The Ghosts of Performance Past: Theatre, Gender, Religion and Cultural Memory
University of Texas, Austin, US
Abimbola A. Adelakun completed a Ph.D. in the department of Theatre and Dance at University of Texas at Austin. She also earned both a Master’s and a doctoral portfolio in African/African Diaspora Studies. She is currently a lecturer in the department of African/African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests are religion and society, feminist performance, Pentecostalism, Africana studies, and dramatic literature.
Her dissertation highlights the process of “make-believe” and the various illusory elements of theatre used in staging “church” before the audience. The culture of Pentecostalism in Nigeria employs wide-ranging performances, the performative and performativity; all of which combine to make it a vibrant cultural product.
This article studies the phenomenon of ghosting in religious performance through an examination of a famous Yoruba actress, Iyabo Ogunsola (Iya Efunsetan). Ogunsola once played the role of a 19th century historical character, Efunsetan Aniwura, on stage at a remarkable period of Yoruba history thus embedding her life and career trajectory with that of the culture. Iya Efunsetan has currently transited to an Aladura church leader and a gospel performer. Building on works by theatre/performance scholars who have studied how previously staged performances haunt the re-enactment of performances in another place, time, and context, I examine the religious aspect of the phenomenon of ghosting as it relates to Ase, Yoruba concept of metaphysical force. While Iya Efunsetan cannot shake off the ghosts of her theatrical past, I note that she mobilizes the Ase of her embodied theatrical history fame to authenticate herself as a religious leader.