“First a definition: a festival is a relatively rare climactic event in the life of any community… It often becomes the social, ritual, and political apotheosis of community life in a year. At festival time one level of reality - the common and everyday - gives way to another, a more intense, symbolic, and expressive level of reality.”
Herbert M. Cole, The Art of Festival in Ghana, African Arts, Vol. 8, No. 3, 1975
The Rights of Spring Festival of April 2021 was inspired by my creative research into traditional and contemporary West African festivals. Our 12-day festival of online and live events at UMass Amherst, represents the flowering of my discoveries traveling to Nigeria and Ghana since 2016. I was privileged to attend traditional festivals in honor of majestic and highly influential deities of the Yoruba pantheon, festivals celebrating the harvest, festivals honoring families blessed with twin births.
I participated in contemporary festivals, Chale Wote founded in 2011 and the Pilolo African Diaspora Festival inaugurated in 2019; both events showcasing arts and culture, reimagining communal rituals and attracting international participants and audiences.
Whether traditional or contemporary all these festivals are fulfilling their role of rehearsing, invigorating and sometimes redefining their respective society’s core myths. Given the destabilization of societies over the past three years the function of festivals has never been more important.
As Professor of Theater for Social Transformation I envisioned a festival acknowledging our campus community’s resilience, ingenuity, creativity, genius and most importantly our ability to collaborate through the tremendously challenging years of 2020 and 2021. As festival producer I worked and played alongside members of our Theater department, deeply gratified at the outpouring of offerings from colleagues, staff, undergraduate and graduate students. I am delighted to share the fruits of our labor with you.