‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’: Shakespeare in S. Sudan

During rehearsal. Photo sent by theatre company coordinator Nichola Lado.
 
 
An improbable sight can be witnessed in Juba these days: South-Sudanese actors dressed in traditional garb reciting Shakespeare in Juba Arabic. They are part of South Sudan Theatre Company, which has been fighting tooth and nail to help the art of theatre thrive in a difficult environment.
 
The inception of this company dates back to the country’s independence in July 2011. it was founded by three theatre professionals who had worked between the north and south of the former Sudan. As explained on their website, the South Sudanese artists experimented with different theatrical forms during the war, particularly in camps for displaced persons. To them, independence was the perfect time to begin “proudly managing the country’s cultural identity as an independent people”.
 
In April 2012, the newly-formed company was invited to participate in the Globe to Globe festival in London, which brought together theatre troupes from all over the world to recite Shakespeare in their own language. The South Sudan Theatre Company, which chose to put on The Tragedy of Cymbeline in Juba Arabic, a simplified language invented during the British Empire. The performance was highly successful, garnering much praise in the media.
 
A year later, the troupe is trying its best to succeed in South Sudan, but there are few venues and not enough funding.
 
During rehearsal. Photo sent by theatre company director Nichola Lado.
Contributors

"It’s not an easy role to play, because people really dislike my character"

Ester Liberato has been an actress with the South Sudan Theatre Company since 2012.
 
Before joining the company, I worked for years on radio theatre pieces. I now split my time between the company and theatre classes I teach at the University of Juba. I have been in the theatre world for a while, but I particularly appreciate the new freedom of expression that we gained after independence. We’re done with the many conflicts we had with our Sudanese neighbour, and we are now free to express our opinions in our own country.
 
In Cymbeline, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, I play an evil, jealous, and manipulative queen who tries to murder the king and his daughter so that her son can rule the kingdom. It’s not an easy role to play, because people really dislike my character. During rehearsals, passersby tell me, ‘You are too mean’, but I’m only acting! The South Sudanese tend to comment aloud on what’s going on on-stage.
 
During rehearsal. Photo by Ellie Kurtz.
 
We recently started doing a new play that is very interesting, even political, because it features many of the challenges we face in our new society. It is called “The Case of the Donkey Shadow” and tells the story of a man who rents a donkey for a trip but is not allowed to sit in the shade of the donkey’s shadow because he has not paid for the right to do so. And from this seemingly harmless problem, far more serious conflicts arise, and each party releases pent-up anger. This feeling is very familiar to the residents of our country. We have a hard time forgiving, and insults come quickly.
 
Acting is therapy; it helps us nurse our wounds. Transitioning from angry to joyful roles is an incredible way to channel your emotions.
 
Video by the British Council on the company’s participation in the Globe to Globe 2012 festival.
 
“The most important thing is for us to quickly get our own venue”
 
Our trip to London in 2012 was just totally crazy, in a good way. The South Sudanese people were very proud of us because we were our very young country’s first international success story. Since then, we have performed about four times in Juba. There is only one real theatre in the entire city, and renting it for an evening costs over 250 Euros. So we manage to convince people to lend us their spaces. During our latest performance on March 27, there were over 1,000 spectators. We know that people want to see us. The most important thing now is for us to quickly get our own venue in which to to rehearse and perform. We now need to start making money, and we have approached several potential sponsors to this end.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.
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