History as Reconciliation – Non-Linear Narratives in African and African Diasporic Performance
Submitting InstitutionGoldsmiths' College
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Professor Okagbue's research into modern African theatre, diasporic
performance and post- colonial possibility has had impact in African and
British communities and in the world of theatre. Founder and first
President of the African Theatre Association (AfTA) 2006-2012, Okagbue has
built networks between African and UK practitioners and local Black
communities through projects, including the Sameboat anti-slavery memorial
project 2007-9 and the AHRC-funded research project Beyond Linear
Narratives at the Pinter Centre, Goldsmiths, for which he was co-investigator.
An important impact of this work has been the success of new
diasporic writing and performance, including playwrights directly mentored
Osita Okagbue joined Goldsmiths in 2002 and was appointed Professor in
2011. His research focuses on African theatre and performance, Caribbean
theatre, postcolonial theatre, and theatre-for-development. He has written
extensively about cultural strategies to counter the racist narratives
formerly used to justify slavery and colonialism in Africa and the
Caribbean, and has held research grants from the Leverhulme Trust, AHRB
and British Academy to fund research leave for his research project on
indigenous African performances and theatre . This project, `African
Theatres and Performances' conducted 2002 - 2005, culminated in his books
African Theatres and Performances (2007) , Culture and
Identity in African and Caribbean Theatre (2009) , and African
Theatre: Diasporas (co-edited with Dr Christine Matzke, 2009) .
His research has demonstrated that African and African Diasporic theatre
portrays a world of social rhythms that use non-linear narrative
techniques of `storytelling theatre', `ritual-dream theatre' and total
theatre to show a distinctly African worldview in which the past, present
and future interact. This theatre also enables the present to engage with
itself in critical and creative ways. Okagbue's scholarly explorations
have been combined with collaborative practice-based projects and
workshops. As director of Grigri Zoro's Mami Wata and the Black
Atlantic, at the heart of Sameboat's 2007 Heritage Lottery Funded
project to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave
trade, Okagbue's work drew public attention to the historically colonial
relationship between the UK and Africa .
As well as public intervention in debates on theatre and cultural policy
in the UK, Germany, Uganda and Ghana, his role in AfTA connects Africa
with diasporic networks, including non-academic practitioners and critics,
through an international membership (70% African, 20% UK, 10% other).
Okagbue's work is exemplified by the combination of intellectual enquiry
and facilitation of the agency he seeks to analyse.
The Beyond Linear Narratives project (2009 - 2012) drew on these
elements to investigate the connection between cultural and political
change, and the new emphasis on non-linear and fractured narrative. If
these are a response to the breakdown of the West's grand narratives of
progress, what alternatives do they offer? Do they emerge from the
increasing interaction of different cultures in the globalised world? The
project also explored ways in which diaspora Africans in the United
Kingdom can take ownership of their own theatre by shifting the
sidestream-mainstream relationship of the British cultural landscape in
funding, styles and types of theatre, and places of performance .
Based at Goldsmiths' Pinter Centre for Performance and Creative Writing
(TPC), the project combined a traditional academic approach with creative
practice, plays, performances, readings, musical events, post-performance
forums, film, video and digital media (29 events and three conferences).
Two doctoral students were attached to the project, with one working with
Professor Okagbue on African diasporic theatre and performance in the
United Kingdom, and two artists-in-residence: one, Ade Solanke, mentored
by Okagbue. Dissemination took a variety of forms, through conferences,
seminars and creative events, performed readings, as well as book and
journal publication and the recording and archiving of events and
References to the research
Evidence of the international quality of the research: The large
grant  was obtained after rigorous national competition, while the
books at [2—4] are published by three highly respected publishers in the
1. Leverhulme Research Fellowship, £10,355, African and Caribbean book
project, 2001-02; AHRB Research Leave Grant, £14,438, `African Theatres
and Performances', 1 January to 31 August 2004; AHRB Small Research Grant,
£4,760, `African Theatres and Performances', 24 May to 16 Jun 2004.
2. Okagbue, O (2007) African Theatres and Performances, London:
Routledge. [available from Goldsmiths Research Office].
3. Okagbue, O (2009) Culture and Identity in African and Caribbean
Theatre, London: Adonis & Abbey. [REF2 entry].
4. Okagbue, O, and Matzke C (eds.) (2009) African Theatre: Diasporas.
London: James Currey. [available from Goldsmiths Research Office].
5. Simon Persighetti, Ablution of Slavery, Sameboat project. Heritage
Lottery Fund Evaluation Report,
2007, especially pp. 8, 9,13,18.
6. AHRC Research Grant, `Beyond
the Linear Narrative'. £351,195, Prof Robert Gordon (PI). 12 January
2009 to 11 January 2012.
Details of the impact
The impact of the research was manifest in four connected ways:
i. Facilitating links between African, UK and International
Under Professor Okagbue's leadership, AfTA has grown from a new-founded
organisation with 20 members in 2006 to 140 members by 2011 (70% African,
20% UK, 10% other) . AfTA's combination of objectives (`for scholars
and practitioners to meet and exchange ideas' and `to provide information
on African performance and theatre to the wider public') has been pursued
through conferences — held annually, alternately in African and
non-African venues, including performance/readings of new work such as
Mojisola Adebayo and Mamela Nyamza's I Stand Corrected at AfTA in
Cape Town, July 2012. AfTA conferences resonate with Okagbue's
interventions focusing attention on performance and development, notably
his keynote Managing our Destinies: Culture and the Arts in National
Development, at the School of Performing Arts, Ghana, 19 October
ii. Raising awareness of colonial history
The impact of the Sameboat project has continued through the documentary
film Mami Wata and the Black Atlantic (BlackMadonnaFilms 2007),
uploaded onto the web on 10 May 2008 — the most viewed section (part 3 of
6) has had 3,459 hits to date (17 November 2013) . Sameboat developed
their work the following year with Black Man Don't Float (2008-9),
a performance collaboration on economic migrancy on which Okagbue was
consultant, performed at the Pierian Centre Bristol (25 November 2008) and
subsequent workshops .
iii. Developing African diaspora work with intercultural communities
in South East London
The Beyond the Linear Narrrative project focused on creating a
community beyond academia. Holly Pester, a white performance poet and
teacher on a BA English Literature, spoke at the `Transformations of
Narrative' conference (November 2010) organised by Okagbue.[5a] She
`The conference was a valuable experience in terms of locating my
practice of poetics and performance outside its usual parameters. The
dialogue with practitioners and dramaturges from different disciplines,
cultural references and approach was useful for identifying points of
ethics and narrative... Knowing the debates over the political value of
the term `Post-Colonial Literature' has helped create discussion in
seminars and provide my students with alternative theories within the
The final conference, `Reconfigurations: Remaking Narrative' (November
2011) [5b] engaged the participation of schools, with local pupils writing
and performing their poems to the conference. A teacher at Deptford Green
School, South-East London, wrote:
`On behalf of myself, colleagues and Deptford Green students, thank
you so much for the opportunity to partake in the `Reconfigurations'
conference. It is quite overwhelming to perform in front of such a
talented audience dedicated to learning ... I am sure you will all have
helped the students to gain the best set of results Deptford Green have
ever had and developed skills they will need for life.'
iv. Supporting new diasporic writing and performance
Building from Okagbue's research focus, Goldsmiths has become a platform
for new Black writing. AHRC Creative and Performing Arts Fellow and AfTA
member Gabriel Gbadamosi developed his prizewinning novel Vauxhall
(Telegram, 2013) while based at Goldsmiths 2006-2009 . As part of the
Pinter Centre project, Okagbue mentored Ade Solanke in developing her
plays Celebrate! and Pandora's Box. The latter was
performed at the Centre's 2011 `Reconfigurations' conference, followed by
a panel-audience debate featuring Okagbue and Diane Abbott, MP, who said:
`I have been very impressed with Professor Okagbue's work. I think he
plays a vital role supporting black writers.' . The play was
nominated for Best New Play in the Off West End Theatre Awards, and ran at
the Arcola Tent theatre in East London from May 9th to 26th
2012. The performance on May 12th was followed by a discussion,
the panel again including Okagbue and Diane Abbott with Richard Taylor
OBE, the black British community leader and father of Damilola Taylor, who
said `This play...address an issue at the heart of contemporary
Solanke considers Okagbue's work to have been crucial both to her success
and the new audiences for African diasporic writing :
`One of the ways the new wave is having an impact on British-African
writers is in terms of practical support for their work. Another
development is partnerships between experienced `home-grown' artists and
diaspora producers/artists/storytellers [...] An important impact of the
new wave is psychological. It's been inspiring to see audiences flocking
to the African plays and films that have been on in London over the last
few years. This May there were three British-Nigerian plays on in London
(my debut, Pandora's Box, included). This success is due in no small
part to the Arts Council's investment in developing new writing and new
theatre audiences. Professor Osita Okagbue and Goldsmith College's
Pinter Centre for New Writing were also sources of great support.'
On 23 February 2011 the project hosted a first rehearsed reading by
another writer mentored by Okagbue: Janice Okoh. Her play, Egusi Soup,
went on to be produced professionally by the Menagerie Theatre Company at
the Soho Theatre from 23 May to 9 June 2012, with a post-performance
discussion panel involving Okagbue, Janice Okoh, the actors and audience
members on 29 May. Okoh later won the Bruntswood Award for new playwrights
in November 2011, for her other play Three Birds.
Okagbue's emphasis on performance in the politics of African diaspora
identity has further impact through an actors' collective developed in
collaboration between Goldsmiths, Heavy Wind Media/Bubbles FM, to produce
Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again which toured London between December
2012 and June 2013. This production provided much needed work to British
actors of African descent. More of such actor/director collectives are
envisaged, with Goldsmiths serving as an incubating/launching space.
Sources to corroborate the impact
conference `Performative Trans-Actions: Innovation, Creativity
& Enterprise in African Theatre' (Swansea, 21-23 July 2011)
attendance figures [details available on request].
- Book of Abstracts, Creative Arts Pedagogy in the Context of
Development Challenges, International Conference, University of
Ghana School of Performing Arts, 19-20 October 2012.
Mami Wata and the Black Atlantic on youtube.
Black Man Don't Float:
Centre performance (Bristol).
- Black Man Don't Float: Performance at AfTA in Northampton (2009). African
Performance Review (2009), Vol 3 (2&3), p.152.
Beyond the Linear Narrative event
a) Transformations of Narrative in the Postcolonial Era, 11-13
b) Reconfigurations: Remaking Narrative, Reinventing Genre in
Postcolonial and Diasporic Writing and Performance, 10-12 November
Copies of correspondence from attendees is available on request from
Goldsmiths Research Office.
- Gabriel Gbdamosi:
- Association with the Pinter Centre (see here)
- Copy of correspondence available on request from Goldsmiths Research
- Cover notes, Ade Solanke, Pandora's Box (Oberon Modern Plays,
2012), foreword by Osita Okagbue.
- `Winds of Change: Writer
and producer Ade Solanke on the African new wave' (22/10/12)
Bruntswood Prize to Janice Okoh.
Lookman Sanusi interview on
the production of Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again