To overcome recession, goverment must invest in theatre and the creative industry
World Theatre Day (WTD) has celebrated, but the smut that came with it is yet to settle. It was celebrated in low key compared to the British Council-organised Lagos Theatre Festival 2017. WTD 2017, however, raised issues at its advocacy forum. The event was held at National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, and organised by National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP).
Foremost on the agenda was how theatre industry could be better managed, especially now that Lagos State government is investing heavily in the sector, with the proposed construction of over five theatres across state. Also discussed was how to reposition the sector to effectively perform its expected roles.
The lead paper presented was ‘The Theatre And Allied Industry And Associational Modus In Nigeria: The National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) as a Case-study’ by renowned dramatist, Mr. Ben Tomoloju. But it was the submissions of a panel that largely touched the issues at stake on what the future of theatre should be, especially its continuing neglect by government and corporate investment.
While speaking to this year’s theme, ‘TAPNigeria: Theatre Artistes For Proudly Nigeria,’ discussants, made up of Mr. Toyin Akinosho, Dr. Tunji Azeez, former president, Mr. Greg Odutayo, Mr. Toyin Oshinaike and Tope Oshin, looked into how theatre artists can up their ante and attract the right audience.
Azeez stated that the government of the United States of America pumped huge sums of money into the theatre during the American depression period and that it boosted the economy because the sector engaged more people and created new jobs. He noted that theatre could engage a lot of hands if properly funded.
Oduntayo called on practitioners to constantly engage the audience, saying performing in unconventional venues like Freedom Park, Terra Kulture and others would further give practitioners the visibility to showcase themselves. He noted that money would come when practitioners create the right content, begin to think outside the box and create synergy between the stage and film.
Oshinaike added that if the industry must grow to that enviable height expected, practitioners must create content that reflects on issues that concern Nigerians. He also noted that like the Americans, we should use the theatre to correct the ills of society, especially those aspects of our life the western media have projected in bad light.
While calling on practitioners to produce content that deal with women, Oshin said women suffer more depression than men, especially as most of them stay at home to do the chores and care for children, while the men mingle with friends in the evenings. She noted that doing this would serve as a palliative for women to get out of depression.
While not yielding initiative to television and the movies, a theatre producer, Chris Oparandu, called on stakeholders to develop contents that would project the Nigerian women in good light and draw them towards theatre the way the duo of TV and the big screen has, so that they could also influence their husbands or friends to come watch live performances. According to him, live theatre could only regain its space if the people were willing to walk the talk.
Also decrying the abysmal way practitioners are treated, the interim president of NANTAP, Israel Ebo, noted that most people do not understand what theatre practitioners do. According to him, people see practitioners as loafers, “but little do they know that we are helping to project Nigeria’s image, engage people and tell the stories of many communities that would never have been heard or told.
“A situation where even government classifies the artists as an artisan speaks volumes of the lack of understanding of our social and economic relevance. A situation where corporate institutions regard theatre as a sector that should be merely tolerated through handouts shows how unenlightened they are about what we do and what we contribute to the table of national development.
“While other sectors of the economy are struggling under the bite of the economic recession, the creative sector continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Even in a most unreceptive environment, as we find ourselves, the Nigerian theatre artist continues to creatively and ingeniously put out shows that continue to amaze the people.
“If we must overcome recession, we must invest and recognise the place of theatre and the entire entertainment industry, as an alternative revenue-generating source. Theatre would not only boost the economy, but also create jobs for the many youths roaming the streets.”
TOMOLOJU traced the activities of Nigerian theatre from the Yoruba travelling theatre (Alarinjo) of the 1940s to the late 1970s, when Duro Ladipo’s popular satire, Bode Wasimi on a television serial on Western Nigerian Television (WTN), Moses Olaiya’s (Baba Sala’s) comedies, Hubert Ogunde’s TV plays, Oyin Adejobi’s Kootu Asipa and others featured prominently on television.
Tomoloju noted that the Yoruba folk artists took advantage of any medium that promised them a profitable venture. As far back as the 1960s, according to Tomoloju, the Yoruba theatre exponents published their works in photoplay magazine format under the masthead, Atoka, where interestingly, the plays could also be read as literary drama of Yoruba expression. Ogunde’s Kehin Sokun, Ladipo’s Oba Koso, Akin Ogungbe’s Asiri Baba Ibeji, Kola Ogunmola’s Omuti and many others were thus adapted into the print medium.
Tomoloju observed that the exploration of television and photoplay, as alternative media of dramatic expression, followed the line of global practices. Thus, it was a positive development in the bid the Nigerian theatre artists to extend the boundaries of their professional enterprise.
According to him, this same pattern of dramatic exploration of other media like TV, radio and print by theatre practitioners, who were principally stage artists, also extended to film. The film medium, he noted, has a history of over 100 years in Nigeria, beginning with colonial movies and subsequently indigenous movies.
Tomoloju said, “The production of indigenous feature films in Nigeria, according to a research carried out by Professor Hyginus Ekwuazi, began in 1962 with Bound For Lagos, a production of the Federal Film Unit. The production of indigenous feature films was pioneered by seasoned producers like Ola Balogun, Eddie Ugbomah, Hubert Ogunde, Ade Afolayan, among others. Hubert Ogunde and Ade Afolayan fall, for instance, in the category of film producers who, according to Ekwuazi, ‘came into film via the living stage.’ He explained further that they “”have a troupe or standing cast with which they produced film adaptations of their successful stage productions.”
According to Tomoloju, indigenous movies gathered greater momentum and gained more popularity, when theatre practitioners moved into the industry. He stated that Hubert Ogunde was, again, the first among Yoruba theatre practitioners to go into feature film production with Ija Ominira released in 1977. He followed it up with Aiye, Jaiyesimi and Aropin n’tenia and Ayanmo between 1979 and 1982. Ade Afolayan released Kadara (Destiny) in 1981 and Taxi Driver the following year. Moses Olaiya released Orun Mooru in 1982, Aare Agbaye and Mosebolatan in 1984. It should also be noted that the pioneer producer of Nollywood, Ken Nnebue of Nek Video, had produced works of some Yoruba theatre artists like Aje N’Iya Mi by Ishola Ogunshola (I-Sho Pepper) before releasing his groundbreaking Igbo movie, Living In Bondage.
The foremost theatre practitioner noted that notwithstanding the efforts of products of the academic theatre, the vacuum left by the exodus of the players in the popular folk theatre to the movie was so much that it wearied the emerging structure of the industry, as an organised sub-sector.
According to him, “Signs of decadence were beginning to show in the general attitude and mentality of the new generation of folk theatre practitioners. For instance, the politics of their once vibrant umbrella association, Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners (ANTP), is very fierce and fiery. But even though the association bears the banner of theatre, the artistic preoccupation of its truculent leaders and general membership is almost totally committed to the film medium and not theatre.
“Let me state it categorically that it is very shameful and smacks of mental docility that professionals, who claim to be theatre practitioners owe total allegiance to film, thereby subjecting the stage to a relative state of inertia and self-contradiction.
“So, it is incumbent on all of us at NANTAP, on all performing artists, patrons, sympathisers and empathisers to rescue the theatre from down-under, from the cold, gripping and strangulating hands of the messengers of death.”
Tomoloju then called on the present leadership of NANTAP to identify the shortfalls in the sector and revitalise its administrative machinery to recapture and creatively explore the foundational vision of the association as a way forward, adding that they should also be open to fresh ideas.
He noted that the spirit of enterprise should be boosted organically and individually, adding, “NANTAP executives should embark on effective networking, locally and internationally, with vigorous membership drive and high-wired advocacy at all levels in Nigeria. Linkages with several thousands of Nigerian artists in the Diaspora and connections in bi-lateral and multi-lateral intercultural relations can add value to the profile of the association.
“In the face of a blighted public perception as we experience through some sections of our society, the association needs the services of competent publicists, the partnership of the culture media and endorsement by influential opinion moulders in a strategic programme aimed at rebranding, not only NANTAP, but the entire theatre industry.
“The essence of this rebranding programme is to eliminate the sinister influence of philistine elements on the mass of Nigerians. It will rescue the theatre from down-under, from a dreamed state of mummification in a tomb of anti-intellectualism and raise it to a sustainable level of professional accomplishment”