Theatre Practice in Nigeria: To Be or Not To Be?

 

By



Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, PhD
Executive Secretary/CEO
National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO)
Abuja, Nigeria
Website: www.nico.gov.ng
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





Being a Keynote Lecture
At the International Theatre Day (ITD) 2012 Celebrations
On Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Organised By


National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP)
At the Cyprian Ekwensi Cultural Centre
FCT Council for Arts & Culture
Area 10, Garki-Abuja


Introduction
The theatre has become an interesting area of study in Nigeria, due largely to developments in Nollywood. This, no doubt, is gratifying because some of us were disowned, so to speak, because we ‘foolishly’ decided to study Theatre Arts. Our parents did not understand why one would waste valuable time to go and study “how to sing and dance.” After all, every human being can sing and dance, so why waste valuable time and money to learn how to throw legs on stage? This reminds one of what we also suffered in our primary school days, as regards football. If you went to play football, when you should be helping with household chores, your mother would come to the school field and warn you not to come back home to eat. She will tell you, blankly, that the football will fill your stomach that night; and she would make good her threat. But we know that with current developments in professional football, mothers will rather scold their children for not playing football to make a fortune for the family.
In this paper, I shall take a survey of the practice of theatre in Nigeria, starting from the days of late Chief Hubert Ogunde to the present day, arguing that for the theatre profession to take a pride of place in the country, trained theatre artists, like professionals in other disciplines like law, engineering, quantity surveying, medicine, pharmacy, accounting, insurance, etc. must develop interest and be committed to the survival of theatre practice by practising it. Furthermore, funding of the theatre has to be taken seriously, as it obtains in advanced cultures, because theatre has the potentials of enhancing national development.


Towards A Conceptual Framework
To arrive at a conceptual framework, it is necessary, first, to have a clear understanding of what theatre is all about. This is essential because it is only an understanding of the concept that would lead to a sound knowledge of the practice of theatre, in our own context. The word, theatre, means different things to different people. To medical students, a theatre is a place where surgical operations are done. Thus, if one says a doctor has gone to the theatre, it could be that he is doing something in the anatomy of homo sapiens – an operation. To a soldier, theatre means a place where a war is fought; thus, we talk of theatres of war across the globe. To an undergraduate, a theatre could just be a hall where lectures are delivered. This explains the naming of lecture halls like Lecture Theatre I, II, III, and so on.
However, to a student of theatre arts, a theatre is the place where dramatic performances take place. But then, a closer examination of the term will show that in doing dramatic performances, the place is functioning as an “operating theatre,” in the sense that the anatomies of plays are examined on stage, under performance situations. The theatre is also a place for teaching, as messages are passed across to the audience. Lastly, it could also be a war-front as actors face spectators, whose reactions to the message of the play may be unpredictable, ranging from the friendly to the antagonistic. This is in the sense that if a performance does not meet the expectation of an audience, anything can happen. The actors will then be on their own because the director will not come to their rescue or save them.
According to The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary, a theatre is:


a building or open space where dramatic performances are given furnished with a stage for the actors, seats for the audience; the written dramatic literature of  a country, period or person; a place where dramatic events occur; a room furnished with a demonstration bench and tiers of seats, used for teaching and demonstrating; an operating theatre (1024).


Suffice to note here that the word, theatre, is a derivation from the Greek word, theatron, which means, a seeing place. In ancient Greece, the word, theatre, depicted a structural setting, usually in the open air, used for the presentation of dramatic spectacles and plays. But then, by the 17th Century, the term had come to connote the arts, as a whole, of which the building is an integral part. Thus, theatre is that art, which the public viewed, and still view today, as a basic nature of man’s means of expressing his internal perceptions of life.
Perhaps it is necessary to stress here that it is generally speculated in theatre history, and believed more especially in Western culture, that theatre as an art form originated in ancient Greece. Little wonder then that even original African theatrical presentations are very often related to Greek conventions, simply as a result of the fact that these had been documented long before now. Brockett highlights the nature of theatre in ancient Greece thus:


For several years, Greek drama was presented at festivals honouring Dionysus the god of wine and fertility… At Athens, plays were presented in the Theatre of Dionysus situated in the slope of Acropolis above the Temple of Dionysus. Thus, Theatre, in the sixth century consisted of the hillside on which the spectators stood or sat and a flat terrace at the foot of the hill for the performers (75).


Furthermore, Brockett and Ball’s analysis of the Greek Theatre, indeed the City Dionysia, is very pertinent to our discourse. They note that:


Extending over several days near the end of March, it was one of the most important occasions of the year and a major showcase for Athenian wealth and power. The festival was both religious and civic celebration under the supervision of the principal state official. Theatrical performances were viewed in a radically different light than they are today. They were offerings of the city to a god. At a time, they were expressions of civic pride – indications of the cultural superiority of Athens over the other Greek states, which only later developed their own festivals (58).


From the above scenario, it is clear that the word, theatre, has assumed a wider perspective. This is dependent on the social, political, philosophical, economic, cultural, racial, geographical, religious, and sociological influences on that society, and that period of its historical development. Whiting amplifies this point when he states that:


To the Greeks, the theatre was a religious ritual commanding the devotion of the best minds in the community; to the Romans… it eventually became little more than depraved pleasure, a project by slaves for the titillation of their masters. To the early Church the theatre was an evil to be crushed along with thievery and prostitution. To the same church few years later, some of the great mystery and miracle plays became almost holy rites. To many entertainers…the theatre has usually been regarded as a means of earning a living through a few jokes and antics designed to catch the momentary fancy of the general public. To great playwrights… it has proved a means of probing honestly and fearlessly for the meaning of life and mastery of existence (2).


However, in her own study, Burns looks at theatre purely from the sociological viewpoint when she states that the theatre is:


an arena in which it is possible to study manifestations of the social values, forms and conventions of society and also the images of social reality which people of different kinds at times have construed for themselves (5).


This brings us to the nature of theatre, as an art. According to Brockett, the theatre is:


the most objective of the arts, since characteristically it presents both outer and inner experience through speech and action. As in life, it is through listening and watching that we come to know individuals both externally and internally (3).

Despite the fact that the word, theatre, has been given several definitions by different people, there are certain features that are basic (or essential) for any event to qualify as theatre. These are referred to as the elements of theatre, and they could be delineated as follows:


What is performed: This could be a script, a scenario, or a musical. In other word, this is the “what,” or first “W” in the elements of theatre.
The performers: This includes all the processes involved in the preparation and final presentation. This is the “who,” or the second “W” in the elements of theatre.
The venue: It could be a stage, an open arena, village square, a forest, or even a river. This is the “where,” or the third “W” in the elements of theatre.
The audience: This is the other or better half of the theatre that comes to share in the theatrical experience. This is the “whom,” or the fourth “W” in the elements of theatre.


For any theatrical performance to take place, there must definitely be an idea, which could be documented in the form of a script, a scenario, a musical score, or dance pattern. Even where an improvisation leads to a performance, it is the interplay of all the elements of theatre that leads to the end product. But suffice to state that theatre cannot be said to have taken place unless there is a performance that is enacted before a given audience. Let us take the example of a lecturer teaching in a class, where there are no students. Passers-by will say such a lecturer is a mental case. The same applies to what is happening here now. You are the reason why this presentation is taking place. This underpins the position of Brockett that, “the performer exists only when an audience exists, for the performer’s entire purpose is to arouse recognition and wonder in the on-looker” (8).


Special Qualities of the Theatre
At this juncture, it is pertinent for us to delineate the special qualities of theatre, which distinguish it from other media of entertainment.


1)    Lifelikeness: Theatre is lifelike in its nature. It is the closest to life; it is a mirror or slice of life; it does not only use life experiences, it uses human beings as the primary means of communicating such characters and thoughts to the audience;
2)    Ephemeral: The theatre event is ephemeral, like life itself. A theatrical experience is shared or experienced and it becomes part of the past; unlike painting, it cannot be held up again by the spectator to be appreciated;
3)    Objective: It is objective because it examines the inner and outer experiences of given characters through speech and action. The spectator sits there to watch situations unfolding on stage and, in the postulation of Samuel Coleridge, willingly suspends “disbelief;”
4)    Complex: It is complex because it is interplay of sound, movement, lighting, dress, etc. In other words, theatre draws from other arts: literature, painting, sculpture, sound design, music, costume design, architecture, etc.;
5)    Psychological Immediacy: The theatre is characterised by psychological immediacy – the living presence of the actors and the audience in a performance environment. This is one major advantage the theatre has over the screen – TV/Film. The actors and the audience have the capacity of influencing the other, positively or negatively – a good response from an audience spurs the actors on stage, just as negative reactions may demoralise the actors and hinder the production;
6)    Three-Dimensional: The theatre is a three-dimensional experience, drawing from the above interactive relationship between performers and spectators (See Brockett and Ball 14-16).


From Yoruba Travelling Theatres, Educational Theatres, Amateur Theatres, To Professional Theatres


Having taken a look at the concept and nature of theatre, it is necessary for us to do a survey of the state of theatre in Nigeria. The emphasis here is not theatre as obtains in our numerous traditional festivals, but theatre as an organised venture courting the attention of spectators. A prelude to this might be a cursory look at the Yoruba Travelling Theatre, which appeared to herald documented contemporary Nigerian theatre practice.


Yoruba Travelling Theatres: In his pioneering study, Adedeji traced the origins of Yoruba theatre to the Egun masquerade, with spectators rarely applauding the actors, but always shouting insults and booing, because the audience was so loud. The traditional Egun rite, controlled exclusively by men, culminated in a masquerade, in which the ancestors return to the world of the living to visit their descendants. The Aláàrìnjó was composed of a troupe of travelling performers, who, like the performers in the Egun rite, were masked. The Aláàrìnjó performers created satirical skits by drawing on a number of established stereotyped characters and incorporating mime, music and acrobatics. The Aláàrìnjó tradition, in turn, deeply influenced the Yoruba Travelling theatre, which, from the 1950s to the 1980s, was the most prevalent and highly developed form of theatre in Nigeria.
Major figures in contemporary Nigerian theatre continue to be deeply influenced by traditional performance modes. Chief Hubert Ogunde, sometimes referred to as the father of contemporary Nigerian theatre, was influenced by the Aláàrìnjó tradition and Egun masquerades. Wole Soyinka, who is generally recognized as Africa’s greatest living playwright, gives Egun a complex metaphysical significance when he contrasts Yoruba drama with Greek drama, establishing an aesthetic of Yoruba tragedy based, in part, on the Yoruba pantheon, including Ogun and Obatala. Other theatre practitioners that dominated the scene include Kola Ogunmola and Duro Ladipo. One common denominator in their approach was that the theatre groups were run as family enterprises: father, wives, children and dependants constituted the cast and crew of the outfits. Thus, the proceeds from their performances went into the family purses.
Incidentally, among the many reasons proffered by film scholars for the vibrancy of the cinematic tradition among the Yoruba was that professional traditional theatre practice was vibrant in Western Nigeria. Since the practitioners had ready audiences, they started recording their stage productions into celluloid when the fortunes of the stage reduced. The transition was easy for them because some of them had, before then, started experimenting with multimedia production techniques. They had resorted to the use of filmed sequences to realise certain special effects in their stage performances (Ayakoroma 27).


State of Theatre Practice in Nigeria
Nwamuo had noted rightly that a good number of theatres in Nigeria have very poor facilities, such as lack of rest-rooms, water including lack of comfortable seats for members of the audience, who pay to watch performances. This gives rise to situations where members of the audience are uncomfortable, or stand all through productions. Thus, they naturally express their discomfort by running side commentaries on shows, making unnecessary noise and disturbing the peace of the production. Naturally, such members of the audience and those who feel greatly disturbed will bid eternal farewell to the theatre after that type of experience.
The National Arts Theatre, which is the primary centre for the performing arts in Nigeria, located in Iganmu – Lagos, was constructed in 1976, during the military regime of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, for the hosting of the 2nd World Blacks and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977. Its exterior is shaped like a military hat. It has a 5,000-seater Main Hall with a collapsible stage, and two 700-800 capacity Cinema Halls, all of which are equipped with facilities for simultaneous translation of eight languages, among others. Unfortunately, most of the facilities in the theatre are broken down, and the edifice is a shadow of its original self. For example, President Olusegun Obasanjo announced plans in 2001 to privatise or concession the theatre; and this sparked controversy amongst theatre artists, entertainers and social critics, including Wole Soyinka. While a National Theatre is expected to be a place where a nation thinks in front of itself, the operation of Nigeria’s National Theatre has not justified that. But it is possible to turn things around so that people would look forward to weekends of artistic entertainment at the complex.


Educational Theatre Practice in Nigeria
There is no doubt that theatre practice has the potentials of thriving in educational institutions, basically because of the ready audience the campuses offer productions. Secondly, apart from the artistic entertainment dimension, the performances serve educational purposes. While students could do performances as partial fulfilment of certain course requirements, education institutions could also use such performances to communicate necessary messages to members of such academic communities. How well this platform has been utilised, by over forty higher institutions in Nigeria offering theatre arts, to meet institutional visions and missions is left for us to conjecture. But then, it is pertinent for us to identify a few of such educational theatres.


University Performing Companies: In the 1970s and 1980s, the University of Ibadan set up the Unibadan Performing Company (UPC), just as the University of Calabar Performing Company (UCPC) also held sway in Cross River State. This was after the exploits of Wole Soyinka’s 1960 Masks and Bode Sowande’s Odu Themes, which were more or less private educational theatre initiatives. The university performing companies were conceptualised as business ventures that could be self-financing. Unfortunately, the austerity measures that were introduced in the mid-80s, coupled with the harsh business climate, made the operations of these theatre companies unviable.


University of Port Harcourt Theatre: Uniport Theatre was established in 1979, with Ola Rotimi as the first Artistic Director. With The Crab as the performance base, the theatre was a force to reckon with in the 80s, doing productions regularly within and outside the campus. Rotimi took his play, Hopes of the Living Dead, on a performance tour of the country, ending at the National Theatre, Iganmu-Lagos. He also did a command performance of Grip Am, as part of the 1988 Independence Anniversary celebrations at Nicon-Noga (now Transcorp) Hotel, Abuja. I played the lead character, Ise, and had Ejike Asiegbu, then a student of the department, as my double. I recall that he (Asiegbu) had the privilege of going on stage that night because Rotimi, as a great mentor, wanted to give him the necessary exposure to build his confidence.
As it were, Uniport Theatre had a breakthrough in 1991, when it represented Africa in the World Universities Games and Cultural Festival in Sheffield, England, with a play, titled, Orukoro, written and directed by Henry Leopold Bell-Gam. Though there are many Crabites, dictating happenings in Nollywood, The Crab itself is a mere shadow of its old self, as far as theatre practice is concerned. Tess K Theatre, founded in 1985, is Bell-Gam’s research theatre, which is uniquely for experiments and entertainment.
Worth mentioning here is the fact that the Certificate in Theatre Arts (CTA) programme of the University of Port Harcourt, was conceptualised by Rotimi as a professional programme, where graduands were expected to go for a one year industrial attachment before proceeding to the degree programme. The Auditions for admission into the programme was very painstaking, and created quite an entertainment for the university community. Somehow, the process has since been jettisoned and admission to the programme is now being handled just like other Basic Studies programmes. Old Uniport products like Ejike Asiegbu, Francis Duru, Julius Agwu, Hilda Dokubo, Monalisa Chinda, Rita Dominic, Patrick Otoro, Bobmanuel Udokwu, Charles Inojie, Basorge Tariah Jnr, among others, are better placed to affirm that the story is no longer the same.


Ajon Players: This is a theatre company founded by Olu Obafemi in 1981 at the University of Ilorin. Ododo states that Ajon Players was a childhood dream that went through a gestation period of about a quarter of a century; and that there was no misconception and no miscarriage before a vital delivery in 1981 (84). What this means is that Obafemi had the vision, as a child, as he fancied watching the Ajon Festival in Kiri land of Kabba Bunu Local Government Area of Kogi State, his homeland. This is to say that the theatre company derived its name from Ajon festival. Obafemi developed interest in drama right from secondary school when he led the Dramatic Society of Dekina Provincial School, Drama Troupe in Titcombe College, Egbe, and being an active member of the Drama Troupe of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, with fellow students like Yakubu Nasidi, Ernest Jenkwe, Kola Atolagbe and Iyorwuese Hagher, most of who are prominent theatre practitioners today in Nigeria. While studying at the University of Leeds, Obafemi was also very active in drama. Thus, he founded Ajon Players as a theatre laboratory that can harness all theatrical potentials to create social change. It explains why Ajon Players was an academy in which budding artists, as well as professionals in the theatre vocation, learnt how to turn live theatre into successful professional outfits at various levels. The group is still extant, but carries out minimal stage appearances.

Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF): The Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF) started in 1981, as a brainchild of Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Students Association (NUTASA). It is a festival, where students of all the Departments of Theatre (Dramatic/Performing) Arts in Nigerian Universities, come together each year to present plays, especially those written and/or directed by students. Ademiju-Bepo posits that the formation of NUTASA signposted a new trend in Nigerian theatre practice, especially playwriting and the birth of post-Osofisan generation of playwrights. The decision of NUTASA in 1987 to initiate a playwriting venture was a catalyst for the emergence and development of a new generation of talented playwrights. In the pioneering eight years of activity, some 80 new plays were presented at NUTAF (104). Though the political situation in Nigeria in 1993, occasioned by the June 12 elections crisis, could not allow NUTAF to hold in 1994 and 1995, the 10th edition in Jos in 1998, was the revolutionary vehicle which Nigeria’s dramatic culture used to enter into new millennium. Unfortunately, the fiesta suffered some setbacks because 1998 signalled its end, with the video film industry taking deep roots in the Nigerian entertainment scene.


Samaru Theatre Project: Community Theatre, as a form of theatre for conscientisation, was started in 1976 at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, by a group, known as the ABU Collective. The group comprised Michael Etherton and Brian Crow, and Nigerian theatre artists, such as Salihu Bappa, Steve Oga Abah and Tunde Lakoju. These theatre practitioners were determined to avail their theatre skills to the peasants and workers of the Zaria region in their struggle against oppression. The ABU Collective, using the techniques of Theatre for Development (TfD), established a relationship with the society and designed productions which came under the name Wassan Manoma (play for farmers). These were projects designed in 1977 for the Federal government’s Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) campaign. Topics for plays included, arrogance and ignorance of agricultural experts from the cities, migration to towns and corruption by government officials and village heads in the distribution of fertiliser.
The Samaru Community projects (Street Theatre) was part of the study programme for students of Drama at ABU, Zaria. The projects made it possible for the students to relate to their immediate community, Samaru and surrounding villages. Samaru is a semi-urban village that has a mixed population with inhabitants drawn from all parts of Nigeria. It is close to the university and most of the people, who live there, work in the university. Samaru, though close to the university, had very few social amenities. The main objective of the project, therefore, was to relate to Samaru by taking performances to them. The ABU Collective believed that drama was not meant only for the elite in the university but also for the generality of the people, whether literate or illiterate. They also wanted to disabuse the minds of students, who held the belief that the illiterates were incapable of appreciating drama.


Living Earth Nigeria Foundation (LENF): LENF carried out community theatre projects in Bayelsa and Cross River States between 1998 and 2001. This is a platform for environmental education of rural dwellers, using participatory theatre approach. As the consultant on the Bayelsa Programme, working with Arikpo Arikpo, who was then a staff of LENF, and Liwhu Betiang of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Calabar, who consulted for the Cross River Programme, we succeeded in setting up community drama groups in many towns and villages. Some of the plays that emanated from both programmes have since been published by Living Earth Nigeria Foundation.

Select Amateur Theatre Groups
The Wizi Travelling Theatre: The origin of the Wizi Travelling Theatre dates back to about 1864, when it started from the Ifo (story-telling) sessions that characterized most Igbo communities in the eastern part of Nigeria. It underwent four stages of development, namely, the Ifo (story-telling) stage, the Court (palace) stage, the Otumokpo (black magic) stage, and the Nhazi (re­organization stage). It has made immense contributions to the development of the communal life of the Obi­-Orodo people in particular and the Igbo and Nigerian people in general. It functions as the people’s media of communication and performs both religious and secular functions of sanitizing the society. Through the process of entertainment and enlightenment, it promotes the culture and history of the people and gives them a unique identity. Because of the popularity of the theatre, it has survived to date, due largely to the efforts of the offspring of its original founders. These offspring include Innocent Ohiri, who has promoted the practice of the theatre since 1981, to the extent that today, the theatre has branches in Port-Harcourt (Rivers State), Aba (Abia State), and Kano (Kano State). The theatre’s major objective is to enhance true cultural orientation, propagation, preservation and promotion. The theatre has influenced the professional career of artists like Francis Duru (its one-time Stage Manager), Faith Aminikpo (Lecturer, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Port-Harcourt, its one-time make-up and costume officer), Julius Agwu (its one-time free-lance actor), Millie Jack (current Actors Guild of Nigeria, AGN, Coordinator, South-South and its one-time actress and make-up officer), Christian Ndukwe (of Hot Cash – Willy-Willy fame and its Managing Director), Christiana Ikegwuru (of Hot Cash – Willy-Willy fame and its matron). With one of its patrons as Emmanuel Emasealu, former Acting Head, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Port-Harcourt (appointed in 1985), the theatre has endeared itself to most theatre notables in the South-South and South-Eastern parts of Nigeria. Presently the theatre has gone into video film productions and has to its credit the following films: Hot Cash (Willy-Willy) (1984-88), Prize of Evil (1989), The Brown (1991), Etche Traditional Giants (1993), Ejumbele (2010), and Tribute to Ojukwu (2011).


Anansa Playhouse: Anansa Playhouse was founded in Lagos by Late Bassey Effiong in 1984. Since I was an applicant then, Bassey, then as a staff of National Council for Arts & Culture (NCAC), saw my presence as a very big relief. He quickly made me the Assistant Director, and relied on me to make contacts, even with the Management of NCAC, under Mr. Frank Aig-Imokhuede, and later, Dr. Sule Bello. This was because there was this non-tolerance of “PP”` (private practice) in those days, once you were a civil servant. I had to lead the troupe to Kaduna, to perform Bassey Effiong’s adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart sometime in 1985. You know what it means to lead many artists, who were not paid a kobo, on a performance tour. People were involved then for the love of the theatre! It was a classic case of arts for arts sake! I remember an elder sister of Austin Mbanefo of the National Theatre (who played Okonkwo), hosted us in Kaduna. It was an interesting experience in managing human beings.
Anansa, during its active years, produced many plays, mostly at the National Theatre. The productions include, Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame, directed by Effiong (where I played 1st Chief/Aderopo); Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa, directed by Effiong (I played Ananse),    Moliere’s That Scoundrel Scapin, directed by Effiong (I played Scapin); Effiong’s The Fault is not in our Stars, directed by Rowland Henshaw (I played Adonye), Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, adapted for stage and directed Effiong (I played Chief Ezeudu); Bertolt Brecht’s Man is Man, directed by Effiong (I played Uriah Iseli); and Femi Osofisan’s Once Upon Four Robbers, which I directed. The above productions all took place at the Cinema Hall II of the National Theatre, Iganmu-Lagos. Furthermore, the Anansa Schools Drama Project saw us taking Rotimi’s The Gods..., Things Fall Apart, and dramatized poems to secondary schools in Lagos State.
One can say, without equivocation, that Anansa Playhouse was a family, where most of the present crop of star actors, even in Nollywood, had one form of relationship or the other. Notable among them are Zulu Adigwe, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), Segun Arinze (he used to be Segun Aina then), Josephine and Francis Onwochei, Mike Odiachi, Jenkins Ekpo, Flora Onwudiwe, Segun and Yemi Remi, Austin Mbanefo (whom I virtually encouraged and rehearsed for the role of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart), Augustine Onohwosa, Phillip Isi Igetei and Rowland Henshaw (all three who later went abroad in search of greener (?) pastures), Chris Omozokpia (now Chris Otaigbe), Ehi Omokhuale, Lookman Sanusi and Cecilia Bassey (they eventually got married and are living happily in the United Kingdom, due credit to the Anansa Playhouse connection), Charles Ukpong, Sunday Ebek (now a senior officer in Nigerian Immigration Service), Wale Obadeyi, Muyiwa Kayode, Bami-Jones Osuhon (the man who could talk a whole day, non-stop), Helen Ofoni, Helen Ogban and Abdul Abu, among others.


Contemporary Nigerian Professional Theatre Practice
PEC Repertory Theatre: This was a professional theatre company founded by Professor JP Clark and his wife, Professor Ebun Clark, around 1982. It had J.K. Randle Hall, Onikan Lagos as its base. PEC Rep, as it was popularly called then, had productions from April to September every year, while it went on vacation from October to December. January to March was the period for rehearsals of all the plays lined up for the theatre season, while performances took place every weekend on Saturdays and Sundays from April to September. It is on record that Richard Mofe-Damijo, Phillip Isi Igetei, Augustine Onohwosa and I, worked there between 1984 and early 1985. I recall that Joke Silva also worked there briefly as the Public Relations Manager.
Chuck Mike inherited JK Randle Hall for his Collective Theatre experiments, and created an impact as many young artists passed though him. Unfortunately, the programme has since been abandoned and the hall is currently in search of theatre practitioners.


National Council for Arts & Culture: The National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) was established by Decree No. 3 of 1975 and amended by Decree No. 5 of 1987 (now Cap 248 Laws of the Federation 1990).  It is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, charged with the responsibility of coordination, development and promotion of the living arts and culture of Nigeria at national and international fora. It provides veritable platform, the National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST), for states arts councils to showcase the best of their arts and culture annually.

National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST): The National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST) began in 1970, as a post civil war strategy on the concept of using the cultural festival to promote national unity. As an annual festival organized by the National Council for Arts & Culture (NCAC), hosting rights rotate among the various states of the federation. Being an event that features the creative potentials of Nigerians through the use of dance, drama, music, etc. it is a pedestal for talent hunt as it is an avenue for displaying creativity, exchanging of ideas, skills and technical acquisition and development. NAFEST, popularly called, the unity forum, has grown to be an invaluable flagship for the celebration of Nigeria’s unity in diversity. The festival itself is a week-long celebration of our cultural heritage reflected through various competitive and non-competitive events, such as drama, art and crafts exhibition, music and dance, traditional wrestling and games, children’s moonlight games, colloquium, herbal and food fair, book fair, indigenous circus, choral music, opening and closing ceremonies, command performances, etc., all executed under a chosen topical theme. For instance, NAFEST ’88, which held in Lagos, focussed on one of the main ingredients of theatre practice, dance, as there were solo and group presentations of traditional and modern dances, dance interpretations and improvisation. Participants at NAFEST are traditionally drawn from the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT, sister culture parastatals, other government agencies, the academia, cultural NGOs, and relevant stakeholders in the sector.
NAFEST is very popular among government cultural agencies. Unfortunately, it is yet to make the much needed impact. It is imperative for the organisers to improve standards so that this platform would attract international attention.


States Councils for Arts & Culture: The Rivers State Council for Arts & Culture is the first Arts Council in Nigeria. Set up in 1972, with Uriel Paul-Worika as the pioneer Executive Director, the Troupe went on performance tour to various parts of the state and the country, to sensitize the citizenry, on the need to put the travails of the 30-month fratricidal war behind them.
In the 36 States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, there are Councils for Arts & Culture and History & Culture Bureau (in some northern states) to carry out functions that relate to theatre. The Arts Councils are responsible for preserving, promoting and fostering the appreciation, revival and development of the Arts and Culture of the State among other functions. As the organs flying the flagships of culture in the states, every Arts Council has the vision of putting the State on the national and international cultural agenda.
As it were, Bayelsa State Council for Arts & Culture, Rivers State Council for Arts & Culture, Benue State Council for Arts & Culture, FCT Council for Arts & Culture, Lagos State Council for Arts & Culture, Nasarawa State Council for Arts & Culture, Akwa Ibom State Council for Arts & Culture, Ogun State Council for Arts & Culture, Imo State Council for Arts & Culture, and Oyo State Council for Arts & Culture, among others, are some of the states arts councils that have consistently promoted the performing arts through national and international cultural exchanges. Unfortunately, many of them are still groping, searching for the light in the tunnel for global attention.


NANTAP and FESTINA: The National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) was established as a corporate body on the 12th of December, 1990, by virtue of an Act – the Land (Perpetual Succession) Act, cap 98, of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for Theatre Practitioners (stage, television, film and radio) across Nigeria and in the Diaspora. NANTAP started a Festival of Nigerian Plays, tagged, FESTINA, which first took place in 1999. Conceptualized as an annual event, the 2001 edition had the then Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the Special Guest of Honour, to declare the event open. The plays that featured then were Aikin Mata directed by Patrick-Jude Oteh, King Emene directed by Bakare Ojo Rasaki and Death and King’s Horseman directed by Bayo Oduneye. It is on record that the 2006 edition of FESTINA featured Bayelsa State Troupe’s production of Dance on his Grave, written and directed by Barclays Ayakoroma. The performance took place at the Banquet Hall of the National Theatre, Iganmu-Lagos.
There is no doubt that the concept of FESTINA, in attempting to provide a window for the production of plays, is commendable. Unfortunately, funding has been a serious challenge. Whether it will be will depend largely to the availability of sponsorship.


National Theatre’s Open Theatre: This was a programme put in place in the 1980s by the management of the National Theatre to encourage the development of amateur and professional theatre practice in Nigeria. Under the programme, approved theatre productions were scheduled for the last weekend of every month at the Cinema Hall II. Such theatre groups were exempt from paying the stipulated hall rental charges, on the condition that Lagos state entertainment tax and a percentage for administrative charges were deducted from the gate takings. The implication was that theatre groups applied for approval to benefit from the scheme. While theatre groups hardly went home with anything meaningful from the gate takings at the end of the day, it was, however, a window of opportunity that many theatre groups craved for to carry out theatre productions. Apart from Anansa Playhouse, Ajo Productions, UNIPORT Theatre, Unibadan Performing Company, Unilag Theatre, and many others, seized the opportunity between 1983 and 1985 when the Open Theatre project was in place. Unfortunately, it has been consigned to the annals of the National Arts Theatre.


Ajo Production Company: This was a theatre company established by a lawyer, Fred Agbeyegbe, fondly called, Uncle Fred, in the theatre circle. Ajo Productions contributed immensely to the survival of the theatre in Nigeria in the 1980s, as it engaged in series of play productions through which many actors were developed. Ajo Productions starred actors like Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), Clarion Chukwurah, Sam Loco Efe, Ayo Oluwasanmi, Ben Tomoloju, Segun and Yemi Remi, Kola Daomi, and Jide Ogungbade, who directed most of the productions. The company also organized the Ajo Festival of Plays, popularly called, AJOFEST, and helped in the intellectualisation of the theatre as Agbeyegbe wrote many striking plays with sociological backgrounds that are relevant to Nigeria, for instance, The King Must Dance Naked and Budiso. Unfortunately, Ajo Productions has also been consigned to the annals of the Nigerian Theatre practice.


Jos Repertory Theatre (JRT): Jos Repertory Theatre (JRT), a theatre group under the directorship of Patrick-Jude Oteh, came on board in November, 1997, but commenced programmes in 2000. Since then, it has sustained theatre practice in Nigeria through its programmes, which includes the yearly Jos Festival of Plays. Since the festival started in 2004, it has produced 34 plays. The 6th edition, which took place recently from Saturday, February 25th to Friday, March 2nd, 2012, featured five plays: Emeka Nwabueze’s When The Arrow Rebounds, an adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of the Gods,  Lonne Elder’s Ceremonies In Dark Old Men, Dipo Agboluaje’s For One Night Only: A Migration Fantasy,  Barrie Stavis’ The Man Who Never Died, and Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo’s Bargain Hunting, directed by Emmanuel Emasealu, and presented by a drama group from Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The event, which took place in Alliance Francaise, Opposite J.D. Gomwalk Building (Standard Building), Jos, Plateau State, was spiced by series of workshops on Arts Management, Directing, Salsa Dance, as well as Post-Performance Discussions.
The exploit of JRT is a bright spot the dark tunnel of theatre practice in Nigeria. It is gratifying to note that in spite of the current crisis in Jos, the group still organised the Jos Festival of Plays this year. It shows that theatre is a veritable medium for social cohesion and integration. But then, unfortunately, funding is still a major challenge to this enterprising, young theatre practitioner.


Arojah Royal Theatre: This is a theatre outfit, which grew out of a deep and genuine concern to employ the fullness of the theatre as a social force. It has a crop of 35 actors, actresses, dancers, singers and instrumentalists categorized as Resident Artists and Artists in Residence. A member of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) and National Council for Arts & Culture (NCAC), ART has a rich repertory of African and contemporary dances, plays and campaign dramas. One of the objectives of the formation of this group is to use the theatre medium, in collaboration with organizations committed to a better society, to forge a better tomorrow for our world. ART seeks to produce theatre of the highest standard that consistently illuminates, entertains and challenges. It is committed to the engagement between the imagination of its productions and its audiences and the development of the theatrical form.
Since rebranding from Jesad Royal Theatre to Arojah Royal Theatre in 2009 and carrying out professional theatre productions, in addition to commissioned projects, the outfit has done four major productions between November 2010 and December 2011. They are, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo’s The Killing Swamp, in November 2010, directed by Chidi Ukwu and assisted by Jerry Adesewo; Ben Tomoloju’s We Only Went In Search Of Happiness, directed by Adesewo Fayaman Bay and Jerry Adesewo, to celebrate the 2011 Black History month, at the French Cultural Centre in Abuja, on February 18 and 19, 2011; Barclays Ayakoroma’s Dance On His Grave, directed by Jubril Ahmed and Seun Odukoya, for the celebration of International Theatre Day 2011; Wale Ogunyemi’s The Divorce, sponsored by EXXONMOBIL, and directed by Jubril Ahmed in December 2011. It is heart-warming to note that theatre lovers are expected to watch, Mufu Onifade’s Love is Blind, Barclays Ayakoroma’s Castles in the Air, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo’s Somaliya, Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel, and Jerry Adesewo’s Eze Goes to School, for the Arojah Royal Theatre 2012 theatre season. Unfortunately, funding is also a major challenge to this equally enterprising, young theatre practitioner.


Dance Guild of Nigeria (GOND): With the need to improve and maintain standard in the dance profession and gain relevance in the society, the government and the world at large, GOND was founded in 1996. The guild, which is an affiliate and one of the vital organs of the National Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), was chartered in 1997. It has played a very vital role on positioning theatre practice, using dance as a veritable tool for the socio-political development in Nigeria. The guild has also made efforts in seeing that the dance artist functions a teacher and not an ordinary dancer raising his legs up and down. Today, there is a Professor of Dance, in the person of Professor Bakare Ojo Rasaki, and so many doctorate degree holders in Dance, who are members of the guild, which is an associate of International Dance Council (CID). They have always been part of national and international events, like World Dance Day, which holds every on the 29th of April every year. The guild also organizes Festival of Dance (FEDA) in the last week of November and Nigeria Dance Award in December every year.


The Crown Troupe: Founded on the 1st of June 1996, by Segun Adefila, the troupe explores the art genres of dance, drama, music, and poetry, as well as visual arts, in their creations with the aim of achieving proper balance between the functional and aesthetic values of African Total Theatre. Over the years, the company has been involved in various artistic endeavours, organized locally and internationally. Crown Troupe has produced an adaptation of the medieval morality play, Everyman, a play that explores the issue of man’s desire to mortgage his soul/conscience for material acquisition. This, he does but returns ‘home’ with nothing but his character. Inanimate things, in conformity with morality plays of the middle age, are here, personified. The play is performed in Pidgin English, in the attempt to communicate the message effectively to the target audience.


The Ijodee Company: This is a dance company founded by Dayo Liadi in 1998 and channelled to uplift the society, with special focus on training, research, talent discovery and promotion of the African Dance. Being the winner of the African/Indian Ocean Contemporary Dance Contest in Madagascar in 2003, as well as a major promoter of young dancers and upcoming dance companies in Nigeria, the company has started the development of a centre, Ijodee Dance Centre, which contributes to the socio-cultural, economic and political development of the theatre profession. The centre organizes an annual festival tagged TRUFESTA, which focuses strictly on Solo and Duo Dances, including adults and children dance workshops. TRUFESTA provides an opportunity for the Government, the private sector and all lovers of arts and culture to reinforce the image of Nigeria as a cosmopolitan country that remains the cultural and economic capital of Black Africa.


National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN): The creation of the National Troupe of Nigeria in 1991 is provided for in the Cultural Policy for Nigeria. It came into existence on an experimental basis, when Chief Hubert Ogunde was appointed as the founding director. His mandate was to assemble, train and put in place a standing professional National Troupe that could promote the performing arts in Nigeria. Ogunde eventually auditioned artists from all over the country and camped them at Ososa in Ogun State for intensive rehearsals. After Ogunde, the artistic directorship of the troupe has changed hands from Bayo Oduneye, Ahmed Yerima, to the Martin Adaji, the current head.
Of interest, is the fact that the Troupe has performed many stage plays, done many command performances, and represented the country in many national and international events. Some of the productions include, Ayanmo {Destiny}, written and directed by Hubert Ogunde; Fred Agbeyegbe’s The King Must Dance Naked, directed by Bayo Oduneye (1993); Ahmed Yerima’s The Silent Gods, directed by Bayo Oduneye (1994); Bassey Effiong’s adaptation of Things Fall Apart (1996); Ahmed Yerima’s The Trials of Oba Ovonramwen directed by Bayo Oduneye (1996); Ahmed Yerima’s The Bishop and the Soul, directed by Bayo Oduneye; stage adaptation of Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, directed by Bayo Oduneye; Moliere’s That Scoundrel Scapin, directed by Bayo Oduneye; Wole Soyinka’s The Strong Breed, directed by Ahmed Yerima (2002); Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame, directed by Niyi Coker Jr (2005); Inyene: A Dance Drama, written and directed by Arnold Udoka (2006); Hard Ground, written and directed by Ahmed Yerima (2007); Ahmed Yerima’s Aetu, directed by Niji Akanni (2007); Women of Owu, written and directed by Femi Osofisan; Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae of Euripides, directed by Ahmed Yerima (2008); Ahmed Yerima’s Ameh Oboni the Great, directed by Bayo Oduneye; Little Drops, written and directed by Ahmed Yerima (2009); Wole Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers, directed by Nick Monu (2009); Long Walk to a Dream, written and directed by Arnold Udoka (2010); Femi Osofisan’s The Engagement, directed by Mike Anyanwu; Zulu Sofola’s Wedlock of the Gods, directed by Josephine Igberiase; and Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa, directed by Bayo Oduneye, among others.
However, it could be argued that the National Troupe of Nigeria is yet to be truly national, in the sense that their performances are yet to be shared by the citizenry. We can recall what Ipi Tombi, the South African Cultural Troupe, did in the heydays of global struggle against the repressive Apartheid regime. It is hoped that the National Troupe will be at the vanguard of passing messages on policy actions of government to the generality of the public through the artistic medium. But we can still say that unfortunately, funding is a major challenge.


Conclusion
So far, we have attempted to chronicle theatre practice in Nigeria, beginning from the Yoruba Travelling Theatre tradition. At this juncture, we can draw certain inferences in order to answer the pertinent question raised by the title of this lecture: whether theatre practice can be sustained in Nigeria or not. From our study, we can deduce as follows:


Ø    Theatre practice in Nigeria has not been really vibrant over the years;
Ø    The theatre profession has not created good jobs for trained artists;
Ø    Trained theatre artists have not taken the profession seriously;
Ø    Unlike other professionals, theatre artists have not consciously tried to make a living out of the theatre;
Ø    Educational theatre practitioners are also not cashing in on the availability of ready audiences on campuses to practice theatre;
Ø    It is possible for theatre practitioners to factor into Nollywood, with the positive developments of the industry;
Ø    Just as stand up comedians spice up their bills with popular music artists, it is possible for live theatre to draw from Nollywood stars;
Ø    Funding is a major challenge militating against theatre practice in Nigeria;
Ø    It is also possible for producers to get sponsorship from the organised private sector once there are good productions and the proposals are well packaged


In the final analysis, we can submit that the question of Nigerian theatre practice being alive or dead depends, to a large extent, on theatre artists. Once we take the profession as if our lives depend on it, then we would be in a position to animate the system through productions that teach and entertain the citizenry. Theatre is a slice of life; it is a reflection of our daily existence; it is lifelike; and it has psychological immediacy. We need to use the theatre’s unique characteristics to have determinate impact on the mindset of the Nigerians. Fortunately, not unfortunately, the choice is for us to make as theatre artists.


References

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