School of Performing Arts Hosts 8th Annual International Conference of the African Theatre Association (AFTA)

Special Guest of Honour, Ms. Dzifa Gomashie (standing), the Deputy Minister for Culture Tourism and Creative Arts delivering her address at the opening ceremony. To her right is Prof. Sam Kasule, the President of AFTA. To her left, Prof. Kofi Anyidoho, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, Vice-Chancellor and Prof. Kofi Agyekum, Director, SPA


The School of Performing Arts at the University of Ghana recently hosted the 8th Annual International Conference of the African Theatre Association (AFTA).   The Conference, under the theme 'African Theatre and Performance and the Academy' took place from July 9-12, 2014.  The Conference brought together delegates from Barbados, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Germany, Ghana, Lesotho, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Opening the Conference, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey commended the conference conveners on the choice of the theme, noting the historically uneasy relationship between Theatre and Performance on the one hand and the Academy on the other.  He was hopeful that the discussions during the conference would unearth innovative ways in which theatre and performance and the academy could continue to coexist.  

The Special Guest of Honour was the Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism, and Creative Arts, Ms. Dzifa Gomashie, an alumna of the School.  She expressed appreciation for the fact that the AFTA conference was being held for the first time in West Africa and that Ghana, had been chosen to host it.  She encouraged practitioners, especially film producers to represent Africa truthfully, rather than creating images of Africa which Africans themselves could not relate to.

The conference co-conveners, Dr. Awo Mana Asiedu and Ms. Ekua Ekumah recounted the journey of the conference from an idea at the 2009 conference, in Northampton, UK where Prof. Kofi Anyidoho, a former Acting Director of the School, was a keynote speaker, to its realization in 2014.  Prof. Kofi Anyidoho, who chaired the opening ceremony, expressed joy that his suggestion for the conference to be hosted in Ghana had been seriously considered.  The Acting Director of the School of Performing Arts, Professor Kofi Agyekum warmly welcomed participants to the conference and hoped they would enjoy their stay in Ghana.

Prof. Brenda Dixon Gottschild  with the two conveners of the conference, Ms. Ekua Ekumah and Dr. Awo Mana Asiedu in a pose after the first session of the conference at the Great Hall, UG.

Up to 70 papers were presented during the conference.  The first keynote address was presented by Prof. Emerita Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, of Temple University, USA (Dance Studies).  Her address was on the topic, Researching Performance - The (Black) Dancing Body as a Measure of Culture.

Prof. John Collins of the Music Department of the School of Performing Arts delivered the second keynote on the topic, “Popular Performance Research and Practice in the Academy”  

The final keynote was delivered at the close of the Conference by the Zimbabwean cultural activist and award winning novelist and film maker, Tsitsi Dangarembga on the topic Aspects of African Film-Making Practice: Hopes, Achievements and Struggles.  All the presentations were information and well received.

A poster exhibition was mounted,  in addition to a plenary session on the topic Notes to the Academy: Performativity and Performance in African Theatre by Dr. Kene Igweonu and Prof. Osita Okagbue. The session was essentially a discussion of a series of books published from a previous AFTA conference. Two other books by members of AFTA were launched. The conference thus concluded on a very invigorated discussion of issues relating to Performativity and the Academy, which was at the core of the conference theme.


There were a number of performances and workshops during the conference. Notable among these was an ensemble piece based on Efua Sutherland's short story, Samantaase Village drawn from Ghanaian oral narratives. This was adapted and directed by Ekua Ekumah and Sarah Dorgbadzi of the Theatre Arts Department and performed by Abibigroma, the Resident Theatre Company of the School.


Two workshops on drumming and dance put up by Dr. S.K. Kuwor and. Oh! Nii Kwei Sowah respectively were also very well attended by participants and well received. I Stand Corrected - who stands with lGBT communities in the African theatre academy? Another workshop was led by the London based performer and writer, Mojisola Adebayo. This session shared performance extracts, photography, theatre techniques and approaches used to create a theatrical production, by exploring how to safely scrutinise sensitive subjects such as homophobia.


Delegates at the close of the conference

The conveners of the 2014 AFTA conference have rated the Conference as a huge success and hope to continue to build on this to guest edit one volume of the African Theatre Association's bi- annual journal African Performance Review (APR), in addition to following up with the possibility of publishing a book on the theme with other papers which may not make it into the APR.