As part of a new Q&A series, we will be getting to know the Bartol Foundation’s 2018 grantees. Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) educates and entertains the public on African arts and culture through Afrocentric and ideological literacy, and via visual, audio, and performing arts. They received a $5,000 Bartol grant for their theatre program based in the Liberian community.
These questions were answered by Dr. Joe Gbaba, Founder of DATI.
What about your work keeps you up at night?
Most times, my wife says I don’t sleep at night because I wake up in the middle of the night to write articles or plays and/or to communicate with my fans on social media. This is because directing, acting, teaching literature, and other art forms I practice are not just a means to an end. For me, it is a vocation. My artistic career began with a vision forty-four years ago as a senior at a Christian boarding school in Liberia. That vision inspired me to write a play whose theme was “Integration and Unification.” These themes were divinely inspired because during my childhood days in Liberia, there was a great political divide between the haves and have-nots.
The political divide based on ethnicity in Liberia inspired me to write my first drama, entitled “Life Story of Kekula.” The play is set in an Americo-Liberian settlement. Kekula’s father was a local farmer that befriended the Americo-Liberian family whose daughter named Sussie fell in love with an Indigenous Liberian named Kekula. Sussie got pregnant and her parents insisted that they both get married because they did not want their first grandchild to be born out of wedlock. Hence, consummating the first marriage between an Americo-Liberian and Native Liberian symbolically began the integration.
Nine years later, I as a Native Liberian whose descendants were ancient African Jews from East Africa also married an Americo-Liberian, my wife of thirty-five years! So, the story I was inspired to write was all about my future. Over the decades, more Liberians have intermarried and had children who are now considered the “core lineage” because they are related to both sides of the political spectra of Liberia. In essence, my work has deep historical and political roots. For the past forty-four years, my calling as a Liberian playwright propelled me to educate and entertain Liberians and the international community about the history and culture of Africa and Liberia. Waking up at night to write and/or communicate with my support base is a sense of obligation to the task God has inspired me to undertake throughout my life on earth.
What is the coolest thing a participant in your program ever said to you?
One of the coolest things a participant in a recent theatre production said was:
“Dr. Joseph Gbaba, you’re the man Sir who make people ‘break legs’ we pledge our unflinching commitment to DATI under you stewardship. God bless you daddy.” (Culled from Facebook.)
I felt grateful and self-fulfilled that I could help to harness the talent of someone who had never acted before prior to his being cast in my production!
When do you know your work is making a difference?
I know my work is making a difference when I do self-appraisal or when I read feedback from my readers and fans on social media. For instance, Facebook alerts me about the responses of my fans and followers. Over the past year and a half, most of my articles I have published on Facebook on the Dehkontee Artists Theatre Timeline get more than five to six thousand views per week. Many of my fans from around the globe contact me to express their satisfaction regarding the type of services I provide globally, and this helps me realize I am making a difference in the lives of millions of people who read my posts on the internet and/or watch my outreach programs on YouTube or the DATI website.
What is the most important thing you do to help your teaching artists do their best work?
I help my teaching artists most of the time by modeling and by making them the center of their own learning experiences. I use inquiry-based teaching techniques to make sure they are truly grounded in the teaching and learning processes we engage in with our students and participants. I do this to show them I appreciate the fund of knowledge they bring to the teaching and learning arena and I submit myself as a student would to help my colleagues realize that I learn from them as well.