written by Ola Rotimi
Performed by the AfriCan Theatre Ensemble
June 16 to June 20, 1999
Wednesday to Friday at 8 pm
Reservations: (416) 408-1146
The AfriCan Theatre Ensemble is bringing its premiere production
of the Nigerian classic The Gods Are Not To Blame to
the new Artword Theatre on Portland Street for one week only, from
June 16 to 20.
The play, by one of Nigeria's leading playwrights, Ola Rotimi, uses the story of Oedipus the King to address contemporary issues in Africa and the world. Written in the dark days of the Nigerian Civil War, The Gods Are Not To Blame is a sharp warning to people to take responsibility for what is happening to them, rather than blaming everything on forces beyond their control.
The Gods Are Not to Blame is the AfriCan Theatre Ensemble's first production. It was performed in March at the Yorkwoods Library Theatre, and is now being transferred downtown to Artword Theatre.
The play has a cast of 29, including two drummers, and features music, dance and authentic African costumes. The playwright's script makes use of traditional Yoruba proverbs and idiomatic expressions translated into English, and these have provided an additional level of enjoyment to audience members familiar with the originals.
"Everyone in Nigeria studies this play in school," explains Modupe Olaogun, the Artistic Director of the AfriCan Theatre Ensemble, "but hardly anyone here has had a chance to see it. That's why I wanted to make this our first production."
Dr. Olaogun teaches communications at Humber College. In the summer of 1998, she sought advice from some experienced people, including George Seremba, an actor originally from Uganda and Luther Hansraj, a director from Guyana. Anne Chislett, the Artistic Director of the Blythe Festival, and James Roy provided the benefit of their experience in setting up a new theatre from scratch. They were amazed that anyone would want to start a theatre in the current economic climate, but were enthusiastic about the plans.
"I found that there were many talented people from Africa living in Toronto," Dr. Olaogun says, "who were not able to find work in theatre, but were working at other jobs. That's one reason why I started the company. There are many skilled people who are establishing their roots now in Canada, and have a lot to bring to our country. And, of course, one way of establishing roots is to be employed in what you are best at."
Bayo Akinfemi, the director of the production, is interested in the interplay between the Greek and the Yoruba traditions, as reflected in the work. "Sophocles explores the tragic fate of a man destined by the gods to kill his father and marry his mother. In Greek mythology, whatever the gods decree for humans must come to pass. In the African mythology explored by Ola Rotimi, however, there are ways to appeal to the gods to avert such horrifying experiences. Our play is a transplantation of the Greek experience."
"The play combines the universal and the particular in a very interesting way," Dr. Olaogun elaborates. "The universal theme, originally Greek, translates very well into an African context. Now we have reintroduced it into a Western context, with something new added. Every time this happens, we have a chance to see how the universality is played out again."
The AfriCan Theatre Ensemble will be one of the first companies to use Artword Theatre's new 150-seat theatre. Artword operated a 60-seat theatre for five years, during which it produced more than 100 events, including 10 original plays and musicals. For the last year, the company has been renovating an industrial building into an arts facility including the new theatre auditorium and a 1500 square foot art gallery.
"We're very impressed by what the AfriCan Theatre Ensemble is doing," says Artword's Artistic Director, Ronald Weihs. "By drawing on the resources of its community, this company is able to bring a level of spectacle to the stage that is all too rare nowadays, and is adding an important new element to the cultural scene."
For more information call Judith Sandiford (416) 408-1146 or Modupe Olaogun (416) 746-2312