Guerrilla Theater 'Subversive,' Nigerian Author Tells Crowd

A Nigerian writer spoke about the guerrilla theater in modern Africa to an audience of about 200 at the Loeb drama center yesterday.

"Guerrilla theater involves a subversive activity even when it appears to be an appendage of the power structure." Wole Soyinka, Nigerian poet, playwright and novelist, said.

He added that African guerrilla theater is prolific "in situations of repression," even though its audience "is as much at risk as the performers. They become part of the conspiracy."


Soyinka described the evolution of guerrilla theater, saying that its personality must change in order for the theater to survive as a politically viable organization. Guerrilla theater started out as ltinerant troupes under the aegis of the African governments, commenting on such social issues as illiteracy and health care.


The playwrights began "to augment political opportunism [of African governments] with a far more questing opportunism," infusing into their drama "a political think-for-yourself dimension," he said, adding that the theater, as an articulate form of political "self-definition" remained hidden from the control of governments.


Only within the last ten years has guerrilla theater emerged from underground, Soyinka said, citing the examples of "Sizwe Banze is Dead", a recent Broadway hit, and "A Lesson from Aloes", written by the South African playwright, Athol Fugard.

Soyinka, author of "Kongi's Harvest" and "The Lion and the Jewel," was detained by the Nigerian government during the seventies for his political activities. He spoke as a guest of the annual Theodore Spencer memorial lecture series, which has, in the past, invited T.S. Eliot and Jean Renoir.