By Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa
“Being rich in culture is better than being rich in resources”. A bubbly young Christopher D Betts in a deep grey t-shirt and blue jeans says to me while pressed in a sea of children who are fresh from experiencing The Prince and the Rose.
I am really trying to get him to agree with me that maybe America, where he is from, has a better way of doing things as regards theatre. However despite his profile (1), he is adamant the way things are happening here should be appreciated the way they are and not compared. It’s a sunny afternoon, but we are in the shade of a tent atop The Square Place. You wouldn’t know that it rained a little earlier.
Talking about theatre, he of course notices the differences in how things work. For example, there are clearer roles in America – specialisations, for lighting, stage, wardrobe and more. In Uganda, there is a more collaborative and interwoven approach. There is a blend. In Uganda, it is communal. People share roles and responsibilities and move them around often.
Giving an example of Lupita Nyong’o, he notes that it is easier for famous TV personalities to get work on the stage than it is the other way round. Television, film offers a wider reach and perhaps this is something USA and Uganda share.
Asking him about his view about the space the festival is taking place, he believes it allows the creativity of those involved to flourish. And as a whole it fosters what he has seen and liked while in Uganda in the theatre community, which is – community, innovativeness, things that are transformative and adaptive. In his eyes, he loves the inventiveness that allows adapting spaces such as The Square into theatrical stages.
He has been holding Directing Workshops for Kampala International Theatre Festival that end on Friday. “A calling,” is what he refers to his love for directing as. It is noteworthy that he had been acting since the age of seven until he began directing at the age of 22. Having been an actor, he has an empathy for actors and understands the experiences they bring onto stage. He understands the energy, the emotions, the devotion they extend to audiences.
Being a director, however, he says allows him to contribute to the larger statement being made by the individual actors. Being a director allows him to create a space or, you could say, platform for these experiences.
He loves to engage his leadership skills, his creativity and intelligence into bringing an idea into existence, from the mind to paper to the stage.
As we conclude our conversation, I ask him to give a word of advice to actors or any creatives. After staring into space for maybe a minute or two, he posits that one should not let obstacles get in the way of their ideas and work. Obstacles should be challenges that enable them to innovate and be creative in overcoming them and in this way set them apart in whatever they are doing.
As he gets up to leave, he thanks a few of the children he’s been swamped in and then walks off. He looks younger in person than he does in photos but he does have an impressive profile and approach to life. If I picked anything from him, it would be not to despise oneself but to also believe in people. He mentioned in passing, that it is Thanksgiving season in the USA but he’s not feeling alone, because the community here makes him feel welcomed.
1- Christopher D. Betts is a New York based theatre director from Chicago, Illinois, traveling the continent of Africa as the 2017-2018 recipient of the Julie Taymor World Theatre Fellowship. Christopher has worked as a Movement Director for the World Premiere of Barbecue at The Public Theater. He has also worked at The Public as a Playwright’s Assistant to Tarell Alvin McCraney. Other collaborations include the Obie Award winning Fire this Time Festival, CARRIE at Peregrine Theatre (2015 BroadwayWorld.com Boston Best Musical Nomination) and the New York Premiere of The Cave: A Folk Opera. SDCF Observership (2016-2017 & 2017-2018) BFA Drama NYU Tisch School of the Arts (NYU Commencement Bachelor’s Representative) Upcoming: Artist in Residence – PopArt, Johannesburg & Teaching Artist at Market Theatre.
Photos: James Wasswa