Yesterday I watched this interesting play depicted by the photos above at the University of Dar es Salaam. A similar play, we were told, "was carried out in Ifakara, Kilombero District by University Students from Fine and Performing Arts and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication." In fact we were further told that the "play is a result of research by the same students, who lived with ordinary wanavijiji for 21 days watching how the communities interface with the environment. They then put their observations together in a creatice piece of work and took it back to the communities where they lived and performed it for them." Interestingly, it known as "Creative Insights" Project Program, and it supported by Norway through the Programme on Institutional Transformation, Research and Outreach (PITRO).
Indeed the performers were creative, adapting a 'traditional'/'cultural' dance associated with invoking the 'ancestors' so as to 'inform', or rather, 'teach' the local communities on how to conserve the environment (mazingira) through 'good governance'('utawala bora'). As I watched I could not help but wonder: Since when did the local communities lose sight of (indigenous) ways of preserving their environment to the extent that they now have to be taught how to do it. I ended thinking of what one of their assistance lecturer refers to as 'donor theatre.' She thus aptly describe this form of 'aid-ed' theatre and its 'dependency' consequences:
"The history of donors and NGOs in African theatre, like any other field, coincides with the
adoption of the economic liberalization policies.... In practical sense, there is no area of theatre in Tanzania that is today free from the varied consequences of donor funding. Conversely, theatre practitioners and other stakeholders are turning to donors with the ready-made socio-economic and development agendas for assistance. The most favourable area for funding by donors is [Theatre for Development] TfD. Donors have taken theatre and mostly use it as a ‘medium of communication’ to address global agendas. They include issues such as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).... Donor theatre has created audience which prefers free admission, and it becomes difficult for the same artists to stage a creative performance and ask the same audience to pay for admission.... Market callousness which donors have created for theatre has been basically to satisfy targeted audience sitting in donor countries’ offices abroad and not the poor and the so-called marginalized Tanzanians.... One of the basic and fundamental conventions of theatre is aesthetics in the creative imagination... So when funding is embodied it is clear that the performers’ imagination has been interfered, influenced, manipulated and even corrupted. These sensations and imaginations are the ones which aroused audiences’ emotions and feelings, ‘make believe happens’. Most of the theatre plays themes revolve around donor funding priorities; such as campaign for human rights, malaria, HIV and AIDS and others. Audience is now used to low quality, ‘parroting’ theatre and it is difficult to persuade (the audience) to pay for such performances. The theme of performances’, have to relate to donors’ funding areas as mentioned before. For more than ten years, the focus has been on the same themes which to a certain extent it becomes monotonous. In some places especially in big cities, it is difficult to mobilize audience to watch such plays. One of the audience members complained that, “today’s plays are very dry, they don’t have taste”.... In some incidences, actors do not even understand the content of the messages but they present the information to the audience who are expected to understand and take action.... Clearly stipulated, donor theatre does not emphasize on the ‘aesthetics’ but ‘message’ and this is a TfD practice...Theatre has to depend more on donors and, as a result it compromises its status...." - Vicensia Shule on 'Tanzanians and Donors: Opposing Audiences in Public Theatre'