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COMMENTS ONPROCESS Incorporating African-Arnerican Theatre into the Basic Theatre Course Ethel Pitts Walker Colleges and universities across the country face mandated curricular changes in order to compete for the shrinking dollars allocated within higher education. The arts are particularly vulnerable to the process. The emerging voices of ethnic minorities, handicapped individuals, and women add to the urgency of revising curricula which no longer meet the needs of diverse student populations. One of the needed revisions for theatre and performing arts departments lies in the area of African-American theatre. Few departments address this curricular issue and those which attempt to do so, often produce evidence of non-traditional casting as their only contribution. Not enough is being done to develop curricula which validates the artistic contributions of AfricanAmericans and gives the ethnic student an appreciation of his or her culture. This void can begin to be addressed in the basic introductory courses. Such changes do not negate the fact that a diverse theatre arts philosophy must permeate all courses and productions , and also needs to be addressed in the mission statement of the department. I address in this essay only African-American theatre, although other cultures must be included in our curricular study. Gender and class issues cannot be ignored; however, far too many African-American students find racism a more ominous force with which to reckon. For many educators, changes will necessitate "going to school again. " The "changing face" of education, a mirror of the changing society, demands we explore as many cultures as possible, and address the multicultural needs of those we train. Hopefully, this dialogue will lead to an inclusion of Native American, AsianAmerican and Hispanic theatre in departmental curricula. This will not happen overnight; however, the clock is moving rapidly, and educators must take stock of their assests and shortcomings. In addition to insufficient knowledge about diverse cultures, many professors encounter insufficient time to cover the material outlined in the syllabus. The answer may lie in more creativity and selectivity in curricular development: (1) adding a semester to the course requrements, (2) decreasing the number of électives students take, or (3) eliminating a required departmental course. It is unrealistic to expect that curricula must not be adapted to meet the society in which students will be working. Most theatre survey courses reflect the strengths of the instructor, thus emphasizing theatre history, 99 100 Ethel Pitts Walker dramatic literature, criticism, or other specialties. However, the very nature of the courses often forces professors to "skim over" or dilute the material presented; students may miss important cultural and philosophical information about a particular people simply because there is not enough course time. Such time constraints force faculty to be selective in the specific material presented and general in the approach to that specific information. This is not a definitive outline; much of the following will be in the form of suggestions, and as with any creative instruction, substitution of specific material is advisable. The purpose here is to increase sensitivity to the needs and culture of AfricanAmerican students within the basic theatre survey course. A major change to theatre curricula may begin by selecting specific topics for examination during the academic term and structuring diverse performance arts and cultures around these subjects. Perhaps the class devotes the semester to "Rituals" and incorporates African and African-American rituals into the material. Following are a few considerations for inclusion of Afrocentric topics within the basic theatre survey course. 1. Validate the African origins of humankind and civilization. Instructors generally begin theatre history with the Golden Age of Greece, forgetting that there was a highly developed civilization on the African continent long before the Greeks made their mark on the arts. Scott Kennedy, in his book In Search of African Theatre, states: Since anthropologists have clearly established that man began in Africa -...somewhere in East Africa - the dramatic experience must have been seen and felt by Africans earlier than most. Moreover, since African theatre is usually directly related to the traditions, rituals, culture and art form of the people, one must conclude that a form of theatre began in Africa as long ago as their community origins. (38) Black Africa...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3346
Print ISSN
1054-8378
Pages
pp. 99-104
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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