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  • Transcending Reality in African Theatre
  • Heather J. Denyer (bio)

Aristide Tarnagda is an actor, director, and playwright from the West African country of Burkina Faso. In the country's capital of Ouagadougou, he directs the biennial Pan-African theatre festival, Les Récréâtrales, which brings together artists from across the Francophone Diaspora to develop and present new work. He has established a reputation as a talented actor, touring internationally in Christian Schiaretti's production of Aimé Césaire's A Season in the Congo, and as a trusted director, staging his own plays and those of other leading African playwrights including Sinzo Aanza of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Hakim Bah of Guinea. Through many facets of his artistic work, Tarnagda has influenced the emergence of a vibrant new stage for African theatre today.

Tarnagda grew up in a small town in the Sahel country and was influenced by traditional music, which is infused into his theatre. He first moved to Ouagadougou to study sociology at the university. During this time, the director Jean-Pierre Guingané left such an impression on Tarnagda that he decided to dedicate himself to theatre, training as an actor with Guingané's company, le Théâtre de la fraternité (The Brotherhood Theatre). Guingané encouraged him to write, and Tarnagda developed his first play, Alors, tue-moi (So Kill Me), under the tutelage of Ivorian playwright Koffi Kwahulé during the third edition of the Récréâtrales festival.

Tarnagda has developed work in France through the Avignon festival and the annual Francophone festival in Limoges. Additionally, his plays have been produced in Algeria, Cameroon, Mali; Belgium, Brazil, Canada, and Germany. In 2018, he was invited to the United States for the first time to attend a reading of Ways of Loving, the English translation of his play, Façons d'aimer, at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. The previous year, the publication of the original French versions of Terre Rouge and Façons d'aimer by Lansman Editeurs garnered the International French Language [End Page 98] Organization's grand prize for literature of black Africa. In May 2019, Tarnagda ran a playwriting workshop in Martinique. At the same time, he co-directed his own play Sank with Pierre Lambotte at the Tropiques Atrium theatre. Today, he is developing several new plays that will address the most pressing issues for Burkinabés and the world.

While Tarnagda has developed a presence throughout the French-speaking diaspora, his influence in his home country cannot be overstated, where he has been at the helm of the Récréâtrales festival since 2016. The festival, founded in 2002, takes part in the Gounghin quarter of Ouagadougou, where rehearsals and performances take place in family courtyards. International artists and tourists descend on the neighborhood every other fall for a week of new theatre. During the performances, it is not unusual to see a chicken or rabbit cross the stage space, laundry hanging to dry behind the audience seating, and people of all ages casually stopping their daily practices to watch.

Tarnagda developed as a theatre artist during a tumultuous period in Burkinabé history. Although he was just a boy when the popular President Thomas Sankara was assassinated, Tarnagda bore witness to the popular protests of 2014 that led to the overthrow of Sankara's successor, Blaise Compaoré. Since this time, the country has been struggling with water scarcity and high levels of poverty: forty-four percent live below the poverty line and terrorist attacks by groups such as AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) continue, particularly along the northern border with Mali and in the eastern part of the country. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, attacks rocked the commercial center of downtown Ouagadougou. But such stark realities have inspired powerful political theatre. Like his compatriots Sophie Heidi Kam, Etienne Minoungou, and Ali Doueslik Ouédraogo, Tarnagda follows the legacy of Guingané to create theatre that poses pressing questions for the state of his country today as he believes that "it's in speaking about our realities that we can transcend them," as he explained in a 2018 interview.1...


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pp. 98-102
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