Theatre undresses culture

And if he still doesn't answer?

I’ve just come off stage. It’s the final night of the Valentine’s Day theatre show and I’ve finally nailed my Luganda lines.

Sitting backstage for three hours each night, I’ve had a bit of time to chat and ask questions about aspects of Ugandan theatre and I’ve learned a lot.

1. If you speak Luganda on stage, the theatre bar staff assume you are fluent. “Simanyi Luganda” means “I don’t speak Luganda”.

2. The Ebonies is one of the most popular theatre groups in Uganda. It has over 70 cast members and produces a TV soap that airs on national TV twice a week. It performs 6 nights a week at La Bonita Theatre, across the road from Kampala Casino. It is sort of like Sydney’s Lyric Theatre, if that means anything to you.

3. Ugandan women have amazing bottoms. Ugandan men are stupendous dancers.

4. Many of the performers I’ve been kicking it with are celebrities and are stopped in the street by forthright members of the public. Julie, one of the key actresses, says she has to fight to maintain a private life. It doesn’t surprise me. These guys work hard. From 9am – 11pm six days a week, the actors are rehearsing, performing or acting as ambassadors for the troupe.

5. A three-hour show entirely lip-synched to pre-recorded dialogue is normal. No one has an explanation for why they do it this way. They just do.

6. A three-hour Valentine’s Day show needs no interval. Tickets to this theatre are very expensive by local standards (approximately $13) and punters expect an all-you-can-eat experience. Regular season shows are almost 5 hours long and break for a 15 minute interval.

7. Unlike the arts crowd most everywhere else I have lived, theatre in Uganda does not seem to be a safe haven for gay people. If it is, people are very quiet about their sexuality. Speaking with my co-performer, he said he respected ‘the gays’ but expressed deep concern for how ‘the gays’ recruit vulnerable young people. Apparently homosexual people are extraordinarily rich and use this wealth to poach people from schools, the street and bars. Last week, a British man was ‘deported’ for illegally staging a small theatre show about a gay businessman murdered by his colleagues. At the beginning of this month, a controversial piece of anti-gay legislation was tabled, proposing capital punishment for homosexual acts. A decision has been postponed but the issue of homosexuality in socially conservative Uganda remains extremely sensitive.

8. Don’t do your stage makeup by the bathroom while nursing a hangover.

Here are some pics I took during dress rehearsal:

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