Rescuing the theatre from down-under
An Overview of the Theatre and Allied Industry and Associational Modus in Nigeria: The National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners as a Case Study. Being a paper presented at the Advocacy Forum organised by National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) on the World Theatre Day 2017 at National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos
The task before me, as assigned by the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, Lagos State Chapter, is to do an overview of the performing arts industry with NANTAP as a case study. But in handling this topic, I have taken the liberty to alter the perspective a bit in favour of the theatre industry on the ground that among all the disciplines that fall under the broad classification of the performing arts, the theatre is the most threatened by the negativities of the Nigerian system. Theatre as a place for performance and theatre as an artistic discipline, concerned with the production and performance of plays, lie upon a systemic fault-line that demands fundamental remedial attention by government, the organised private sector, practitioners and the general public.
In this exercise, I intend to cast a retrospective glance – a very brief one – at some relevant developments since the advent of contemporary Nigerian theatre and their impact on the practice as we have it now. Thereafter, one would attempt a diagnosis of the distress of the Nigerian theatre after decades of successful campaign by the pioneering figures in Nigerian theatre history. A historical reflection will follow, based on the challenges of the industry that led to the establishment of NANTAP, the ideas generated in the process of forming the association, its policies and actions and efforts at making the difference for the profession by a new generation of professionals. Fresh challenges will be identified. The frailties and failures of the society at large as a cultural ethos and its inability to sustain a vibrant theatre industry will be highlighted. The presentation will make recommendation towards the re-energising of the association to give fresh, impactful and enduring impetus to theatre practice and practitioners in Nigeria.
Before the emergence of NANTAP in 1989, the Nigerian theatre history has been replete with the pioneering heroics of Chief Hubert Ogunde, who set the pace in 1945. Through his efforts, a contemporary theatre tradition emerged from the vestiges of the old Alarinjo (Travelling) Theatre of the Yoruba. According to Professor Joel Adedeji, the Alarinjo Theatre, long before the advent of Ogunde, had been in existence for 400 years. In her own landmark research, another renowned scholar-critic, Professor Ebun Clark, enumerated the progress of Ogunde’s theatre from 1945 to the 1980s in her book, Hubert Ogunde: The Making of the Nigerian Theatre.
Details of the successes recorded by Ogunde and other front-runners of Yoruba travelling theatre like Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola, Moses Olaiya and Oyin Adejobi, among several others, have been elaborated upon in various publications. Their giant strides were defiant of the undisguised cynicism of some Euro-centric critics, who erroneously stated that Africans had no tradition of theatre and drama in the real sense. At the end, however, it came to be acknowledged by German anthropologist, Ulli Beier, that the drama presented by the contemporary Yoruba theatre pioneers was
‘…a new form…….neither opera, nor ballet nor poetic drama,
but all the three perfectly fused together.’
The validity of this new form of drama was later reinforced by Professor J.P. Clark as a ‘closely unified combination of the arts lost to Europe and America a long time ago.’
The impact of the Yoruba travelling theatre was felt vibrantly from the 1940s through the late 1970s. But twilight set in around the late 1970s, when the momentum of theatres on the road slowed down and a good number of the groups moved to the television as a mainstay.
Before Duro Ladipo’s death in 1978, his most current work was a popular satire, Bode Wasimi, a television serial on Western Nigerian Television. Moses Olaiya’s (Baba Sala’s) comedies were profusely aired on the same medium. Hubert Ogunde also had a lot of airplay on TV just as Oyin Adejobi had a fair share of airtime with Kootu Asipa. Without doubt, featuring Yoruba drama on television is as old as the establishment of the WNTV, the first television station in Africa, in 1959. The observation one is only making is that there was such a drift to the screen by the theatre practitioners that was beginning to have a negative impact on the stage.
Basically, the Yoruba folk artistes were so adventurous that they took advantage of any medium that promised them a profitable venture. As far back as the 1960s, the Yoruba theatre exponents also published their works in the magazine format of photo-play 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 adapted into the print medium.
The exploration of the television and the photo-play as alternative media of dramatic expression follows the line of global practices. Thus, it is a positive development in the bid of the Nigerian theatre artistes to extend the boundaries of their professional enterprise. This same pattern of the dramatic exploration of other media like the TV, the radio and the print by practitioners of theatre who were principally stage artistes also extended to film. The film medium has had a history of over one hundred years in Nigeria, beginning with colonial movies and subsequently indigenous movies. The production of indigenous feature films in Nigeria, according to a research carried out by Professor Hyginus Ekwuazi, debuted 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 produce film adaptations of their successful stage productions’.
It could be stated, without any fear of contradiction, that indigenous movies gathered greater momentum and gained more popularity when theatre practitioners moved into the industry. Hubert Ogunde was – again – the first among the 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 artistes like Aje N’Iya Mi by Ishola Ogunshola (I-Sho Pepper) before releasing his groundbreaking Igbo movie Living in Bondage.
Whatever providential advantage the shift by theatre practitioners to the film medium may have offered, some critical observers considered it counterproductive to the fortune of the stage. The forebodings of the development concerning Nigerian theatre appeared rather gloomy. An interview with the foremost scholar on Ogunde’s theatre, Professor Ebun Clark, in African Guardian of February 13, 1986 says it all. According to the magazine, Ebun Clark
‘...is perturbed about Ogunde’s branching into film and (she) says so openly.
She has criticised Ogunde and accused him of killing Nigerian theatre which he
helped to build, because when he moved to the screen, he took with him other
theatre groups thus depleting the stage of the “raw material” it needs to survive.’
She spoke the minds of other critical observers, some of whom actually contemplated the consequence of the development with trepidation.Just for the records, Chief Ogunde tried to make up for the temporary abandonment of the stage with the production of a theatre fantasia, Ayanmo, at the National Theatre in 1986. It was the culmination of a move to reconcile the doyen and the Federal Ministry of Culture with which he had had a long stand off since FESTAC 77. The reconciliatory move led to ‘The Ososa Experiment’, a collaborative theatre project between Ogunde and the ministry, which ultimately led to a presidential proclamation that the Ogunde Theatre Group should form the nucleus of the National Troupe of Nigeria.
Ogunde’s return to the stage moved the Nigerian theatre another step forward with the establishment of the National Troupe of Nigeria. The troupe was particularly the materialisation of the vision of erudite and iconic theatre director, Professor Dapo Adelugba, who had proposed it in his research paper several years before.
The National Troupe was indeed established with the goodwill of Chief Ogunde, but the mass exodus of tested theatre practitioners to the film industry continued unabated, except for the passion and doggedness of theatre practitioners of English expression, otherwise known as the academic theatre. Distinguished Nigerian dramatists like Professors Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Dapo Adelugba, Ola Rotimi, Femi Osofisan, Kalu Uka, Sonny Oti, Bode Osanyin, among several others, are pacesetters in this realm.
Products of the academic theatre remained resilient and consistently assertive in attempting to rescue the Nigerian theatre from the debilitating effect that the exodus had had on the theatre industry. One of the high points of the resilience of the academic theatre was the production of a series of plays of lawyer-playwright, Fred Agbeyegbe, between 1983 and 1986. Financed by the playwright himself, the plays, namely: The King Must Dance Naked, Woe Unto Death, The Last Omen and Budiso were produced in elaborate festival situation, directed by Jide Ogungbade, with this writer as associate director.
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. In fact, one would make bold to say that 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, the 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 here 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.
In fact, shortly before he died and, having observed the mental docility of the new generation of folk theatre artists, Chief Ogunde invited me to sit beside him at the upper foyer of Entrance ‘C’ of the National Theatre and said, ‘Tomoloju, I think it is you “grammar” people that will rescue the theatre profession from being subjected to abuses by those who run the system in this country.” The doyen was always referring to members of the academic theatre contemptuously as people who speak ‘too much grammar.’
The statement was prophetic and had a great impact on my consciousness as a young African, especially when it was coming from an old man. Indeed, it was about that time that the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) came into existence. What actually led to the emergence of NANTAP was basically a feeling of alienation by the generality of young Nigerian theatre artists of the 80s in a stultifying system that denied them the right impetus for self-fulfilment. Briefly, the story is as follows:
A highly distinguished young actress took ill. The unfolding experience was so pathetic; we cannot go into the details. But it showed members of the theatre community how vulnerable they were in the general scheme of things, especially in terms of welfare. The actress in question was such a pearl among her peers that the sheer contemplation of the ultimate consequence of her life-threatening illness was tormenting enough. Artists gathered to offer their support in moral and material terms, including intensive prayer sessions. But what was needed was cash, a huge amount at that. A rescue mission was embarked upon, seeking donors. Fortunately, the then First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Babangida (now of blessed memory) read the story in the papers and offered to help. She graciously footed the bill and all ended well, rescuing Becky Musa, a beautiful combination of brain and brawn from the jaws of death and bringing succour to a troubled theatre community.
The artists were collectively gingered by the sordid apprehension of being at the wrong end of the bargain as professionals. They were compelled to reflect seriously on the challenges facing the theatre industry. This was what led to the idea of forming an association.
I want to state with every sense of modesty here that the idea of forming an association of theatre artists was collectively reached even if I have been rightly acknowledged for my leadership role as the founding Organising Chairman of NANTAP. Before the association came into being, one had been inundated with contemptuous, even derisive statements by some elements of the officialdom that Nigerian artists were very difficult to organise, neither were they capable of organising themselves. In fact, as a member of a Panel of Stakeholders on the Culture Sector, constituted by the then Federal Sole-Administrator for Culture, Colonel Tunde Akogun in September 1985, this erroneous notion that artists could hardly organise themselves was what caused a rift between some officials of the Department of Culture and my humble self. I looked forward to the day when they would be proven wrong.
Thus, sometime in 1989, after the successful treatment of the ailing actress, I was in my office in The Guardian, Rutam House, when a message was brought to me through Mr. Tunde Obalana that some of our colleagues had requested that I should convene a meeting of theatre stakeholders in Lagos towards the formation of an association of theatre practitioners. Obalana came twice and twice I refused to take up the responsibility because of my crowded schedule as an editor. But at his third attempt, I said to myself, ‘These colleagues must be very serious about this matter.’ I invited my immediate assistant on the Arts Desk and a thoroughbred theatre graduate, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, for consultation in the presence of Obalana. Right there, we all agreed that the mission must be carried out. So, the process of establishing an association for theatre practitioners was set in motion. Let me add that, apart from Tunde Obalana and Jahman Anikulapo, some of the members of the think-thank behind the initiative included Segun Ojewuyi (now a professor in the U.S.), Biodun Abe, Mahmud Alli-Balogun, Dotun Osunsanya, Israel Eboh, Okoh Aihe, Orji Onoko, Phillip Isi Igetei, Segun Ogunfidodo, Edmond Enaibe, Tade Adekunle, Amina Muhammed, Lara Akinsola, Jane Azu, among others.
The meeting kicked off and was well-attended, with over a hundred members at every turn. We met every Monday at the Exhibition Hall of the National Theatre for well over 30 weeks. The first thing we did at the inaugural meeting was to proclaim the entire membership as constituting the Congress and the Organising Committee as the Executive. We set up various Sub-committees to set agenda, deliberate and strategise on the prospects of the association. The sub-committees included the Constitution Drafting Sub-committee, the Production and Logistics Sub-committee, the Publicity Sub-committee, the Finance Sub-committee, the Welfare Sub-committee, the Administrative Sub-committee, etc. The activities of the sub-committees were coordinated by the Organising Committee under my chairmanship, with the chair of each Sub-committee as members.
After over eight months of unbroken weekly meetings and in anticipation of the forthcoming National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST), Bauchi, December 1989, I proposed to Congress that we should explore the opportunity provided by the festival to secure a national mandate from artists across Nigeria, who would be gathered at the national event. The mandate was given by the Congress and in the company of Jahman Anikulapo, Biodun Abe, Dotun Osunsanya, Segun Ojewuyi, Edmund Enaibe and other artists from Lagos, who had one role or the other to play in NAFEST, we proceeded to Bauchi. At an opportune moment during the event and with the approval of the Festival Director and Director of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Dr. Sule Bello, we convened an all-Nigeria artistes Congress in Bauchi. We briefed the Congress, sought their mandate for the establishment of a National Association. They embraced the idea and whole-heartedly gave us the mandate, usually referred to by NANTAP eggheads as ‘The Bauchi Mandate’. They also approved of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) as the name of the body. We returned to Lagos with the good news and I subsequently coordinated the election of the pioneer National Executive, presided over by Mahmud Alli-Balogun, to whom I handed over the mantle of leadership in the first quarter of 1990, with Segun Ojewuyi as the pioneer Secretary-General.
This narrative is not only important historically, but also significant as a source of inspiration to the new leadership of NANTAP and younger generation of thespians on team-spirit, the convocation of synergies, the spirit of sacrifice, doggedness, mutual respect, altruistic disposition, focus and high level of commitment to the cause of boosting the integrity and quality of our theatre heritage and projecting the noble ideals of our culture. For effect and concerning synergies, one would like to acknowledge the vital roles played by MDAs in the culture sector like the Department of Culture, the National Theatre Management, The National Council for Arts and Culture, the Nigerian Copyright Council (now a Commission) and the Nigerian press in supporting artists to bring the idea of the theatre association into reality. This is a model of intra-sectorial cohesion that seems to have disintegrated so much nowadays that it is more fashionable than anything else for culture administrators to declare openly and arrogantly that they do not hold their respective offices for the sake of artists, but to make money for government. So mind-boggling and terrible!
NOW, let us move to a cursory – not particularly exhaustive – review of the policies and actions of NANTAP as projected upon at its formative period. The projections of NANTAP’s stakeholders at its inception related to aligning its policies and actions to the best interest of the country, aspects of which are spelt out in the Cultural Policy for Nigeria, which was promulgated as a Decree of the Federal Military Government in 1988. For instance, as a first step towards hitting the ground running, the first democratically elected national executive of NANTAP under Mahmood Alli-Balogun, raised money among themselves to place a full-page advert in The Guardian to draw the attention of the legislature under Gen. Babangida’s inconclusive transition to democracy, for them to give legal teeth to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which is provided for in the Cultural Policy. The role of Jahman and I in the process was to secure a reasonable concession from our colleagues in the Advert Department and bring the cost of placement down considerably for the association to have the full-page it required. NANTAP thus engaged in high-level political lobby in those days, though the mission was inconclusive due to the lackadaisical attitude of the legislators. Quite unfortunately, the Cultural Policy and its follow-up has continued to suffer from official neglect and remains non-justiceable – that is, it lacks legal teeth – even up till this day. Only some of the rich ideas enshrined in it are being utilised when necessary as a guide by culture stakeholders, including NANTAP.
However, on its own terms and based on the avalanche of unwholesome experiences its members had gone through in a generally soporific system, the association had to prioritise its activities based on the following areas of demand:
1. Welfare of members
3. Assistance with contractual agreements
5. Regulation of the theatre profession
6. Training Workshop/ Capacity-building
7. Model Productions and Festivals
8. Research and Documentation
9. Cultural Exchange
Briefly, one would like to shed some light on these areas of concern based on the rallying ideas of members in those pioneering days and further developments as time went by.
WELFARE: The very fact that the thought of establishing a National Association was triggered by the illness of a member of the profession made the issue of the welfare of artistes to be paramount in the Association’s agenda. The idea was that through financial self-empowerment NANTAP should be able to support any of its members in distress, especially on health grounds. And this included the possibility of having a corporate insurance package for that purpose.
FINANCE: The Association aimed at generating revenue to be able to fund its own activities as best as it could. The strategies designed to realise this objective include the collection of membership fees, deduction of a little percentage of artistes’ fees as levies at source during productions, sponsorship and marketing where and when applicable. These are projections that have not been fully realised due to the lack of capacity of the executive in enforcement on the one hand and the lack of commitment of the membership across the country on the other.
3. ASSISTANCE WITH CONTRACTUAL AGREEMENTS: Generally, Nigerian theatre practitioners have a cash-and-carry approach to their engagements in productions. This has made some of them victims of exploitation in the hands of producers even to the extent that some of them are not paid for their services at the end of productions. NANTAP thought it proper to educate and support members to right these wrongs. In fact, I participated in the Nigerian Copyright Council Model Contract Workshop soon after the inauguration of the pioneer NANTAP executives. I was in the team that drafted the Model Contract for theatre practitioners. But the process was inconclusive. In this case, the Model Contract Workshop shows that our problem in Nigeria is not the paucity of ideas, but the lack of will to actualise them. NANTAP would have been a major beneficiary of the workshop if its proceedings had been conclusively addressed.
4. ADVOCACY: In other spheres, artistes engage every facet of society to demonstrate the importance of their profession to the general development of both the society and the human capital. In the USA, in the mid-20th century, major figures like the famous comedian, Charly Chaplin and the actor Ronald Reagan who later became American President were powerful unionists and politicians. Here in Nigeria, some of us have been engaged in cultural advocacy right to the point of irrepressible activism. As a former political aspirant, my manifesto was replete with cultural projections, visions and missions. In the case of NANTAP, one of the high-points of activism was the way it teamed up with other stakeholders to resist the fascist move to sell the National Theatre. It is also in the light of theatre advocacy that we ceaselessly campaign that government at all levels should build cottage theatres for job and wealth creation. We do appreciate the response of the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode in this connection. He has declared publicly that he would build five Arts Theatres across Lagos State. This, I believe, is for a start. The Local Governments should also be brought on board.
5. REGULATION OF THE THEATRE PROFESSION: The idea of regulation was targeted at boosting the dignity of the theatre profession to the extent that it would shed the rag-tag cloak of an all-comers’ affair. Proficiency is crucial to any profession that will earn public respect. As such, issues of standardisation of the industry through the emphasis on universally accepted models in aptitude and qualitative role-performance is sine-qua-non. It is unacceptable that anyone would just claim to be just anything in a theatre production without any parameter to check on the validity of such claims. The clear delineation of roles is very important to avoid a hotchpotch affair where the industry is hijacked by charlatans and exposed to public ridicule.
6. TRAINING WORKSOP/CAPACITY-BUILDING : In the area of capacity-building, NANTAP planned to organise regular training workshops for members. This, one is aware, was implemented by the Tade Adekunle administration a number of times at the old GRA Ikeja office of the Association. One can only appeal to the current executives at the Federal and State levels to revive the programme.
7. MODEL PRODUCTIONS AND FESTIVALS: I think this is an aspect of the projection of the Association that has enjoyed a measure of consistency. FESTINA, the festival of Nigerian plays, is a flagship in this regard. We are all experiencing a distressed economy, yet one will appeal to organisations and individuals to partner with NANTAP to enable the Association demonstrate the right standard in theatre productions through its projects.
8. RESEARCH AND DOCUMENTATION : To the lay observer, it would seem as if nothing has been achieved by NANTAP in the area of Research and Documentation. But the truth is, there was a bold effort in the past to the extent that a section of the Association’s office in the era of Tade Adekunle and later Biodun Abe, was carved out for a library with a corner for documentation. They showed this to me during a courtesy visit and I personally nursed the hope that the unit would grow. What is happening to the initiative right now is what I do not know.
9. CULTURE EXCHANGE AND INTERCULTURAL RELATIONS : We had so much going for the Nigerian theatre community in this area several years back, even as far back as the 1990s. Currently too, though not at the prompting of NANTAP, Wole Oguntokun and Segun Adefila among others, have been beneficiaries of theatre exchange programmes and they have been giving a good account of themselves in terms of enterprise and artistic proficiency.
It is instructive to recall, at this juncture, that one of the first steps taken by the Organising Committee in the formative days of NANTAP was to examine the prospects of international linkages. Soon after Professor Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature and also the Agip Prize for Literature in 1986, he also assumed the exalted position of the President of the International Theatre Institute (ITI). We sought the approval of NANTAP Congress during the inaugural meeting to liaise with ITI Nigerian Chapter where Professor Dapo Adelugba was the General Secretary. The reason was to ensure that NANTAP was affiliated to the ITI and subsequently explore and benefits from the programmes of the global organisation. Moreover, we desired the approval of ITI Nigeria for the Association to be recognised as an affiliate. A delegate comprising Jahman Anikulapo, Tunde Obalana and my humble self, travelled to Ibadan. We held a meeting with Professor Dapo Adelugba and had the consent of ITI Nigeria to be recognised as an affiliate of the World Body. The essence of the contact with ITI as well as Segun Ojewuyi’s efforts at the then USIS, was to build a bridge between NANTAP and the international community.
Against this backdrop, it must be appreciated that the NANTAP National Executive under Tade Adekunle, with officers like Biodun Abe and Gregory Odutayo, scored an ace as beneficiary of a major grant from Ford Foundation which they utilised in securing a standard Secretariat at GRA, Ikeja, organising training workshops, opening a library, funding FESTINA, among other projects. One cannot readily account for any follow-up to that giant stride. But it remains necessary to implore current and successive executives to open the window wider for intercultural relations so that the Association can earn international respect for Nigerian theatre.
Finally, one would like to draw the attention of the august gathering to some seemingly innocuous, but acutely insidious public perception that militate in no small measure against the progress of Nigerian theatre.
The first is religious bigotry. All through history, it is known that theatre originated from religious rituals. Yet in some cultures it is this same religion that comes to haunt and terrorise theatre. Medieval theatre began in the Catholic Church. But after some years, the clerics found it convenient to bar actors from receiving the Holy Communion. In Nigeria, there is the story of the Islamic cleric, Ajagbemokeferi, in Ibadan who was reported to have yanked the mask off the face of a masquerade. Recall that the masquerade is an actor. Also in Nigeria, some Christian leaders have engaged in series of propaganda against FESTAC 77, claiming that it was the source of Nigeria’s woes. I normally ask if FESTAC 1977, was the cause of the Wild West, the pogrom in Northern Nigeria or the Nigerian civil war, all of which happened over ten years before the festival. I am yet to get an answer. They also declare that the National Theatre is a house of idols. I wonder if you see any idol around you and not mere works of art. Sheer hypocrisy! And it is such that I have consistently criticised as a practising artist and a Christian. And, mind you, the criticism will continue to re-echo in my writings until we all see reason and re-cast our misdirected mind-set.
In my church, for instance, and under the Grace of God Almighty, I personally instituted an Annual Evangelical Theatre Programme for the Youth since 2002 which takes place all night long on Good Friday right up to the following morning. One of the products of that spiritually uplifting, talent promoting initiative is the now popular Elizabeth, the First Runner-up of MTN’s Project Fame 2016. I remember how fantastic it was; the way she used drama and theatre to illustrate one of the songs of Rihana that she performed to earn a long, standing ovation – ‘Mama, Mama, I just shot a man down …….’ The young girl is still an ardent believer, a committed member of the church choir and the Youth Wing, and a role-model in her generation.
Linked to the diatribe of the church and mosque against theatre in all their hypocritical sanctimoniousness is the morbid perception of a section of the public on account of the rise of the movie industry that the theatre is DEAD. Quite shockingly, even journalists in the arts media sometimes echo this disdainful notion. Good enough, the grittiness and doggedness of theatre practitioners, advocates and activists have generally exposed the fallacy in this illusionary and inimical perception. Yet we must admit that the notion is existentially and psychoanalytically the working of a state of mind that we cannot afford to dismiss with a feeble wave of the hand lest it becomes rooted in the consciousness. Sometimes, perception becomes reality. The notion that theatre is dead or even dying has to be completely dislodged from the minds of individuals and groups of whatever class, creed or school of thought.
So, it is incumbent on all of us at NANTAP, on all performing artistes, patrons, sympathisers and empathisers to rescue the theatre from down-under, from the cold, gripping and strangulating hands of the messengers of death.
Theatre has been in documented existence since B.C. 4000, that is since the Old Egyptian rites of Osiris over 6000 years ago. The Greeks had their Dionysian festivals, so do the Romans have their Ludi. There were the Mystery or Miracle plays in Medieval France and England respectively, and the Comedia dell’arte in Italy. Theatre flourished in