Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, some theatre groups in Africa had begun experimenting with digital promotion and distribution of their shows. However, the pandemic and its attendant global lockdowns catalyzed the digitization process and encouraged more innovative and high-tech development, promotion, and execution of live theatre. This lecture examines how specific theatre groups adapted to the global upheaval (and general competition from electronic entertainment forms such as television, film, and video games). While there is still some reluctance to ‘go digital’, the use of mobile phone apps, social media, and the Internet has led to some innovations that have elevated theatre beyond traditional confines. These innovations - which allow for such opportunities as global audiences and international collaborations - are bound to continue into the future. It is noteworthy that theatre in most parts of Africa has been resistant to the intrusion of high technology. Indeed, many shows and skits are performed in open-air markets, schools, social halls, churches, and other areas where electronic equipment is either not available or would be difficult to employ. The countries sampled for this study are some of the ‘leading’ members of the 54-nation-strong African continent. Nigeria and South Africa are major cultural powerhouses while Kenya is an innovation powerhouse, as evidenced by its globally competitive digital money system. Thus, these three nations are likely to set the pace for many other nations in the Global South. This lecture leans into the notion that future theatre productions, in Africa and elsewhere, will often be ‘hybrid’ (part digital/part physical) in nature. And as human societies become ever more digital, theatre will evolve in order to adapt to new realities.
Alex Nderitu (pen name: Alexander Nderitu) is a Kenyan poet, novelist, playwright, and theatre critic. His first book, When the Whirlwind Passes, was Africa’s pioneering digital novel. He has since published three more books: The Moon is Made of Green Cheese; Kiss, Commander, Promise; and King Bure is Dead! He has also published numerous papers on African literature and theatre. In 2017, the Business Daily newspaper named him one of Kenya’s ‘Top 40 Under 40 Men’. In 2020, Nderitu was a finalist for the Collins Elesiro Literature Prize. In 2022, he took third place in the Share Africa Climate Fiction Awards. Nderitu’s stage plays include Hannah and the Angel, The Talking of Trees, Yuppies!, What’s Wrong With This Picture?, and The Stacy Walker Interview. In 2007, Nderitu co-won a Theatre Company prize for his comedy Hannah and the Angel. In 2019, the script for Hannah and the Angel was a finalist in the ASSITEJ South Africa Playwriting Contest. In 2021, his short play Freedom Corner took 2nd place in the IHRAF African Human Rights Playwriting Prize competition. Nderitu is currently the Deputy Secretary-General of Kenyan PEN and a Regional Managing Editor for TheTheatreTimes.com.