Young Critics in Nigeria Inspired Into Vibrant Theatre Criticism

The Conference of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) in Nigeria raised the consciousness on criticism among new breeds of theatre critics through the training, which IATC-Nigeria partnered with the British Council Nigeria at the 2017 edition of the Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF). Twenty Nigerian young critics benefited in this five-day workshop.

The global president of IATC, Margareta Sorenson, briefing to the Young Critics at the Freedom Park, Lagos on the activities of the workshop, told them how important the theatre critic is in theatre, saying, he is powerful because he promotes the theatre in all ramifications.

Her words: “This training will make you a very important person in the theatre; it will help you understand and present cultures in performance in many ways. A critic’s comment on a performance is very important. It will help people understand the culture a performance is presenting. Pay attention to the training, as it will help you embrace criticism. IATC has been in existence for 60 years, as a non-profit, non-governmental organization, benefiting under the B Statute of UNESCO. Its activities include conferences, symposia, and seminars for young and upcoming theatre critics, which was the essence of this meeting”.

It is important to note that the selection of the participants was through a thorough and meticulous exercise. The President, IATC-Nigeria, Prof. Emmanuel Dandaura, in his remarks explained: “The criterion for selection was really thorough. There was a call for entries of essays on theatre criticism by young writers and journalists, aged 18 to 35. We had 400 entries. But we eliminated the ones that were above 35 years. We had 90 left. Then we applied other standards of IATC to arrive at the 20 participants to undergo this training. IATC is grateful to British Council Nigeria and the organizers of Lagos Theatre Festival for the collaboration on this Young Critic training. The collaboration will really deepen international participation in the Festival and widen the scope of the young critics. They will subsequently be inducted into IATC”.

Many world renowned established theatre critics and festival curators were Resource Persons. Some of them were Margareta Sorenson, Prof. Olu Obafemi (President, National Academy of Letters), Prof. Emmanuel Dandaura, Dr. Octavian Saiu, Assoc Prof. Ivan Medenica (the IATC Director of Conferences and Artistic Director of Belgrade International Theatre Festival, BITEF); Dr. Octavian Saiu (Adjunct Secretary, IATC), Jahman Anikulapo (foremost Nigerian theatre critic, culture advocate and former Editor, The Guardian Newspaper on Sunday), and Bernice Chan K Wai (Hong Kong), among others.

Uju-Dubas Agbasi and Victor Mark-Onegbu of the British Council briefed the Young Critics on the essence of the programme. “This session is for trainers. Young critics will be trained. The British Council is glad to have you here. This is a briefing to give you the orientation on the nature of training you will engage in. There are facilitators that will address you. The facilitators will help in discovering many young theatre critics for exposure.

Uju-Dubas Agbasi said as she distributed a paper to the participants for a baseline survey, with further explanation that, “the British Council constantly try to improve on the quality of the work they do and place great importance on the views of the people they work with.”

The workshop that started from 1st through 5th March, 2017, trained participants on the basic skills of theatre criticism, different genres of writings, and encouraged them to engage in the analysis, evaluation, review, and critique of play texts, play productions, musical concerts and dance performances. 

There was mapping of the performing arts and criticism landscape in Nigeria, in addition to classroom teaching approach and fieldwork. Thereafter, the participants were divided into working groups of 10 each. Each group focused on certain aspects of theatre criticism. The fieldwork required each trainee critic to watch designated performances and review any of his choice. This informed why IATC selected nineteen productions out of the interesting line up of performances of drama, music, oral performances and comedy from Nigeria, United Kingdom, United States of America, and South Africa, for participants and members of IATC to attend and watch.

Some of the performances were A Slice of Good Things, One Chance, Sour Carrots, The Money, Wedding Blues, By Fire by Force and Iya Risi, Classical Wednesdays, Discovering a Planet of Inclusion, Ijakadi, Intact and Tainted Image, Lagos Na Wa, Line, Refuge Saga: The Hope Within, Sisi Pelebe, Still Single in Gidi, Strelitzia…A Journey to Self, The Audition, and The Cut. These performances were in tandem with LTF theme: Rhythms of the City.

The review to be written by each young critic was approximately 1000 words; and sent to the resource person handling the group. These were critically discussed the next day in line with the IATC global format and codes of practice, which urge theatre critics:

  • to go to the theatrical performance in their best physical and mental condition, and remain alert throughout the performance;
  • to try to describe, analyze, and evaluate the work as precisely and specifically as possible, supporting their remarks with concrete examples;
  • to be open-minded;
  • to have as one of their goals a desire to motivate discussion of the work;
  • to be connected as writers, scholars and thinkers in the media to various branches of academic discourse;
  • to always remain aware of normative professional practices, respect artistic and intellectual freedom;
  • to write in what they believe to be the best interests of the ideals of the art of theatre; and
  • to desist from doing anything that would bring into disrepute their profession or practice, their own integrity or that of the art of the theatre.

Reviews produced by the participants will be edited by Jahmam Anikulapo, a foremost theatre critic in Nigeria and former editor of The Guardian on Sunday and be published online by Guardian Newspapers.

This training also motivated those who wish to take to journalism as a career. In addition, as part of the training, the importance of the festival to the artist was highlighted by letting the professional artists like directors, actors, set designers, lighting designers, dancers, choreographers, musicians, and so on, in the theatre; then festival managers and administrators met with the young critics.

The workshop facilitators were really impressed with the performance of the young critics and the Nigerian theatre. For instance, Dr. Octavian Saiu described Nigerian theatre as vibrant and exciting, saying it needs international exposure and cultural collaboration. He also said that having been part of the training and mentorship of the young critics in this seminar organized by IATC in Nigeria, he can say that the level of intellectual engagement and passion was amazing, because the young critics were eager to learn and express their views. They have a lot to say; they were just waiting for the chance to make their voices heard. In view of this, he informed that as part of young critics’ professional development, he was planning to facilitate an international project, which will give some young Nigerian critics and artists the opportunity to showcase their talents in Romania.

There was also professional roundtable with the young critics in which editors and experienced theatre critics spoke to them on various topics like “Theatre Criticism and the Print Media”; “Theatre Criticism and Journalism in Nigeria”; “The Print Media and Politics of Newspaper Documentation Policy”, “Digital Documentation as a Modern Way of Documentation”; “Competence in the Electronic Media and Theatre Criticism”; “The Death of Theatre Criticism”; “Interest, Mentorship, Theatre Criticism and the Theatre Critic”; and “The Risks and Hazards in the Critical Establishment”.

Some of those who spoke were Jahman Anikulapo. Nwagbo Pat Obi, Funke Osai Brown, Chinelo Chikelu, Funke Durodola, Ropo Ewenla, Jerry Adesewo and Akin Taiwo Aboderin. Also Prof. Femi Osofisan, the first African to win IATC prestigious 2016 Thalia Award had a session with them, where he emphasized on the need for consistency in their critical engagement.

Nwagbo Pat Obi

NICO Training School, Abuja Study Centre/

Director, Publicity & Membership Services

IATC-Nigeria

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