Trickster Theatre

Trickster Theatre

The Poetics of Freedom in Urban Africa
Jesse Weaver Shipley
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/22/2015
Format: Hardback 16 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01645-4
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Trickster Theatre traces the changing social significance of national theatre in Ghana from its rise as an idealistic state project from the time of independence to its reinvention in recent electronic, market-oriented genres. Jesse Weaver Shipley presents portraits of many key figures in Ghanaian theatre and examines how Akan trickster tales were adapted as the basis of a modern national theatre. This performance style tied Accra’s evolving urban identity to rural origins and to Pan-African liberation politics. Contradictions emerge, however, when the ideal Ghanaian citizen is a mythic hustler who stands at the crossroads between personal desires and collective obligations. Shipley examines the interplay between on-stage action and off-stage events to show how trickster theatre shapes an evolving urban world.

Author Bio

Jesse Weaver Shipley is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Haverford College. He is author of Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music and has produced a documentary film with the same title.


“Skillfully argues that trickster narratives and aesthetics continue to frame the tensions between a nationalist ideology of the collective good and a neoliberal ideology of individualism.”
 — Debra Klein, Gavilan College

“A rich primary source for urban anthropology in early 21st-century Accra. Effectively shows that theater arts and the National Theatre in particular have been central to Ghana's cultural and political history.”
 — Benjamin Talton, author of Politics of Social Change in Ghana: The Konkomba Struggle for Political Equality

Trickster Theatre is a tremendously valuable contribution to the growing literature on Ghanaian and African theater and to performance studies in general.”
 — American Ethnologist

“Thoroughly researched, and supplemented by Shipley’s own remarkable fieldwork as both chronicler and performer within the history, this is one of the most sophisticated and thorough volumes on African performance in recent memory. With its rich discussion of millennial Ghanaian performance, this rich primary source is a model of scholarship. . . . Essential.”
 — Choice

Trickster Theatre not only appeals to scholars of theatre, anthropology, African performance, and Ghanaian and Nigerian history and politics, it also speaks to scholars of colonialism, postcolonial studies, and the cultural politics and legacies of the Cold War. It highlights the ways in which colonial education shaped ideas about the arts in national development.”
 — The Drama Review

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Poetics of Uncertainty

Part I. History and Mediations in Making Theatre

1. Making Culture: Race, History, and a Theory of Performance in the Gold Coast Colony
2. The National Theatre Movement: Urban Art Infrastructures and a Contested National Culture in Independence-Era Accra
3. Revolutionary Storytelling: Pan-African Theatre and Remaking Lost Futures in 1980s Ghana
4. A Man of the People: Mohammed Ben Abdallah as Artist-Politician

Part II. Stagings in Millennial Ghana

5. Total African Theatre: Language, Reflexivity, and Ambiguity in The Witch of Mopti
6. "The Best Tradition Goes On": Audience, Consumption, and the Structural Transformation of Concert Party Popular Theatre
7. Fake Pastors and Real Comedians: Doubling and Parody in Miraculous, Charismatic Performance
8. Copying Independence: Backstage at the Fiftieth-Anniversary Reenactment of Nkrumah’s Independence Speech

Conclusion: Unfreedom as Critical Theory