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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Stagecraft: Pedagogy, Culture and Performance in Senegalese Theater

  • Author(s): Quinn, Brian
  • Advisor(s): Thomas, Dominic R
  • et al.

This dissertation adopts an interdisciplinary approach to ask why in Senegal, home of president-poet Léopold Sédar Senghor and host to two World Black Arts Festivals, theater appears so drastically reduced from the heights of what critics consider the "Golden Age" of Culture of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, theatrical production within this country has become something of a blind spot in the fields of Literary and Performance Studies, since textual analyses and performance fieldwork both prove essential to understanding how theatrical practice is conceived, produced and transmitted within this West African country and former colony. From a contemporary perspective, written texts for stage production, especially published ones, are scant and rarely come to performance, a fact that has called many to declare the apparent death of theatrical practices in Senegal. However, research on the ground reveals that the very term theater takes on a rather different meaning within this country, generally encompassing a more popular, community-based approach and often displaying an unreserved and conscious embrace of non-textual, collective and at times seemingly plagiaristic approaches to drama.

Here we will explore archival material and oral histories, using performance fieldwork and textual analysis to discover how artists and performers have come to craft the Senegalese stage - official and otherwise - as it exists today. This will include a discussion of the influence of pedagogical discourses and disputing models of Culture in Senegalese theater, as well as how these are circumvented through performance. This work focuses on pivotal places and events in the crafting of the Senegalese stage, with chapters on pedagogical reform and performance at the Ecole William Ponty; Léopold Sédar Senghor and André Malraux's complementary views and uses of Culture and the staging of these through the theater of the 1966 Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres in Dakar, as read against the 1969 Festival Panafricain d'Alger; as well as contemporary efforts to craft a subversive and activist form of theater operating along global and transnational networks.

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