The kind of theatre that took place before Ghana’s independence was primarily the closet type.
On the basis of critical analysisand evaluation, and technically, the early Ghanaian playwrights who wrote plays for staging, were not skilful and experience enough in terms of craft for playwriting to make their works suitable for the purpose of putting them on stage for audience.
Thus, these early Ghanaian playwrights were in fact trying to imitate western playwrights whose plays they had read and studied.
Thus, their attempts to write plays designed for the stage based on the western pattern were ineffective and unsuccessful to meet the requisite standards in the art of playwriting that is tailored for staging purpose.
The first known Ghanaian to write a play was called Kobina Sekyi. He wrote a play titled ‘’The Blinkards’’ in 1915, He was able to direct this play in the same year at the Cape Coast Town Hall for audience.
Kobina Sekyi was a lawyer by profession; but he had much interest and love for theatre, hence, he made the bold attempt to write a play.
However, by critical analysis and evaluation, ‘’The Blinkards’’ in all aspects of theatrical art is woefully found wanting and does not fit for the stage.
By conventional theatre practice, ‘‘The Blinkards’’is fraught with many weaknessess that will only make it suitable for reading for information and pleasure. ‘‘The Blinkards’’ therefore falls within the category of closet drama practice but not for the stage.
In drama and theatre practice business, all plays which have problems for staging purpose are aptly described in the arena of criticism as closet drama. ‘’The Blinkards’’ also falls in the category of commercial plays, characteristic of the nineteenth century playwriting during the era of Eugene Scribe and others, who crafted plays which were only commercially valuable and popular but lacked artistic skill in structure. These plays were labelled ‘’well-made plays’’ for their commercial viability and popularity with the masses.
The ‘’well-made plays’’ generated high box office for the producers, who inartistically forced them on to the stage for audience.
After KobinaSekyi, the next known Ghanaian playwright who made attempt at playwriting was Rev. F.K Fiawoo, the headmaster of Zion College of West Africa Anloga. He wrote a play titled ‘’The Fifth Lsndding Stage’’ and was able to direct it on stage during the occasion of Speech And Prize-Giving Day of the School at Anloga. This was in 1925.
By critical analysis and evaluation, ‘’The Fifth Landing Stage’’ has weaknesses in staging purpose; and rightly falls under closet drama category, althoughRev. F.K Fiawoo was able to direct it.
The next Ghanaian to write a play was in the person of Dr. J.B Dankwah a seasoned Ghanaian lawyer and a politician. He wrote the play titled ‘’The Third Woman’’. This was a highly philosophical play which was produced in 1943.
Although Dr. J.B Dankwah’s intention was to put the ‘‘Third Woman’’ on stage for the audience, the play falls short of the requisite qualities for conventional well-structured plays that can be put on stage for an audience as far as the craft for playwriting is concerned.
Thus, all the three early Ghanaians who made attempts at playwriting for staging purpose, were not successful and could not meet the conventional playwriting craft standards; although these plays were somehow directed on stage for audience.
Between the period 1935 to the early days of Ghana’s independence a number of local language plays emerged. The first of these plays was titled, Nana Agyeman HweHwe. This was written by Emmanuel J. Osew in Akuapem Twi. It was published by the Presbyterian Book Depot, Accra in 1941.
The local language plays were so popular that Osew’s play was reprinted ten times.
The market potential of the local plays encouraged a host of Ghanaian playwrights who wrote in Akuapem Twi, Asante, Ewe, Ga and Fante.
The mission schools proved ready market for these and used them as text books.
Ironically, it was the post-independence educational system that discouraged the use of these plays. But at the same time the government invested heavily in building the Bureau of Ghana Languages to encourage publication in the local languages.
It must be noted that the early attempts made by the three Ghanaians mentioned in this article at playwriting, did inspire and engineer other Ghanaians to write plays, particularly in the local languages such as Twi, Asante, Akuapim,Fante, Ewe, Ga, Dagbani, Nzema etc. In fact it kindled the creative writing spirit among many Ghanaians.
And this promoted the cultural industry or the creative writing industry to incite the developmental process of the country during the early days before independence; and in fact impacted significantly on Ghanaians writers and playwrights during the period after independence.
The post-independence playwriting which took off in a whirl wind fashion saw the era of Ghanaian playwrights such as Efua Sutherland, Joe De Graft, Bill Marshall, Ama Ata Aidoo, AsieduYirenkyi, Mohammed Ben Abdallah, Martin Owusu and others, who displayed great skills of conventional playwriting designed for the stage.
Obviously, these post-independence Ghanaian playwrights learnt a lot from the mistakes of their predecessors of the pre-independence era; and therefore they did write their plays to suit the stage.
In this way, the pioneer of play writing in Ghana, Efua Sutherland wrote ‘’Foriwa’’ and followed it with ‘’The Marriage Of Anansewa’’. These two plays were expertly and artistically written for the stage.
Joe De Graft, a prominent Ghanaian playwright, and a collaborator with Efua Sutherland in the founding of literary Ghanaian theatre, also wrote ‘’Sons And Daughters’’,‘‘Through A Film Darkly,’’ ‘’Muntu’’ These plays were tailored for the stage in drama and theatre practice.
The most outstanding Ghanaian playwrights of the Post-independence era are in the persons of AsieduYirenkyi and Mohammed Ben Abdallah. Both playwrights are renowned in the Ghanaian and African situations, and have written a great number of plays which are skilfully crafted for the stage.
Other post-independence Ghanaian playwrights such as Bill Marshall, Ama Ata Aidoo, Martin Owusu have all written good plays which arestagable plays for Ghanaian and African audiences.
Mohammed Ben Abdallah is well known for his ‘’Abibigoro’’ concept of African theatre, which has set him apart from his contemporaries. He continued search for an authentic African theatre has made him famous in the Ghanaian and African situations. He postulates and advocates theatre of relevance.
Mohammed Ben Abdallah’s plays such as ‘’The Alien King, The Trial of MallamIllya, The Fall Of Kumbi, Land Of A Million Magicians etc’’ and his contemporary, Asiedu Yirenkyi’s “Kivuli, Daasebre, Lovenet, “The Red Ants have tremendously not only impacted on the Ghanaian cultural industry or the creative writing industry for that matter, but also incited and influenced the developmental process of Ghana since independence.
By critical analysis and evaluation, the post-independence Ghanaian playwrights have immensely contributed to the developmental process of Ghana up to the present by their works.
However, one must not lose sight of the fact that the pre-independence Ghanaian playwrights’ plays did significantly influenced and impacted on the post-independence playwrights, and as a result, helped the latter to skilfully and artistically write their plays to suit the stage.
This process significantly developed Ghanaian playwriting and made it possible for Ghanaian playwrights to pattern their plays that will not only be realistic and meaningful; but also influential and inciteful for the development of Ghana.
It is indisputable that Ghana’s present developmental aspiration, Ghana beyond aid agenda, is directly and indirectly influenced by the post-independence Ghanaian playwrights and their predecessors of the pre-independence era.
This so, because playwrights and for that matter writers are great assets of every nation. This is because, they are like prophets or seers who guide the society’s continual aspirations for progress, development and prosperity. By their works or writings the society or a nation is influenced and guided; this in turn triggers off developmental process.
In conclusion, I assert that the pre-independence and the post-independence playwrights and for that matter theatre, have collaboratively contributed to make strong impact and influence in the developmental process of Ghana since independence up to the present.
Undoubtedly, Ghana’s present developmental agenda, Ghana beyond aid owes its incitement and inspiration from the cultural industry of Ghana, and for that matter, the writing industry; of which playwriting and theatre productions, are powerful and excelling in the influence of the society or the people to move forward in developmental programmes or aspirations.
By Micheal Akenoo: Theatre Critic