Theatrical director and artist Junior Esseba guides an actress on stage during the rehearsal of a theatrical play in Yaounde, Cameroon, on March 20, 2024. (Photo by Kepseu/Xinhua)

Cameroonian theatrical artist eyes fruitful cultural exchanges with China

Growing up in a Cameroonian village, Junior Esseba watched many Chinese movies, including “Shaolin Temple” starring Jet Li, which left him in awe and admiration. Esseba’s love for theater grew from there, and today he is a household name in the country’s performing arts industry.

YAOUNDE, March 27 (Xinhua) — It was a sunny day in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, and Junior Esseba gathered his troupe to rehearse a performance aimed at changing social discrimination and violence through drama.

As lights went out and darkness enveloped the hall at Karefour theater, an actress walked onto the stage under two tinted but bright lamps to make an impassioned plea to the audience for an end to terrorism and injustice.   

A jolly man full of jokes, Esseba is passionate about theater. His performances often treat the subject of love and humanity.

“People would cry when they watch my show because it speaks to their heart,” said the 48-year-old theatrical director and artist. “I didn’t want to do theater just for fun. I wanted to tackle serious subjects, to stage them in a fictional way.”

The father of four said he was inspired by TV series and Chinese films to become an artist. In the village where Esseba grew up, he watched many Chinese movies, including “Shaolin Temple” starring Jet Li, which elicited awe and admiration.

“When we finished watching the movie, we thought we could fight just like the actors in the film,” he said with a broad smile.

Esseba’s love for theater grew from there, and today he has become a household name in the performing arts industry in Cameroon, running his own troupe, Crazy Theater.

“We go to schools, neighborhoods, and stadia to perform open-air theater. Today, we see young people getting involved in theater because they have a dream. That means we have done a good job,” said Esseba, who also heads the Cameroonian chapter of the International Theater Institute.

He will travel to China to attend the World Theater Day 2024 Celebration, scheduled for March 27-29 in Langfang, Hebei Province.

“I’ve never been to China. It’s going to be my first time,” Esseba said. “I have a lot of expectations.”

“The time has come for us to open up to other world powers, and China can be a very sure partner,” he said. “We are a developing country and would also like to benefit from Chinese expertise regarding culture. We want theater to be as popular as football.”

“If China can open its doors to us, it will be beneficial for us,” Esseba said, adding that he looks forward to initiating cultural exchanges with Chinese partners during the World Theater Day Celebration in Langfang.

Aicha Abdoulaye Diallo, 35, was rehearsing with Esseba.

“I personally would like to know more about Chinese culture. It’s good that we saw it in the films, but it wasn’t detailed. So if there is a way, we bring Chinese artists here in Cameroon and take Cameroonian artists to China,” Diallo said.

Andre Takou, who was co-directing with Esseba, concurred: “When there is an exchange across two cultures, across two peoples, there is inevitably an evolution somewhere, because we discover something, we learn from our knowledge from our attitude, and we can draw inspiration from others to develop what we have in ourselves.”

“In this respect, China is a good destination for developing the artistic framework in Cameroon,” Takou said.

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