Theatre is not just about entertainment but an effective medium to mirror the pains in society to the rest of the world; therefore, writers must use the theatre to express the dissatisfaction of the people whenever tyranny threatens societal values.
Olu Obafemi, a Professor of Playwriting and Dramatic Literature and President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), made this observation during a plenary session of the International Conference of International Association of Theatre Critics held from 4-5 March, 2017 at the Banquet Hall of National Theatre, Iganmu-Lagos, Nigeria.
Most of the other theatre critics at the plenary session of the two-day conference, including Margareta Sorenson, President of International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC); Ivan Medenica, the Artistic Director of Belgrade International Theatre Festival; Julie Umukoro, Vice-President of IATC, Nigeria Section and Professor of Semiotics, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, also expressed similar views about the role of theatre in society.
Earlier in a keynote address, playwright, director, actor, critic, poet, novelist, editor and newspaper columnist, distinguished Professor Femi Osofisan, expressed concern over competitors of the theatre like video films, hip hop music, football events and DSTV, which all tend to shrink the theatre audience.
Osofisan explained that the playwright deals with socio-political problems in society, arguing that the empty spaces in theatres were crippling the chances of the writer to teach profound issues that affect society.
How theatre can recover its audience remains a question unanswered but the erudite professor, who bagged the coveted Thalia Prize of the International Association of Theatre Critics in 2016, the first such award to an African, recommended among other things that, media organisations should publicize the theatre more than promotion of stand-up comics; Government should intervene with an Endowment Fund for the Arts; and that there should be more collaboration between filmmakers and the theatre.
The above recommendations were in addition to a suggestion by a conference participant that professionals should focus also on the business aspects of the theatre and not just its performance dimension.
This is the first time the Conference of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) was holding in Africa; and Nigeria was chosen because, in the words of IATC Global President, Margareta Sorenson, Nigeria is one of the wonderful showcases of Africa in the Arts.
Sorenso, who is also a renowned Swedish journalist and theatre critic, remarked that the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC), which was established in Paris in 1956, was bringing together theatre critics from across the world and holding its conference in Africa was part of its desire to be truly globalized.
The first Conference in Africa of IATC was held in Nigeria largely due to the concerted efforts of the Nigerian section of Association, led by Emmanuel Samu Dandaura, a Professor of Theatre Arts from Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria, who became the first Black and African Member of the Executive Committee of the Association in 2014.
The Conference in Nigeria was well attended by renowned personalities in Nigeria’s theatre world, which included, Professor Ebun Clark (accomplished teacher, author and leader of thought in the theatre), Professor Ahmed Yerima (former GM, National Theatre), Professor Sunday Enessi Ododo (President of Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists, SONTA), Mr. Ben Tomoloju (film critic, theatre director and former editor of The Guardian Newspaper).
Others were Mrs. Brigitte R. Yerima (Director, NICO Training School, Lagos), Jahman Anikulapo (Cultural Advocate and former Editor of Guardian on Sunday), Mr. Sam Uche Anyamele (Actor), and Bernice Chan Kwok Wai of International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong).
NICO Training School