Mark Twain, American author and satirist, once, unable to find a clean shirt in the house, began cursing like there was no tomorrow. After a while, his wife repeated each word she thought he had articulated.

However, when she finished, Twain heaved a big sigh and said, “My dear, you have the words, but you don’t have the music.”

It was all about the turns and twists of emotions in strings that she was short of. And for decades after then, as before, it would go on to haunt those that perform.

It has not been that different in Ethiopia with “Fikir Eske Meqaber,” which can be translated as “Love Unto the Crypt,” a true masterpiece of Amharic literature by any standard. Nonetheless, on this occasion, the music was there. The book was brought to life when it was read on Ethiopian radio. The book's distinct emotional repertoire was livened, as confirmed by its author, Hadis Alemayehu.

Pegging his pieces with his almost pioneering creative writing, Mesfin Habtemariam, essayist, once lamented that a video recording did not complement the audio. He was right. One can only imagine if it was as excellent a film production, but the radio series remained vivid in many people's minds. Today, few books have the acclaim and recognition Hadis’ book has, and this was in part owing to that audio programme.

The suffering of adapting to another medium and, if lucky, its magic did not stop with what today would have been referred to as an audiobook. There was also the Russian classic, “The Government Inspector,” by Nikolai Gogol.

“To place a purely literary valuation upon it and call it the greatest of Russian comedies would not convey the significance of its position either in Russian literature or in Russian life itself,” wrote Thomas Seltzer, in his introduction to the book for which he did the translation. “There is no other single work in the modern literature of any language that carries with it the wealth of associations which the Inspector-General does to the educated Russian is how he summed it up.”

Adapting such a book would be daunting. When it was staged in Ethiopia, in its Amharic rendition, a Russian theatre actor who played the lead there was invited. He highly hailed the comedic nature of his counterpart, only through the physiological display of each and every emotion. It was a token of the performer’s prowess, walking the culturally distinct borders of emotion.

The actor that played the protagonist was Wegayehu Nigatu, who was a close collaborator of Debebe Eshetu. He was an excellent actor whose mark on the industry has rarely been replicated. Fortunately, a live monument, reminiscent of his dedication to the stage, unwaivering will to accept a range of roles and the epitome of the hard worker, is being erected for him. It is nothing other than institutionalising his contribution through a show that hunts for actors.

The show took his nickname, “Wegisho” and is running on Balageru TV.

In the show, performers articulate their cases through their chosen monologues, in a matter of minutes. They come in a variety of character types, moods and ages. Through their acting chops, they try to capture the attention and win the hearts and minds of the judges.

The audience will most likely be tuning in for the sake of entertainment. But some of it will for the nostalgia of it, through hopefuls who attempt to recreate the magic of acting passed down to them through the generations.

Years back, people used to be amused by the long lines of people outside the gates of the National Theatre, as they waited to get their tickets to be witness to a stage where acting was taken deadly serious. There is very little of this today, and one shudders to imagine how today’s performers would have brought to life Fikir Eske Meqaberor The Government Inspector.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 31,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1083]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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