The re-election of Professor Emmanuel Dandaura as the African President of International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) and the winning of Thalia Prize by Professor Femi Osofisan have confirmed and recorded Nigeria’s landmark among Theatre Critics internationally. What is worth noting in all these is that Nigeria was the first African country to join the umbrella body of World Theatre Critics, while Prof. Osofisan was the first African to win this prestigious Thalia Award. Prof. Dandaura was the first African to preside over the African Centre of IATC even as he had been re-elected to lead the theatre critics in the continent
Other members of the audience in the theatre share with spectators the same time and space to watch theatre performances, but the critics are privileged spectators and working theatre commentators, who seek to articulate the interactions as a frame for discussion and as a meaningful part of the interpretation and significance of theatrical performance. This informs why IATC urges its members worldwide to maintain high professional standard through its core professional guidelines. “Theatre critics should always remain aware of normative professional practices, respect artistic and intellectual freedom, and should write in what they believe to be the best interests of the ideals of the art of theatre. Theatre critics should recognize that their own imaginative experience and knowledge is often limited and should be open to new ideas, forms, styles and practice. Theatre critics should speak truthfully and appropriately while respecting the personal dignity of the artists to whom they are responding. Theatre critics should be open-minded and reveal (as appropriate) prejudices – both artistic and personal – as part of their work. Theatre critics should try to describe, analyze, and evaluate the work as precisely and specifically as possible, supporting their remarks with concrete examples.”
These will help to achieve the purpose and aims of the IATC. According to the Association’s Code of Practice “The purpose of the IATC is to bring together theatre critics in order to promote international cooperation. Its principal aims are to foster theatre criticism as a discipline and to contribute to the development of its methodological bases; to protect the ethical and professional interests of theatre critics and to promote the common rights of all its members; and to contribute to reciprocal awareness and understanding between cultures by encouraging international meetings and exchanges in the field of theatre in general.”
Prof. Sunday Enessi Ododo, the National President of Society of Nigeria Theatre Artist (SONTA), the umbrella body of theatre scholars in Nigerian tertiary institutions before he presented the Strategic plan of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), in the recently concluded 35th convention of the body of Nigerian writers in Abuja eulogized the place of Nigeria in international critical engagement by paying homage to Prof Osofisan. “I must first of all give honour to Prof. Osofisan. He has made Nigeria and Africa proud. He won Thaila Award. He is the first African to do so. The 2016 Thalia Prize was given to the multitalented playwright for his robust career as a playwright, critic, scholar and spokesperson for artistic freedom in Nigeria and African continent. Indeed, Prof. Osofisan is an outspoken critic in African critical establishment.
We are proud of him in the Nigerian and African Centre of the IATC, because Thaila prize is a prize that the likes of Eric Bentley in 2006, Jean-Pierre Sarrazac in 2008, Richard Schechner in 2010, Kapila Vatsyayan in 2012 and Eugenio Barba in 2014 etc have won. So, our own Prof Osofisan walks tall among these international giants in theatre practice and scholarship.”
The Thalia Prize was started and presented at Extraordinary Congress by IATC in 2006 at the occasion of the association’s golden jubilee. The first person to be given the award then was Eric Bentley. It is really significant that Prof Osofisan is clinching the award in the occasion of Diamond Jubilee of IATC in 2016. It is also worthy of note that he won the award when he clocked 70 years as he was born in 1946. He was 10 years older than IATC. As a result of his contribution to dramaturgy, theatre practice, theory, criticism and scholarship, Prof Osofisan really stands out as a total theatre artist. His works have made inroad and impact in the world drama. Though he refuses to accept names like revolutionary, Marxist, socialist, leftist and non-conformist, his works tend to suggest all these. His major preoccupation in his dramatic career is to bring to bear the sense of right and wrong to his audience by making them reflect on the performance, after which they can wake from the anomalies of the society.
He belongs to radical Nigerian playwrights that emerged in the early 1970s with revolutionary spirit and commitment to pursue social change. They were poised to raise the consciousness of the masses to radical height. However, Osofisan with his prolificity, style and themes he explores in his plays is the leader of the second generation of playwrights. Nelson Obasi and Ikechukwu Aloysius Orjinta writing on The Limitations of the Marxist Ideals in the Plays of Femi Osofisan note that: “Like other theatre scholars, past and present, who have the singular task of making their societies conducive for human habitation, Osofisan has made indelible mark in African and Nigerian theatre. So, the man, Osofisan, no doubt, is a pillar in the sphere of dramaturgy not only in Nigeria but also outside the shores of Nigeria. He is a consummate and skilled playwright, a poet, an actor, a director, and an artist of great repute. While the province of his plays is neck-deep in the Yoruba culture, the major themes in his plays are corruption, injustice, oppression, treachery, self-reliance and perseverance, determination, feminism, compassion, collaboration, blackism, and revolution, etc”. Others in second generation are Wale Ogunyemi, Ola Rotimi, Zulu Sofola, Bode Sowande, Kole Omotoso, Tunde Fatunde, Tunde Lakoju, Elechi Amadi, Harry Hagher, Shamsudeen Amali, Bode Osanyin, Biodun Jeyifo, Ben Tomoloju, Meki Nzewi, Laolu Ogunniyi, Comish Ekiye, Olu Obafemi, Nasiru Akanji, Chris Nwamuo and Ayo Akinwale.
Certainly, Osofisan has written over 70 plays, over hundreds critical essays, four novels and five collections of poetry. He also has many festschrifts in his honour. Some of his plays are Midnight Hotel (Georges Feydeau’s L'Hôtel du libre échange), Who is Afraid of Solarin? (Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector), The Engagement (Anton Chekhov’s The Proposal), Aringindin and the Night Watchmen and Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels, Another Raft, Oriki of a Grasshopper, Tegonni, An African Antigone, Restless Run of Locusts, The Cooling Spring, Morountodun, Red is the Freedom Road, and The Cooling Spring, Yungba- Yungba and the Dance Contest, Nkrumah ni!... Africa ni! etc. In writing these plays, Osofisan also experimented with many dramatic forms even as he challenged popular myths and historic facts using socialism, hence, he contributed to the discourse on anti-colonialism.
Prof. Dandaura’s international diplomatic shuttle and leadership style as driver of the Nigerian national section of IATC is exemplary, hence his re-election. With those he leads in Africa, he has contributed to Association’s membership drive of over 3,000 critics from 75 countries, in national or regional associations, and as individual members or associates. This is against IATC’s more than two thousand theatre critics, through some fifty national sections when it was founded in Paris in 50 years ago as a continuation of the first international circle of critics from 26 countries. Professor Alex Asigbo, former Dean, Faculty of Arts Nnamdi Azikiwe, University (NAU), is the Secretary
After its emergence in 1956, IACT, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, benefiting under the B statute of UNESCO started gaining prominence through its activities including conferences, symposia, and seminars for young and upcoming theatre critics. Indeed, this exercise has helped in discovering and exposing many young theatre practitioners. Two seminars for young critics are organized yearly. English and French are the languages used in all IATC activities. Most times there are publications on performance reviews in form of journal of theatre performances. The recent birth of Nigeria Journal of Performance, Nigeria Film Review and Nigerian Performing Arts Review demonstrated IATC-NIGERIA’s readiness to expose Nigerian Performing Arts to the world through research and vibrant theatre and film criticism.
Nwagbo Pat Obi
Director, Publicity and Membership Services