Tesfaye Gessesse (born September 27, 1937) is regarded as one of the most important exponents of Ethiopian modern theatre. During a career that spanned 40 years, he has been an actor, director and theatre administrator. He wrote and directed several plays which have a great relevance in the modern history of Ethiopian Culture.
Gesesse was born on September 27, 1937 in Guro Gutu in Hararghe State. He started his theatre career in the 1950s as a young University student. His promise got him a scholarship at Northwestern University's theater school, in Evanston, Illinois, where he studied in the late 1950s.(Plastow, 94)
On returning to Ethiopia, he was a part of a small group of reformers, who in the 1960s turned theatre from an art form aimed at propagandizing for the aristocracy to into a means for examining the political and social situation in Ethiopia. In 1960, he became associated with the Haile Selassie I theatre, which had been initially founded by Emperor Haile Selassie, primarily for his own entertainment, but whose direction was being changed to focus on everyday concerns by newly appointed director Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin and gained acclaim as a director. His early work Yeshi depicts the corruption of urban life, typified by its titular character, a prostitute who destroys the life of her lover.(Plastow, 96-98)
He became the General Director of Hager Fikir Theatre in 1974. In 1975, he was suspended and sent to prison by the newly installed Derg government after his play "Iqaw" which criticized state terrorism.
In 1976, Tsegaye, who had become the Director of the National Theatre in Addis Ababa was removed after demonstrations by theater workers. Gessesse was named the new Director.(Plastow, p154). His work continued to cause controversy as with his direction of Tsere Kolonialist as well as his own play, Tehaddiso (Renaissance), both of which deviated with the regime's preference for serious-minded realism. As Derg's hold tightened, its tolerance for these deviations lessened. Gessesse was fired from his post in 1979.(Plastow, 160-162) However, his fame allowed him a certain amount of leeway, which allowed him to be one of a few playwrights able to mount politically sensitive productions into the 1980s. His plays Cherchez Les Femmes' (1980) and Ferdu Leinante (The Judgement is for you, 1984) examined the use of fear as a means of control without directly criticizing the regime. (Plastow 224-225)