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Arts Meets Therapy With “Strelitzia”

If you could go back in time to a page of your diary and re-enact the day as it went, what would it be like? Imagine if you could feel it as it happened, the smell of the room as you shed tears that made it to the pages of your diary, the heavy sighs before you gathered the strength to move on. This is what Strelitzia intends to do: take you on a roller coaster of emotions and, in the process, a journey of self. The show made its debut at the 2017 edition of the Lagos Theatre Festival and made another appearance this year as well.

A scene from the Strelitzia play at Lagos Theatre Festival. Photo credit: Ifeoluwa Nihinola

Strelitzia is an experiential poetry and art installation which derives its name from a South African plant of the same name. This plant has an interesting metamorphosis, blooming from a bud into a flower that looks like a bird. It is believed that in the same vein, the audience will go through some kind of blooming, which will lead to the unburdening of at least one story from their lives as they walk through the pages of this physical diary.

At the start of the installation, the audience–or story bearers as they’re referred to–are encouraged to tap into the nostalgia of their childhood through various objects including food, folklore, and jingles from adverts. It further takes them on a journey into memories, from the perspective of a young man who deals with grief after the passing of his mother; a young lady who has sad memories when a song that usually brings back happy memories is sung; and a young man who wants to wake up from a bad dream. All these stories are told in form of contemporary dances, beautifully rendered music, powerful monologues and, very importantly, poetry that evokes emotions, with each story having a unique narrative.

A scene from the Strelitzia play at Lagos Theatre Festival. Photo credit: Ifeoluwa Nihinola

With Strelitzia, there’s a fusion of storytelling, music and dance with the cast leading the story bearers through the pages of their diary. The story bearers are also encouraged to interact with their own bodies through their senses as they move on.

In the end, the producer of the show and writer of the thought-provoking poems, Donna Ogunnaike rounds up with a medley of stories: a boy has to police his emotions because men do not cry, a law intern is sexually assaulted by a friend, a religious single sister is miraculously expecting a baby. Then, she hands out markers to the story bearers and calls out to them to give their pain a name on a white platform. Written on the other side of this white platform, are the pains of the previous Strelitzians. Then, they leave the diary through a different entrance from the one they walked in, a physical representation of rebirth and leaving behind some, if not all of their problems and walking into a new life.

Strelitzia goes where many fear to go and does a great job at it. It may have been confusing at some point, but it proves therapeutic and is excellently curative in the end.

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