Nigeria, Ghana National Troupes Chart Path For African Theatre
WITH the world now a global village, it is pertinent that next-door neighbours must from time to time meet to exchange ideas and chart ways to improve on those things they have in common. This was what informed Nigeria’s National Troupe (NTN) playing host to the National Troupe of Ghana (NTG) recently. The collaboration saw the troupes exchanging ideas in a workshop and learning more about each country’s people and culture. It culminated with the presentation of a stage Nijagha, a play that examines the socio-political challenges of countries in the West African sub-region.
The programme attracted students from University of Lagos, Akoka, and Lagos State University, Ojo, as well as independent dance and drama groups, including Tukumbo, House of Dance and others across the state. The collaboration showcased diverse African dances.
Although designed as a welcomed leverage for both troupes to exchange ideas and knowledge on how to improve on their performance acts, the show suffered a major reverse when Hall 2 of National Theatre, venue of the event, was plunged into darkness. The power outage forced audience to fanning themselves with any available material; those who could not stand the heat left before it ended. It clearly felt like sabotage. If the management of the National Theatre had any gross to settle with the National Troupe, it wshould have been used other avenues to do so rather than demeaning the country before international visitors, as the exchange programme formd part of Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy. It remains to be seen if apologies would be rendered either to the Ghanaian troupe or the audience.
While speaking on the collaboration, Acting Executive Director of National Theatre of Ghana, Amy Appiah Frimpong, said, “I had always wanted to get connected to the Nigerian community because if you look at the whole of Africa, Nigeria and Ghana are like siblings. So, it was the logical thing for us to partner with Nigeria. We also have a partnership with the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN). In fact, we have a Memoranda of Understand (MoU) with the School for Education and Research, just as we have with the University of Ghana.
“The ideal behind this partnership is for us to work together to change the way the world sees African theatre as a whole. At international platforms it is hard for the people to evaluate what we are doing because our theatre is not segmented like the European theatre. African theatre, we do not separate dance, music, poetry from drama; they are all part of our theatre. It is not like the European theatre where dance, drama, music and other elements are separated. So, we need to come together to raise the need to have African theatre, make it have an impact in international scene and be appreciated the more across the globe”.
Frimpong stated that the exchange programme included the universities of Ghana and Ilorin so that they would be able to look into the two countries’ traditional forms of theatre. She noted that these institutions would look at where there are intersections and separations and also how they could be presented so that outsiders would understand what it means to be an African —- Nigerian, Ghanaian and even going into the traditional forms of being Igbo, Asante, Ewe, Yoruba and others.
“If you look at African culture, there is so much happening at the traditional levels that we, ourselves, do not value to lift up. If you go to our ceremonies such as wedding, funeral, naming and others you will see the beauty of our culture, but because we use the European standard to value what culture is and the way it should be placed we see ourselves as if we are behind other races. But in the real sense, we have a lot to give the world. Hopefully, this collaboration will help us to reposition what we have so that those who do not want to place value on them will begin to do that because what we have is what makes us uniquely Ghanaian or Nigerian. The more we change what we have to the European standard the more we lose our uniqueness. This collaboration is just the beginning of the two countries coming together to talk about African theatre so that people would understand it better,” she said.
She explained that African theatre is what Africans experience on a daily basis. The head of the Ghanaian troupe noted that in their country, her organization has established a concept called the black play (Ebi bi kwo) to tell their stories.
“The concept is so called because every piece tells a story. In Africa when we tell stories, we put dance, music, poetry and drama along side the storyline. In fact, we do total theatre. This is unlike the Europeans where you have segmentations. If it is dance, it’s dance. For instance, if you compare our traditional dance to ballet, you will discover that ballet is all about movements and things like that while the African dance involves emotion and what you bring to the stage; so you cannot judge the European dance the same way you judge the African dance. Our dances are not just stage performances, though they could be choreographed for the stage. For us, the spirit of the people exists within the piece and that is what is important.
“I Know in Ghana, just like Nigeria, we are losing cultures and there will be a time a particular group will no longer speak their language and you know when the language goes everything about the culture goes. So, we are trying to keep these cultures through our performance and we hope with this collaboration we would be able to sensitise the people on the different kinds of African theatre and it will be an ongoing meeting to enable us win the battle”.
She called on government to support the theatre, and noted that a country’s theatre should present the best of the best because it is the face of the country wherever they go.
ALSO on the collaboration, the Artistic Director/CEO of NTN, Mr. Akin Adejuwon, said NTN has reached out to its immediate neigbhours and Africans in the Diaspora. According to him the troupe has been to Brazil, Egypt and signed a few Memoranda of Understanding (MoU), one of which is with the National Troupe of Ghana (NTG).
“The agreement we had with NTG is that the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) would go to Ghana last September, but because of election that had just held, which brought in some structural adjustment, we could not make the tripe. But the second leg of the tripe was for NTG to come to Nigeria by October, which also coincided with University of Ilorin 40th anniversary. By the way, we also have an MoU with UNILORIN, as on e of the universities we are going to collaborate with.
“However, the NTN would early next year visit Ghana. NTG wants us to visit Ghana this December, but we would not be able to do that because of the various programmes lined up in the month. We normally perform in China or any other country abroad during this period, apart from our normal December performances in the country. To squeeze in the visit would not be proper. So, we have to shift it to early next year”.
The National Troupe’s Artistic Director stated that funding was a major problem.
According to him, “It would be immodest of me to beat my chest that I have achieved those things I set out to achieve. I must point out that my appointment is a call to duty and it is a work in progress. I am focused on accomplishing those things I have set out to achieve, despite the daunting challenges we have had. I got in office in September; I had only a few months to get accustomed to my office before all attentions were directed to the election in May. That meant we hard no supply of funding in any manner. At one point, I had to write my honourable minister that I feel embarrassed that I am receiving salary because there was nothing for me to work with. I did not get overhead or capital vote and shortly after that the transition began. The change in government completely shifted governance from what it used to be to a complete paradigm shift being pursued by the new government.
“Be that as it may, I have made efforts to created a robust town and gown relations between tertiary institutions and the National Troupe of Nigeria. We have gone on tour on a few states of the federation and by now we should have gone on quarterly tour of the country. Again, I have taken the troupe to Egypt, Morocco, Brazil and we are working on bringing some of the Brazilian troupes to Nigeria”.
He expressed delight with the exposure the collaboration has given the troupe, especially for the young artists who have just joined the organization. Director of Drama, NTN, Josephine Igberese, called for more of such exchanges, saying NTN could not operate in isolation. She said: “I would like to work with the Ballet of Guinea, Umoja of South Africa or any other group in the world. We need to network with others to improve on what we are doing. I need to be on top of my game to meet up with acceptable global standard. Since Ghana and Nigeria are both in the ECOWAS sub-region, it is proper for us to have a cultural diplomacy.”
On how they were able to put up such wonderful performance on short notice withf the Ghanaian troupe, Igberese disclosed that the whole arrangement started from the workshop.
She said, “We had no idea of what the performance would look like. In fact, the storyline of Nijagha emanated from the workshop. It is a joint effort of the two countries’ troupes. Though the Ghanaian troupe came with their own performance, we needed to interact more to come up with something different. This we did and the result was the play, Nijagha. We hope to tour other West African countries with this performance”.
While commenting on the need to have a formidable troupe, Igberese stated that things had changed from what it used to be, adding, “I could recall when I joined NTN. We were always partnering with different agencies. There’s no meeting the culture sector would organise that NTA, CBAC, National Theatre and other agencies in the culture sector would not be part of. This encouraged better input because of the contributions of the different professionals in the diverse agencies, whose contributions do impact on whatever we are doing.
And in most cases, we do come out with better ideas. But in this era of I, I or me, me, everyone is to himself and God for us all. This has not really made things to move as they used to.
“Collaboration helps one to build capacity, runs the organization better and enables the staff to know the trend in the industry. If you do not expose your staff, how would they improve? It is good to create platforms for staff to interaction and learn; that is the reason people go for seminars and workshops. From this collaboration, I have learnt that we all speak the same language in the art irrespective of our different backgrounds and cultures. We can build bridges of friendship to improve ourselves and industry”.