Ireland's Troubles Spark New Play by Awam Amkpa

 

 

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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 summer.

 

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 (Rutledge, England), 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 in 1995.

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," Amkpa says.

"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."
 


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