Gibson Kente and analogous structures

Last week I spend the majority of the week writing a paper for my African Studies class about African theatre. In the midst of this process I found myself searching for a word I knew existed but I couldn’t remember. I had this memory of my AP biology textbook in high school that had a picture of a dinosaur and a dolphin which had evolved to fill a similar nitch and so looked almost exactly the same. With some help from my dad over the internet, we tracked down this term. Analogous structures are when two different species evolve similar structures to deal with similar problems. Like wings, or eyes…

I used this term to talk about Commedia del Arte and the work of Gibson Kente in the South African townships. Gibson Kente developed a style now called the township musical, which toured all over South Africa during the 1960′s and 70′s. A vast number of the black artists who are defining South African theatre seemed to have worked with him at some point. He developed a style and pattern for his plays specifically to deal with the challenges and needs of his audiences. His plays were melodrama’s of township life based in African Christian morality. In many ways the similarities between him and Commedia are interesting because it shows the way in which two very different circumstances can result in similar styles. Both needed to support themselves from an audience base of poor or working class people, resulting in the traveling troupes. Kente’s plays were over the top using stylistic acting and stock characters which reflected the experiences of township life. The characters became recognizable to the audience, who would return to see Kente’s shows over and over again. And the use of slapstick comedy just seems to come because everyone likes slapstick comedy! But its important to note, that even if Commedia was developed long before Kente was born, the work that Kente did was still truely innovative and original. And personally I find it hard to believe that Kente had ever heard of Commedia until after the fact.

if your interested, the movie Sarafina! with Woopi Goldberg is modeled after Kente’s style. I haven’t actually watched the whole film, but the parts I’ve seen are really cool. And, the film has some really important big names from South African theatre in it, like John Kani, Mbongeni Ngema, and Miriam Makeba.

One Response to “Gibson Kente and analogous structures”

  1. Jane says:

    Just want to say hi and very best wishes on your time in South Africa! I’m glad to find you online and want to say that I made a comment on Howl. — Love from your Aunt Jane

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