Ireland's Troubles Spark New Play by Awam
Nigerian playwright Awam Amkpa, MHC
assistant professor of theatre arts, wrote Not in My Season of Songs,
a play which has just completed a successful run in Minneapolis.
Audiences packed the house for the innovative media-blending
production. The play will be performed in Dublin and London this
Seven years ago Nigerian
playwright Awam Amkpa, MHC assistant professor of theatre arts, came
across a news item about an Irish woman, who, fed up with her
country's sectarian violence, fled to Nigeria. Amkpa, who left his
homeland fourteen years ago, was struck by the irony. After forty
years of independence from England, Nigeria still suffers the effects
of its own colonial history. The two nations' similar legacies
inspired Amkpa to write a full-length play, Not in My Season of
Songs, which has just
completed a highly successful run at the Mixed Blood Theater in
Minneapolis. Audiences packed the house for the innovative
media-blending production produced by the Pangia World Theater. The
play is scheduled for a summer tour in Dublin and London.
Performed with music, dance, film,
video and, of course, dialogue, the production, directed by Amkpa,
recounts the experiences of a Catholic woman from Northern Ireland
who discovers she is far from alone in her search for identity. In
Nigeria she befriends an African American exploring his ancestry, and
a map maker immersed in the revising of boundaries.
Why individuals cross boundaries and
what they discover in exile is at the core of Amkpa's dramatic
exploration. While themes of identity and displacement are central to
the play, Amkpa is also interested in issues of commonality, and the
complexities inherent in our definitions of home. "We shouldn't take
for granted that the place we are born in is our home," he contends,
adding that "the level of interaction between our different cultures
is more important than the uniqueness of our identity."
Amkpa's global humanitarian vision was
underscored by the recent production's international cast, with
actors from Nigeria, Ireland, England and the United States. His
unconventional on-stage media-mixing enhanced a sense of cultural
layering, and exposed the audience to diverse forms of communication
in a dynamic and accessible forum.
The sets for Not in My Season of
Songs were designed
by Leandro Soto, a native of Cuba and a visiting artist in the MHC's
Department of Theatre Arts. Soto's collaboration with Amkpa resulted
in a "spectacular set saturated with colorful maps and islands," says
the playwright. Soto also created an installation to Elegua, a deity
he believes informs Amkpa's dramaturgy.
Amkpa, who studied with Wole Soyinka,
Nigeria's Nobel Prize-winning playwright, has also directed plays in
Nigeria, England and Canada. In addition to teaching internationally,
he has made political, experimental, and documentary films, and has
directed workshops in street and community theater. His forthcoming
book, Overpowered But
Not Tamed:Theatre, Colonialism and Postcolonial Desires
focuses on political theater in Britain and Nigeria. Amkpa's course
Postcolonial Cinemas is being offered this fall.
Web-based Film Course
a Virtual First
Mount Holyoke College
professor Awam Amkpa's film course Post-colonial Cinemas leaves
conventional teaching methods on the cutting-room floor. Amkpa's
students are exposed, in fact, to a pedagogical approach that could
fairly be called cutting edge. The course incorporates the creation
of Web sites as a tool for critical thinking. "It's the first time
I've used Web-technology as the core of learning for students," says
the Nigerian filmmaker and playwright, who first came to the College
Amkpa drew inspiration for his Web
site from a similar initiative by history professor Robert Schwartz.
The site (www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/aamkpa/postcolonial-cinemas), which is headlined by a flashy strip
of rotating globes, describes a course that "examines films in
countries and contexts whose cultural references are defined by
colonial and anti-colonial histories."
Films set in Africa, India, and the
Caribbean are viewed in the course, and guest lecturers visit
throughout the semester. Students are expected to read assigned
essays and to produce Web presentations after participating in a
workshop on a state-of-the-art computer design program "Adobe
Photoshop." Web technology is used in the course "as a learning
resource to interpret and create visual texts analyzing the subject,"
"I focus on training the students in
visual literacy, " Amkpa explains, "to challenge them to create
visual interpretations of film and text." Students are asked to
interpret abstract concepts through concrete visual imagery. For
example, says Amkpa, a Web presentation on "subjectivity," which grew
out of the idea that "colonized people are limited by the language
and culture with which they define themselves as subjects of
history," might include a range of details such as student drawing,
artwork, text, or film cuts scanned as stills on the computer.
Students are expected to work in small
groups as well as individually. "It has been an incredible class,"
Amkpa says enthusiastically of his thirteen fall-semester students.
In addition to providing a fresh and exciting approach to learning
about film, Amkpa believes it's also "important for students to be
equipped with tools that will give them a leg up professionally in
this technology-saturated world."