Photos by Perry Smith, UNH Photographic Services
Playwright Mohammed Ben-Abdallah teaches “writing for performance.”
Nina Lary '13
Visiting professor Mohammed Ben-Abdallah leads his class of young playwrights all over the world from the U.S. to England to Dubai to Ghana, his own country. As they discuss plays, structure, dialog, and plot, Ben-Abdallah speaks quietly with intensity, warmth, and often, humor. His conversation alludes to Racine, Aristotle, Ibsen, Beckett, and of course, Brecht.
These students take huge risks with their work and it's clear that pleases Ben-Abdallah. When he asks students to tell about their own plays and problems they've encountered, no one hesitates.
Nina Lary, a junior, begins. Her play is about the cyclical nature of abuse in a family. She has the first draft done and feels she just needs to get going on a revision.
"Share it with the class in the second draft," Ben-Abdallah suggests. "When you hear it for the first time… it does a lot."
Sarah Miranda '12
Katie Jordan, a senior, writes about a young Greek woman who immigrates to Canada and then to the U.S. It takes place over eight years. "There was so much I wanted to cover. I just thought I'd get everything down on paper first… the structure is definitely epic," she says with a laugh.
Other plays focus on topics ranging from interracial love set in South Carolina in 1964 to a Bulgarian folktale and bandits and the transformative power of love.
And then there's Dan Shine's play about "owning up to responsibilities and being aware of how one can affect another person."
"I have two main characters, Lillian and Charles," says Shine, a junior. "They're fed up with their marriage, so, Lillian shoots Charles. … It's a very dark comedy."
"Sounds like Oscar Wilde," says Ben Abdallah.
"I love Oscar Wilde," says Shine.
"Take a look a Restoration comedy," says Ben-Abdallah. "There's a lot of wordplay."
"My biggest problem is how to end it," confesses Shine.
"That happens…" muses Ben-Abdallah.
Dan Shine '13
The creative crucible
Ben-Abdallah's own play, Song of the Pharaoh, is under production at UNH with Professor David Kaye directing. The play based on the life and times of the legendary "heretic Pharaoh" Akhenaten, husband of Queen Nefertiti and father of Tutankhamen opens April 18. It migrates between ancient and modern times and incorporates "Abibigoro," a unique form of modern African theatre that incorporates dance and music.
So, in addition to teaching, Ben-Abdallah is also in the midst of completing a play, attending rehearsals, and quietly consulting with Kaye, the director. As he tells his students: "I don't call it theatre until I see it lifted up off the page onto the stage—walking, talking, eating, breathing. … You as a playwright are an instigator of that final event. That's what you are looking for—an experience with the audience that is meaningful."
Educated at the University of Ghana and in the U.S., Ben-Abdallah is one of Ghana's foremost playwrights. During the 1990s, he served as Ghana's Secretary for Information, Education, and Culture, and as the first Chairman of the National Communion on Culture. He lectures at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, Legon, where several of his plays have been produced. Among his major plays are The Witch of Mopti, The Fall of Kumbi, and The Slaves Revisited. He has also written many plays for children, including Ananse and the Golden Drum, which features a spider trickster from Ghanaian folktales.
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