A well-known theater director in Sierra Leone is inspiring people to be proud of their culture through traditional theater. He’s tired of Sierra Leoneons leaving for greener pastures and the negative images often shown of his country. It’s challenging, as interest in traditional theater has decreased but he’s determined to keep it alive. Women from a local church group in Freetown sing a traditional song in the Mende language. They are rehearsing for an upcoming performance to celebrate the forty year anniversary of their church. They also want to do that traditionally and so they have called in Charlie Haffner to help them. He is the best theatre director in the country says President of the church group, Comfort Kargbo. “He’s the backbone of these plays in Sierra Leone,” said Kargbo. Haffner is known for using traditional songs, costumes and dances as a form of storytelling. He also makes dramas that do not involve a script. That is why Kargbo wanted him to work with her group. Its’ also a way to share culture with younger generations. “Most of our children in Freetown, they don’t know anything concerning those things, but if we come [perform] with those things, they will have some ideas about what was going on in the provinces (rural areas) and what our people were doing there in those days and they will start to learn something,” said Kargbo. Haffer is the founder and director of Freetong Players International Theater Group, which has been operating for about thirty years. His play, Amistad Kata-Kata, about the 1839 slave rebellion, was written before the Hollywood film Amistad and has been performed internationally. Haffer says many of the performances the theater group does can be used to raise awareness. When they do performances in local communities it’s a way to bring people together and understand an issue. Domestic violence and teenage pregnancy are just some of the topics the theater group tackles. “I just believe that maybe there was a voice somewhere that told me, ‘you have to get on this’, not only getting on it, but don’t follow the normal trend, but shift a bit, find a new path and leave footprints, for others to follow and that is what I think I’m doing and that is what I think has made a difference,” said Haffer. Haffner said what he really enjoys is coaching others such as the women’s church group. The Freetong Players group is mainly made up of young adults, including Haffner’s son Tutie. They have jam sessions daily. Tutie Haffner also wants to keep traditional theatre alive and inspire other youth. “We go to communities, perform for them and make sure messages are passed on, like for an immunization program in Sierra Leone, we did plays and songs and we go to these communities where they are affected and they listen to us,” said Haffner. Charlie Haffner and his son hope that listening will continue for years to come.
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