Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
It is not a culture of silence. Sometimes, yes, there is stasis, a seeming acquiescence. But, believe me, there is simmering ferment going on all the time. People may be hobbled by the superiour power, the ruthlessness, of a regime like Abacha’s. But… talk to the people who come out from time to time; look at the underground press in Nigeria, the risks they take. They are jailed, they are brutalized by the police, their families are sometimes taken hostage. For me, this is reality, this underground reality. The culture of resistance begins gathering force, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. You never can tell which way it will go.
--Wole Soyinka, interview in American Theatre, 1997
Wole Soyinka is a Nobel Prize winning author and a prominent scholar and activist from Nigeria. He also served as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media, and communication. Throughout his illustrious career, Soyinka has been an advocate for human rights, often at great cost to his own safety. In 1965, he was arrested after supporting the cancellation of rigged elections in Western Nigeria and again in 1967 for his attempts at brokering peace during the Nigerian Civil War. In June of 1993, the military prevented an elected civilian government from taking power, installing instead a puppet civilian who was toppled within weeks by General Sanni Abacha in an obvious pre-arrangement. For speaking out against the dictatorship, Soyinka was forced into exile in 1994 and charged with treason in 1997.
Soyinka wrote The Beatification of Area Boy in the early 1990s and first announced plans for the production to premiere in Lagos in 1994. However, when the dictatorship of Gen. Sanni Abacha forced Soyinka into exile, the production was moved to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, UK where it was directed by Jude Kelly. On opening night, the Nigerian government announced that nine activists for the Ogoni people would be executed, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, a friend and colleague of Wole Soyinka. Like Soyinka, Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian author and activist. He was a member of and advocate for the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority who live in Ogoniland, an oil-rich region in Southeastern Nigeria. Both Soyinka and Saro-Wiwa helped to expose the ethnic cleansing of the Ogoni people that was perpetrated by the military dictatorship of General Sanni Abacha. Several weeks later, the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the other activists who came to be known as the Ogoni 9 prompted international outrage at such egregious human rights violations. Soyinka reflects that, “Even though this play was written before the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight Ogoni people, there’s no way anybody would see this play—which involved the military, and takes place in Nigeria—without immediately thinking of this universally traumatizing event” (American Theatre 27-28). The lighthearted, comic dimensions of The Beatification of Area Boy operate in constant tension and dialogue with the gruesome violence of its context.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
On Labor Day, quite fittingly, our work began. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka came to the Duke campus to work with the students and creative team on his play The Beatification of Area Boy. The play is rich in history and culture and music and multimedia and comedy. Follow with us as the story of our production unfolds, from the words of the playwright to the behind-the-scenes design to the musical composition to the day-to-day rehearsal process. Lagos, Nigeria is the setting, but is Lagos really so different from countless other cities, both here and abroad? And is the corruption in Lagos unique? Join us to find out...