An exploration of theater, dance, and other types of performance from Africa, this class focuses this term on West Africa and South Africa. We will consider plays by writers such as Wole Soyinka, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Athol Fugard, as well as contemporary dance works by choreographers such as Mamela Nyamza and Gregory Maqoma. The course covers topics such as slavery, colonialism and apartheid, all of which have had a profound impact on African history and cultures. Students can enroll in this class knowing nothing about Africa, and by course’s end, they will have gained a foundational orientation to the performative cultures of a complex, dynamic, influential, and vibrant part of our world.
Readings for the course focus largely on plays because I believe the best way to learn about Africa is from Africans themselves, and especially African writers. My lectures provide historical and cultural context for each artistic work: from the 13th Century empire of Mali (Sundiata Epic) and the slave castles of the Gold Coast from the 19th century (Aidoo’s play Anowa) to the anti-colonial Mau Mau uprising in Kenya (and the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o) and the breathtaking history of apartheid and democratic South Africa (including the rich tradition of protest theatre and contemporary performing arts in the post-apartheid era). Our discussions will deepen students’ critical thinking and literary analysis abilities, while the assignments will cultivate essay writing abilities—all of which will prove of crucial value in students' lives after college. Beyond this, the overarching purpose of this course is to cultivate cross-cultural literacy and intercultural understanding through the arts.
By the end of this course students will be able to:
1. Identify some major figures and topics in African performance.
2. Analyze dramatic texts and dance performances with precision and insight.
3. Formulate a well-organized argument supported by evidence.
Over the past 20 years, I have taught this class at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and Florida State University. Students previously enrolled in this class have said: "I didn't know anything about Africa before this class, and I liked the unique approach the instructor took to it by studying Africa through plays." "What I gained from this class was a compassion for Africa and the colonialism that took place. I have more awareness of the politics involved in the formation of Africa." "The most important thing I learned this semester was the history of apartheid. I had NO idea what happened before this class." "I am very happy I took this class because I now want to continue learning about Africa and visit there one day." "The most important thing I learned about Africa is that there is more to it than what the media portrays."
This course fulfills both the VLPA and Diversity General Education Requirements.