Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 29, 2009 (Ezega.com) -- Theatre is one medium where actors show their art face to face with their audience and share their feelings (sadness, happiness, affection, etc.) on stage. They play their character in front of their audience and receive instant feedback.
With icons such as playwright Laureate Tsegaye GebreMedhin and genius actors like Wogayehu Negatu, Ethiopian theatre reached its peak in the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s E.C. Its revival through a serious of successful plays in the 1990s is credited to many artists. However, it will be difficult to pass this stage in Ethiopian theatre history without mentioning one name: the playwright and actor Alemayehu Tadesse.
He managed to buy people’s heart through his enormous talent at City Hall, Mega Amphitheater, and now at the National Theatre. He has had a successful career performing in a number of screen films as well as numerous radio dramas. He has been teaching for nearly four years at the Holy-Land Academy, an academy for theatre and acting that he co-owned with his friends.
I interviewed Artist Alemayehu Taddese recently and talked with him about his work, his childhood, entertainment, etc. Here follows the full interview with Alemayehu Taddese.
Ezega.com: Welcome to my interview.
Alemayehu: I thank you.
Ezega.com: Shall we start from you childhood? Please tell me in short, because I see that you are in a hurry to get into your play.
Alemayehu: Well …I have grown up like any ordinary Ethiopian. I was born in Harar city, at a place called Keladamba. I attended primary school in Keladamba at Arbegnoch School and did my high school at Medhanealem High School. I then joined Addis Ababa University in 1982 E.C. and graduated in 1986 E.C.
Ezega.com: How did you join the Theatrical Art department? Did you know you were gifted for acting from the very beginning?
Alemayehu: My reason for joining the department was my affinity for theatre. I used to narrate theatre since I was in elementary school. I liked narrating poems even in music class. I loved playacting radio dramas. But my decision was influenced by one particular moment in Harar. While I was in Harar, attending Medhanealem Secondary School, we were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the school. I was in grade 11 at the time. We showed drama about a United Nations meeting. My part was to play the South African President. I had to give a speech based on a written script. However, I did some part of the speech without reading, and that impressed my audience. Encouraged by my performance, my language teacher asked me to play King Theodros in a theatre and it came out wonderfully. I believed I got huge acceptance from that play. Furthermore, I was also influenced by listening to Radio dramas, especially those of Jemanesh Solomon, Fikadu TekleMariam, and Hailu Tsegaye. I never missed a single theatre that played in Harar. I remember that, sometimes, I went home as late as 11:00 pm in the evening, taking considerable risk walking from Jegol (where most of the shows played) to Keladamba.
I did not decide to study Theatrical Art until after my first year at Addis Ababa University. I didn’t even know at the time that there was any such department. My intent was to study Geography or Economics. But when I heard there was theatre being played by Theatrical Art students, I came to know that there was indeed “Theatrical Art Department”. During my 1st year school break, I told my high school teacher that there is a Theatrical Arts Department, and I asked for his opinion. He encouraged me to join the department. So, all of these reasons played a role in my decision to study Theatrical Art.
Ezega.com: No hyena or other wild animals on your way? Were you afraid at all?
Alemayehu: No, I was not afraid. Harar’s Hyenas have a huge respect for human beings. (Laughing) there were some Hyena’s on the way at times, but they didn’t harm anybody, so I was not afraid of them.
Ezega.com: I understand that you have played, directed, and wrote many different stage plays and films. Can you mention some of them? Would you please tell me their actual tally?
Alemayehu: Yeah … starting from my 3rd year stage plays, the total could be around 32 plays. These are the plays that I took part only in acting. Let me mention some of them starting from the early ones: “Derasiw Be’semay Bet”, “Kaligula”, “Ke’admas Bashager”, “Tewnetu”, “Esregnaw Niguss”, “Ye’kokebu Sew”, and “Edipus Nigus”. During my stay at Addis City Hall Theatre, I played “Picnic on the Battle Field”, “Ye’Chess Alem”, “Ferehat”, “Yemitenu Abeboch”, and “Yemechereshaw Serg”. At MegaAmphitheatre, I played “Antigen”, “Guadegnmochu”, “Ye’azawentoche Kibeb”, “Tintag” and “Kiftet”. And at the National Theatre, I played “Babilon Besalon”, “Yigbagne”, “Mistergnochu”, and “Cleopatra”.
There are times when I have to play four different plays in a single week, like now when I am playing “Bateliew”, “Babilon Be Salon”, “Mistregnochu” and “Demenebse” at different theatre halls.
Concerning my playwright role, I wrote “Yalteweledew Lij”, “Yecheguara Fiker”, “Yesew Ayin”, “Demenebse”, “Tidar Sitaten”, “Betre Adam”, “Yeb’iir Sim”, and “Mistergnochu”.
I directed “Yetefaw Shanta”, “Yigbagn” and “Yebiir Sim”. If you want me to mention my part on co-directing and technical directing, they are countless. Amongst the many short TV drams I did play, especially with Addis Ababa Administration television, “Foziya” and “Elzabel” are the most popular ones.
Ezega.com: Yeah, Elzabel was really great. I have seen it many times. I believe it is Adam Reta’s best short story.
Alemayehu: Yes, it was very great. Many people liked it, but people misunderstood the character I played and favored my wife in the play. I always felt sad that the audience didn’t understand the true nature of this character.
Ezega.com: Among acting, writing and directing, which one do you think shows your talents best?
Alemayehu: When I decide to do something, I am very dedicated and I put every effort to make sure that I do my best. Acting for film and acting for stage play are not comparable. Playacting is much different, you will display every bit of emotion – affection, happiness, madness, sadness, doubt, and the like. It challenges you a lot.
Ezega.com: How did you get into the film industry? Did you just join in because you believed you can contribute something or people encouraged you to join in?
Alemayehu: You can say that it was much due to people’s pressure. I am fully dedicated to theatre, but when people approach me to act in their film, I take their offers. So far, these are not that many in number. You can mention “Dezdimona”, “Yetwabu Ijoche”, “Sile-Fiker”, “Hamrawiw” and “Mezez”. They are not many.
Ezega.com: While we are at film acting, I want to ask you about this part of your career. It could be my expectation, but I do not see balance between your film acting and your theatre acting. Do you believe films show your talent as much as theatre?
Alemayehu: Oh… it is completely different. The medium and requirement is different. You can control stage play but not the film. But I believe I give everything that the character needs whether it is on film or theatre. I put every effort to play the character very well personality. However, it is up to you, the audience, to judge my performance.
Ezega.com: Which of the characters that you have played so far is your best, one that has a great place in your heart?
Alemayehu: Frankly speaking, I love every character I have played so far. And I will pay whatever it takes to complete the character. But I have this affection or attachment for the role I played in “Antigen” for special reasons. I was happy to play any role in the play because that was a wonderful chance for me to get the chance to play with my seniors, those actors that I idolized. But accidentally the actor who was supposed to play the senior cast (Crion) couldn’t make it, and I got his part. And it came out so wonderfully.
Ezega.com: I still remember the beautiful setting of the play. It was a wonderful play.
Alemayehu: Yes. I felt like I have seen myself when I played at the theatre. We have been through a lot to make “Antigene” a reality with plenty of inconveniencies. When it finally came out, it was a tremendous success.
Ezega.com: Yes indeed. Let me take you to another pillar of your life. I don’t mean to generalize, but many people believe that artists don’t pay much attention and give enough time for their families? What kind of a family person do you think you are, as a husband and father?
Alemayehu: This is the question I like the most. Well, every art is produced for a human audience. We are part of the people and listen to people’s needs. However, your family is one you choose more than anything else on earth, and it matters to you more than anyone else. You must have understanding with your family, say, you may not be available on holidays but you will be around for your family whenever you can. That is what matters most. And I don’t have any problem with my family in this regard.
Ezega.com: You have a boy. How old is he? Doesn’t he bother you sometimes while you are preparing or need some time to reflect?
Alemayehu: My boy is Bemnet Alemayehu. He is four. He could bother me sometimes but you learn to deal with kids, so it is not a major problem any more.
Ezega.com: What is your principle in life?
Alemayehu: Creating better self today than yesterday. Look at where I started and where I am now in acting, directing and writing (stage play or film). I like to do my best in terms of both quality and diversity. And, as an individual, I would like to leave my footprint in Ethiopian theatre.
Ezega.com: Are you satisfied with your career achievements?
Alemayehu: No…no… I don’t feel satisfied at all. I may be getting better everyday but there are still more things to do. If it had gone as well as it started, I think we could have done something better. There are always some inconvenient situations that arise but I always want to offer the best I can regardless of that.
Ezega.com: What activities are you engaged in right now?
Alemayehu: I have three stage plays right now here at the National Theatre. Two of them are my scripts. There is one theatre play at Hager Fiker, written by one of my students. He was one of the Holy Land students. Actually most of this theatre’s (“Batelew” ) team members are my students. I am very grateful when I see my students’ achievements. It makes me believe that I contributed something through my teaching.
Ezega.com: What was your most memorable day in your life?
Alemayehu: There are many wonderful and memorable days, like my first acting, the opening of my theatre, or an opening of a new film. But above all, I treasure the day I got married in front of God’s eyes in our church. I didn’t deserve to stand there. It was just God’s will. That was my most memorable day.
Ezega.com: What will you say to young people who want to be like you?
Alemayehu: First, they need to know their gift, and then they need to put it into practice. Above all their persistence and determination is the most critical one. They can be rejected everywhere but they should not give up at all. When the day comes, it will be their’s. My “Tidar Sitaten” script was rejected 4 years ago, but I did not give up. I tried to improve it many times and finally they accepted it at the same venue, and now it is on stage. Just because I have played in 30 plays doesn’t mean that the 31st play will be any better or easier. It is always a new challenge, requiring renewed effort and commitment.
Ezega.com: Are you at times anxious at the stage? Or, have you overcome this completely?
Alemayehu: No, I am not over it yet. Until I have said the very first word, I am always afraid of stage.
Ezega.com: What do you do backstage when you feel anxious?
Alemayehu: It is funny but I become restless and frequent the rest rooms.
Ezega.com: You will play your new play, “Demenebs”, about 45 minutes from now. Are you afraid now? Don’t worry, I am almost done with my interview.
Alemayehu: (Laughing) I am not afraid now, not until I go to backstage.
Ezega.com: Can I take your picture at that time?
Alemayehu: Yes, sure, why not; you will share my anxiety!
Ezega.com: I wish you all the best on you performance and I thank you for your time.
Alemayehu: You are welcome.
This article was written by Eden Habtamu reporting for Ezega.com from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at News@Ezega.com. The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to Ezega.com. If reprinted on a website, we ask that you place this active link: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to http://www.Ezega.com.