Cameroonian artists have shared their theatrical experiences in promoting social cohesion as World Theatre Day is celebrated on March 27.
"The theater contributes to social cohesion in Cameroon. A comedy show brings together an audience from all social classes. This audience laughs at the jokes that affect all social strata. The comedian, in writing a sketch, is also concerned with making people laugh and bringing together all social strata," comedian Franck Amana explained to Anadolu Agency.
Like him, Sylvanie Njeng, an artist since 2018, perceives the theater as the mirror of society and social cohesion is found through the majority of interactions between actors who sometimes embody opposing or complementary social entities.
"It is an opportunity but we cannot reduce it to that because it depends on the sensitivity of everyone," she said.
In the quest of "living together," as an artist, she considers herself a small part of a big machine playing the role that is assigned to her and hoping that it suits everyone.
The young woman thinks there should be a real will to develop social cohesion and not limit it to a fashion effect. For this, she observed a strong artistic potential in Cameroon which still requires practical training, funding and popularization among the public.
Her compatriot and colleague Stephane Dipita also perceives the theater as a total art through which actors, nationally and internationally, take an autopsy of Cameroonian society plagued by various social, economic, moral, and existential ills.
But for the message of cohesion, he thinks it would be necessary for people to go to the theater more often.
"Going to the theater is an act of cohesion. There, people from different social classes and ethnicities come together and communicate regardless of their differences. Political, ethnic, religious, and racial barriers disappear once you cross the threshold of a theatre door. So if we can experience a show together, living together might not be so complicated. But getting people to the theater is fundamental," he said.
Real gold mine
Dipita participates in this momentum by training young people through workshops, who can continue to perpetuate the passion for the theater and take up the torch.
He also said the theater is "a real gold mine" that can contribute to the social effort by creating jobs in a context where the informal economy absorbs the ambient poverty.
"Theater professions can be a sustainable alternative to curb particularly, even if on a small scale, the unemployment rate. All artistic trades can intervene," he added, noting, however, "a certain reluctance from the public."
For photographer and actor Max Mbakop, the art is a real opportunity for social cohesion and a great therapy for people and society.
"It is a way of life, a state of mind, a state of being. It is a discipline of life. It transforms your being. A person who really practices theater is a changed person who perceives things differently. As a result, it is easy for him to fit in and create true harmony around him," he said.
When he started acting 18 years ago, he said his goal was to choose plays that would educate, sensitize and even solve or propose solutions to certain problems in education, culture, traditions and spirituality.
The theater represents the life of actor Ignace Essounga. He said he has learned everything there for 15 years.
He is the president of an association called Afroartists Without Borders, where he is committed to social cohesion through his art, mirroring society and creating committed works.
"I think it is a literary genre that contributes to social cohesion. Every play has a good moral at the end, for example how to be a good neighbor. By performing, I challenge and educate the public," he said.
The regret unanimously shared by Cameroonian artists is the insufficient commitment of the population to theatrical and artistic works in general in Cameroon.
"Nothing is done for the emancipation of our art in this country. Even the institutions do not manage to accompany us in this direction," said Mbakop. "We have no infrastructure adapted to the theater, no subsidies apart from some private groups. There is almost no theater in Cameroon. It is an art form that is already almost abandoned. The best artists leave the country and go to countries where their works are more respected."