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Practitioners demand more theatre for children, young people

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Thespians and stakeholders in theatre practise across Europe and the Americas on Tuesday, March 20, pulled out the drums, organised seminars and put up different performances to mark The World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People.

While countries in these continents held this event so dearly, encouraging children and young people to put up theatrical productions to express themselves and showcase their talents, theatre practitioners in Nigeria seem unconcerned and go about the day as if theatre does not matter much to the people and society.

Though, some attributed practitioners’ apathy to the just rounded off Jos Theatre Festival and the British Council Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF) with over 500 artists presenting over 70 performances at 16 venues, spanning six days, others said practitioners were aloof because Nigeria is yet to have a proper theatre calendar that includes local and international events and also separates each event to give enough time for various troupes’ preparation.

While the argument continues, the Director of Dance, National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN), Dr. Arnold Udoka, however, noted that children theatre in Nigeria has improved tremendously from what it used to be when he was a child doing dance and other theatrical production for the fun of it.

With this year’s theme as, ‘Take A Child To The Theatre Today! Or Take Theatre To The Child, Udoka noted that while he was growing up anyone doing theatre was never taken serious, but all that has changed as theatre in Nigeria has improved in form, scope, structure and depth, aside the entertainment aspect that comes with its pecuniary rewards.

He urged parents/guardians to allow their children to participate in theatre, saying theatre fires children’s imagination, hone their skills and creativity, aside making them to understand the world around them.

Speaking on the day, Yvette Hardie, president, Association Internationale du Theatre pour L’Enfance el la Jeunesse (ASSITEJ), a global theatre body for children and young people, said: “ When we consider the millions of children who do not live within the easy reach of a theatre building (especially one designed for them and their needs), we must as artists expand our notions of what theatre can be if we truly believe in the arts, as a basic human right.

Of course, this idea is not new in the history of theatre, but somehow the distinction of formal as opposed to informal still seems to pervade our value systems and our notions of quality when we talk about theatre for young audiences.

“The rough magic that can transform a dusty playground, or a township hall, a school classroom, or a refugee compound, is often what is most needed — not just because it is more practical and economical to meet children in their everyday circumstances, but also, more profoundly, because it is magic,” she noted. 

According to her, theatre is always about transformation, its capacity to transform a space of ordinariness and even crisis, into a place where the imagination is activated and unexpected possibilities unfold, is unique.

Theatre, she stressed, offers a moment in which children can experience powerful social change in action.

“With theatre, they can see that change is possible. That magic can come from the mundane; that joy can be found even in the most deprived of spaces.

The quality of a theatre experience that achieves this miracle is not less than one, which allows us to take flight in a specially designed cocoon, with technology and design fully at our disposal.

“Of course, we do not, for a moment, deny the special experience that is so particular to the dedicated theatre space. But for children experiencing the daily assault of life in a warzone, for children living in far-flung rural villages, for children living in inner-city poverty, there have to be other options. And this kind of transformation can make a profound difference to their experience of the world. 

“As theatre practitioners focused on innovative practice in theatre for young audiences, we all need to ask how theatre can bring about truly transformational experiences — wherever it can find an audience — and to make these a reality,” she said.

Are Nigerians really taking their children to the theatre or taking the theatre to them? Josephine Igberaese, former Director, Drama, National Troupe Of Nigeria (NTN) and coordinator of children and young people creative station disclosed that children and young people theatre and creative station is an ongoing project, especially as many people are coming into it.

According to her, the future of children theatre in the Nigeria is very bright even though parents and sponsors are most times not willing to sponsor children creative stations, but for those who know the value crave to have their children engage in it.

She disclosed that there are a few practitioners that use the street to mentor children and young people and as such putting up performances outside the conventional theatre space.

Igberaese noted that theatre is a veritable way to enhance teaching/learning situation because children hardly forget what they see or are involved in.

According to her, parents lay emphasis on science and technology without knowing that the artist put their ideas in concrete object. The artists interpret situations, bring them nearer to us and make us feel and see them.

The former director of NTN and coordinator of children and young people creative station disclosed that the advance world know the importance of children theatre in education, problem solving, and creativity and they pay great attention to it, as a way of developing the imaginative minds of their children and young ones in problem solving and as well develop their country.

She would like Nigeria to borrow a leaf from this and for practitioners to do more on this area.

She noted that the precept of ‘what I hear and forget, I see and remember and I do and I understand,’ comes true with theatre and should be encouraged. She called on parents to spend more on children creativity, as one of the ways to bring out the hidden talent of the child.

For Tunji Sotimirin, a lecturer and theatre practitioner, who sometimes acts alongside children, observed that practitioners in the country have not fared well in this direction as emphasis is more on adult theatre, while emphasising that one of the ways change could be effected is through children and young people theatre.

“To be honest, it has been an area we have not given prominence, even among training institutes and universities. Even among those trained in this area, it is only a few of them who get platforms to practice,” he said.

On why most plays focus on adult issues, he said some of the issues could be simplified to the understanding of the children without hurting their sensibility or causing any injury to their moral.

According to him, producers, most times, are not sensitive enough to represent children’s interest in their plays; they seem to forget that serious issues such as corruption, abuses of different grades and other social ills, when presented to the children at their tender age would enable them to identify and begin to proffer solution as they grow older. He noted that through this measures, serious societal issues would be tackled effectively.

He, however, called on theatre practitioners to work harder to include more children in theatre, write plays children can act and reflect on, adding that some radio and television stations are already creating platforms in their programme segments for children to showcase their talents and express themselves, saying this would not only boost future practice, but would build skills and encourage creativity.

For the Founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO), Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF), Bikiya Graham-Douglas, some practitioners are now coming into children and young people theatre, organising workshops, seminars and even creating platforms for them to showcase their talents.

Graham-Douglas, who aside acting, mentors young people in the art through her creative workshops, disclosed that schools are calling her organisation to mentor their students on acting and other aspects of theatre.

According to her, there are different theatre troupes that are taking performances to the children in their schools, playgrounds and even in some unconventional places.

She disclosed that the number of parents who come to watch plays with their children have increased from what it used to be, saying that she was shocked to have as much children as adult in the audience in the recent stage play presented by BUAF.

She noted that the situation could only be improved upon if we all encourage live performance and also bring the children to watch plays.

“We can do more with sponsorship, funding of children and young people creative stations and others,” she said.


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