent views of the cited literary scholars. The writer has also pointed out those parameters like language, authorship, setting, audience, culture etc. that have always remained points of conflict when defining modern African drama. Therefore, the paper concludes that the definition of modern African drama will remain a controversy until, African writers criticise drama wearing same lenses.

Works Cited

Abiola, Irele.‘’The Criticism of Modern African Literature’’: Historic Essays on African Literature, Language and Culture. Uyo: Minder, 2005. Print.

Dasylva, Ademola .Cross-cultural Influences and Correspondences in Contemporary Nigerian Drama. In S. Ademola Ajayi Ed. African Culture & Civilization, Ibadan: Atlantis Books.2005. Print.

Hammed, Lawal. Fundamentals of Theatre Arts. Glory Land Publishing Company:Nigeria, 2001. Print.

Ikiddeh, Imeh. : Historic Essays on African Literature, Language and Culture. Uyo: Minder, 2005. Print.

Mineke Schipper-de Leeuw.’ Origin and Forms of Drama in the African Context’ .np.
Osofisan, Femi. Morountodun. Lagos: Longman, 1999. Print

Ola Rotimi.Kurunmi. Ibadan: University Press, 1971. Print.

Ogunbiyi, Yemi, “Nigerian Theatre and Drama: A Critical Profile”. Drama and Theatre in Nigeria: A Critical Source Book. Ed. Yemi Ogunbiyi. Lagos: Nigerian Magazine, 1981, 36-37. Print.

Steve, Ogude, et el. Eagle In Flight: The Writings of Sam Ukala. n.p.

Uwem, Affiah. Ethnodramatics: Towards A Theory for Indigenous African Drama: Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (JHSS) ISSN: 2279-0837, ISBN: 2279-0845. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Nov. - Dec. 2012). Print.

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Re: What Is Modern African Drama? by iyanuoluwa2017: 6:23pm On Jun 14
This is awesome. I love this.

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