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At launch of Uzoatu’s plays , issues about Nigerian theatre dominate


Maxim Uzor Uzoatu

Maxim Uzor Uzoatu

The recent launch of Mr. Maxim Uzor Uzoatu’s two plays, Doctor of Football and A Play of Ghosts Lagos, provided a moment for the reappraisal of theatre practice in the country. It was also a gathering of art lovers and practitioners. Mr. Mike Jimoh reviewed the two plays.

Founder of Didi Museum, Dr. Newton Jibuno, who chaired the launch, founder of 1960 Hotel, Mr. Akin Adeoya, writer and book editor, Mr. Adewale Maja-Pearce, novelists, Mr. Chuma Nwokolo and Mr. Odili Ujubuonu, photographer, Mr. Tam Fiofori, public intellectual, Dr. Jimanze Ego-Alowes, award-winning journalist, Mr. Declan Okpaleke, lawyer, Mr. Andy Akporugo and poet and playwright, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, who gave the headlining lecture on ‘Theatre as a Tool for Social Change.’

Chairman of the launch, Jibuno, said although he’d thought the event was a stage performance, he was nevertheless excited to be among artists, as he has “a great passion for the arts and the environment”. He said he became close to Uzoatu years ago after Uzoatu accompanied him to then Bar Beach that was being threatened by ocean surge. When they arrived, he recalled, “We saw a lot of people being submerged in the sea. Maxim wrote a beautiful piece about the whole incident. There’s nothing like witnessing a disaster happening. Then governor of Lagos State called me for the first time as a result of Maxim’s story.

“I have always been most comfortable in the midst of artists and entertainers. I have always enjoyed the whole world of Nigerian art; I enjoy talking or being in the midst of artists. Anything to do with environment or art, I enjoy it”.

Guest lecturer, Ofeimun, canvassed that theatre could only be effectively used as a tool for social change in an environment where theatre production thrives and engages the imagination of the public. For him, there are not many theatre spaces in a cultural city like Lagos to affectively engage the public to the change dynamics embedded in the messages the theatre delivers. The National Theatre, he said, should have been a big deal if it was being effectively deployed for its statutory role of delivering theatre production. MUSON Centre is also good, but it is increasingly getting out of the reach of theatre practitioners’ poor resources considering the paltry audience patronage.

According to Ofeimun, “In Columbia, theatre is being done very well. At every corner, there’s a drama, poetry; virtually the entire city is a theatre of arts. We don’t have a city that can reach out to culture. Poor transportation is a major headache”.

It was for these reasons, he said, that he made his dance dramas free entry while he got money from those who had it to put up his productions. Ofeimun said his dance dramas caused a revolution in the industry as many people started doing it, saying it is expensive to do. He stated that the dance in the drama “must help tell the story in a non-noticeable manner. What the dance will do is different from the verbalization. Nigeria is the most African country; Nigerian communities have a variation of dances that are not found elsewhere. When you want to tell a people’s story, you tell it the way it hits them hard. One of the things drama should do is help people get themselves together.

“The story of Nigeria is one of a people, who do not want to embrace one another. Our story is one of the refusal to accept each other. What drama should do is to give a sense of our history so that we might be able to resist what made it possible for us to be colonised. A society that works like ours that doesn’t see theatre, takes a longer time to get thing right”.

Author of The Poet Lied also carpeted Nigerian business people for not being part of the cultural consciousness of the country by refusing to invest in it. According to him, “Nigerian businessmen and women are not part of this society. They need to build theatres, lose money and recover it. What Nollywood tells you is that Nigerian drama did not fail. The biggest thing you can do for a city is have transactional flow. You need infrastructure in place. Between government and artists, there’s a kind of war. In four years, a government can build a city with theatres to mobilise the people. Let’s hope we have a Wole Soyinka as driver to conscientise governments to see the need to build theatres. Frankly, we need dramatists who need not fear poetry so we can make this place a good one”.

OKPALEKE enjoined Nigerian journalists to write books like Uzuatu as they do in the west world, saying it is the best way to preserve legacy.

On his part, Ford Foundation official, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, tasked dramatists to come up with open-space or street theatres, as the likes of Herbert Ogunde and Duro Ladipo did during colonial times so as to take theatre to common people who truly need it. He said, most often, theatre performances in the country were too elitist and out of the reach of the common man. Chukwuma noted that the founder of Ford Foundation was a very rich man and that it would be absurd if sponsorship funding from Ford went to productions that catered only for productions situated in the neighbourhood of the rich.

Chukwuma expressed delight in an open space theatre production, which Batonga, produced by Terra Kulture early in the year for which his foundation provided sponsorship. He said it was a rewarding experience for both parties. Batonga was staged at secondary schools in Bariga and Maryland to the delight of students. Chukwuma actually proposed Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, as a good avenue for open space theatres, when he recalled that it was the epicentre of anti-subsidy removal protests in 2012.

Another guest, Mrs. Victoria Ohaeri-Igezim, spoke in similar vein when she recalled that a gender-based production put up by some women a few years ago on the island would have served market women in Oshodi, Mushin, Ajegunle, Ajamgbadi and such places better, as its theme related more to such women than the elite audience-type.

According to her, “A play on gender equality and genital mutilation was staged in a place that was too posh, too classy. We need to bring it down to people who need this information. How can you make Oshodi market women know where the Office of Public Defender is when you stage such plays at posh places?”

Proprietor of 1960 Hotel or Prince of Anthony Hotel, Mr. Akin Adeoya, made an incredible offer to the culture community to use its ‘Culture Café’ hall for free for any cultural event. To make the announcement was Mr. Abdul Okwechime, who said the hotel was located on the same spot as Hotel Parisoma, where Fela and his followers camped years ago when he returned from Ghana after being expelled from that country. Okwechime also informed that Hotel Parisoma was where Fela married his 27 wives on February 19, 1978, presided over by an Ifa priest after his lawyer, late Tunji Braithwaite, turned him down on account of a possible bigamy suit.

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