That theatre in Ghana saw its greatest vibrance and fillip under the government of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah the first president of Ghana cannot be disputed by any honest and sincere observer of the Ghanaian theatrical scene since independence. Nkrumah was indeed a great theatre lover and had great passion for the promotion and development of theatre practice in the country which is unprecedented up to date.
It is on record that Nkrumah formed his own theatre group known as the Osagyefo Players at the Flagstaff House where he resided during his tenure of office as President OF Ghana. The Osagyefo Players performed at the Flagstaff House in his presence and some of his cabinet ministers of government as well as some invited distinguished guests; both Ghanaians and foreigners to be in audience for the performances.
Assisted by Efua Sutherland the leading pioneer of theatre practice in Ghana, President Nkrumah established the Arts Council Of Ghana to serve as the spring board or catalyst for the promotion and development of theatre practice and theatre psyche in the country. Had this great passion and enthusiasm for theatre and its psyche in Ghana been sustained, Ghana would have reached a very high level of theater practice comparable to that of highly developed countries such as the U. S, Britain, China, Japan etc and for that matter, all the developed countries in the world. Alas! This has not been the case; theatre was thrown to the dogs after the overthrow of President Nkrumah in February 24, 1966 in a military coup de – tat.
Since the overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah, theatre practice and its psyche had been on the continuous downtrend; and at the moment, it appears theatre practice and its psyche is in an arid or dearth situation! This is a very sad situation for Ghana as far as progress and development are concerned. It is therefore very urgent for the arrest of this spiral and all concerned Ghanaians should make effort to change this unfortunate situation.
In his book titled, Black African Theatre And its Social Functions, Tayeb Sadiki, a renowned Moroccan dramatist and scholar states the following: “ if you want to build a nation, start with a national theatre” How true is this in the development of countries in the past and in the present! Ancient Greece was able to attain her Golden Age of civilization in the 5th century B.C ,through the development and practice of theatre. Pericles the King, and all the citizens of Greece involved themselves deeply in the practice and promotion of theatre during this period. And this led to the great achievement of Greece during this period of history.
Similarly, in our modern times, China has been able to reach her present enviable level of development and economic power through the development and practice of her indigenous theatre! The U. S. is another typical example of great development and economic power in our modern times.
The U. S. is indisputably the greatest power on earth today; and she derives 2/3 of her revenue for her economy from theatre practice and its psyche. One can therefore imagine the vital role that theatre plays in the life of nations! Why can’t Ghana take a cue from this fact about theatre and its psyche, and develop her theater to the highest level and make the country very wealthy and great? Ghanaian theatre must not be allowed to experience dearth and negate the efforts that Ghana is making at the moment towards progress and development to attain economic freedom and power.
The progress and development of Ghana undoubtedly depends on theatre, and no knowledgeable and sane person can deny this truth! Ghana cannot still be wandering in the wilderness in terms of progress and development whilst she is end owned with great theatre potential that is yet to be exploited to the highest level. This state of affairs is not in the best interest of the country; and must be immediately addressed. All hands must be on deck to unravel this long standing enigma that has bedeviled the Ghanaian theatrical scene since the overthrow of President Nkrumah of blessed memory!
There was a glimmer of hope on the Ghanaian theatrical scene when Dr. Mohammed Ben Abdallah a renowned African play wright and theatre practitioner arrived in the country from the U. S. in 1982 and began feverishly to revive theatre and its psyche in the country. Abdallah was able to do this when he was appointed as a minister in the PNDC/NDC government of Jerry John Rawlings. Besides being a minister of government, Abdallah was a lecturer at the School Of Performing Arts, University Of Ghana Legon, but in spite of these two busy roles, Abdallah found time to organize and to direct theatrical programmes and activities in the country.
As a result of his advice and direction, Jerry John Rawlings PNDC government obtained a huge loan worth 10 million U. S. dollars from the Chinese government which was used to build the national theatre of Ghana. This building was officially opened for operation by President Jerry John Rawlings in December 1991. It is evident that the efforts of Abdallah towards the revival of theatre and its psyche in the country culminated into the building of the national theatre of Ghana, and one can also witness and testify that the period 1980’s and the 1990’s saw the Ghanaian theatrical scene bounced back to life once again, reminiscent of the Nkrumah’s era when theatre had its great birth, nurture and rapid promotion in the country.
The Ghanaian theatrical stage was flooded with different kinds of play performances at various places in the country such as the Centre For National Culture (Formerly Arts Council of Ghana, Accra) Kumasi Cultural Centre, KNUST Auditorium, Koforidua Cultural Centre etc. Plays from Abdallah, Asiedu Yirenkye, Efua Sutherland, Bill Marshall, Ama Atta Aidoo, Martin Owusu etc frequently flooded the Ghanaian theatrical stage, which were very interesting and appealing to theatre lovers and audience. As a result of this bright scenario of theatre performances, theatre psyche steadily rose up and seemed to be gaining grounds in the country. Even President Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings often found time in their busy schedules to watch play performances in the country.
As at now, however, the theatre scene in Ghana is very gloomy indeed and one wonders where this situation will eventually lead to? Through gross ignorance of theatre and its great value, Ghanaians have for a long time looked down upon and despised theatre! This state of affairs is very serious as far as progress and development of the country are concerned. If this negative and wrong mentality of Ghanaians about theatre is not changed now, one will wonder how Ghana can really develop as a country. Theatre and its psyche must be developed at all costs in Ghana now!
I dare to state that not until Ghanaians realize that theatre is highly invaluable in national development aspirations of countries in the world as pointed out clearly and unambiguously in the foregoing, Ghana will still be struggling in a wild goose chase manner as far as enlightment, progress and development are concerned. This is a fact and hard truth which cannot be flawed in any argument whatsoever! We are in the 21st Century of modern civilization, enlightment and advancement of mankind, and Ghana cannot afford the luxury to be left behind time in her efforts to achieve progress and development as other nations of the world today.
By Michael Akenoo