Chukwuma Anyanwu and the dramatic reflections of the Nigerian experience – Part 2
In a military-led government, this freedom is absolutely restricted and if any journalist tries otherwise, he/she is blacklisted for punishment. Such is the case in Another Weekend, Gone! Those caught were labeled, tried in kangaroo courts and executed.
In the play, James is pretentiously murdered for not using the pedestrian bridge. This is seen in the following scene:
Kolade: Good! Aminu, what are the charges against this young man?
Aminu: Sah! There are three charges against him. The first, disobeying the laws of the land which is an offence of a general nature. The second-
Kolade: Guilty or not guilty?
Ugojah: Guilty, my lord!
Onlooker: Are you the accused?
Kolade: Who is that intruder? Arrest him!
Ugojah: You, who said that?
Second Onlooker: (Points to a running figure.) Must be him!
Third Onlooker: Na him, officer, eh don run away!
Kolade: Aminu, carry on!
Aminu: The second count charge is an offence of a particular nature.
Aminu: Obstructing traffic by refusing to use the pedestrian bridge thereby endangering his life and the lives of law abiding citizens.
Kolade: Guilty or not guilty?
Kolade: And the third charge?
Aminu: Looking disrespectfully at an officer of the law when he was apprehended!
(At this to the surprise of everybody, JAMES bursts into laughter.)
Kolade: Add that to the chargeAminu: Yes Sah! What shall I call it, Sah?
Ugojah: Ridiculing the law of the land, Sah! It should be a two-count charge. Ridiculing the law of the land and making fun of officers of the law!
Kolade: Guilty or not guilty
Ugojah: Guilty to both charges!
Kolade: Guilty on all five charges! Now the court wants to confer before judgment, sorry, before giving its verdict….
By the powers invested on me as the Chairman of this Mobile Court, I hereby find you guilty on all charges! As to my sentence, because of your ignorance of the ways of the Military, even though you call yourself a journalist, you are hereby sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour, with an option of a fine to the tune of one thousand naira only, payable with immediate effect! Court! (Another Weekend, Gone! Pp. 22-24)
Why did James, a renowned journalist, conscience of the society, go through this torture and eventual murder? Because, he simply broke a story about a military president and drug trafficking. This was of course, during the military rule of 1983-1998. Yet journalists were not deterred, they pushed on just to make sure there was balanced reportage of elections update.
A question is: why such intimidation and “suffering for democracy if politics is such a demon”. Second prisoner opines that these activists, the journalists, the critics and every other person that stands for truth are fighting for the principles which democracy represents. For the rights of man and the society. For the man in you to stand up openly, publicly, and without fear or hindrance, buy and sell in the open market of ideas. We are not fighting for the Western brand of democracy, good as it may be. Why? Because our democracy, whenever it comes must be dented by our colonial past, by our military mentality and finally by our indifference. For our society is dominated by a populace that has been fed with the corruption of little minds which justify and do not question the sources of their impoverishment…. (Another Weekend, Gone! P.43).
Despite this unwarranted intimidation from the government, the media have remained resolute to fighting a just cause of standing for and defending the truth, and have also pressed the truth on the government and the society. This has, in most cases, led to the change of bad policies by the government and also made the masses to support good governance and government policies. No doubt, the conscience of the society is the mass media!
Another Weekend, Gone! also, saliently, raises the issue of gender concerns and also probes into certain marital assumptions which negate the female gender. This is reflected in the person of Jane Marvel, a society lady, who delays in yielding to James’ proposal for marriage and eventually denies him the opportunity of a conjugal bliss to concretise their relationship of over half a decade, though, she (Jane) was already approaching twenty-nine years and clamours for the marriage inwardly. In a society where a young lady of marriageable age is approached for marriage but turns it down, yet, prefers dating. This has equally produced in the society a large number of “unmarried, unwedded widows” as seen in the play under discourse. The playwright is, therefore, of the opinion that opportunity should be grabbed and utilized whenever it rears itself to avoid a disastrous end.
In Broken Image, the many misconceptions about the life of the theatre artist are presented. A theatre artist is, most times, misunderstood by his/her immediate family on the one hand, and the society on the other. At various times and places, he/she is called all sorts of names, seen as inferior or a never-do-well. This situation is presented before the society to decide through the mouth piece of Obinna, a theatre artist and Ngozi, his wife. If the question of “who the theatre artist is” is posed before you, how would you respond? Just a quick run through, in the ancient Greek era, the theatre artist was seen as a nonentity, a vagabond, a clown/jester, a no-serious entity, and as such, actors of this period and their activities were, at a time, forbidden. In the Roman period, same treatment was meted on the artist, not even the “clowns” that performed before the nobles in the palaces.
In the medieval period, the theatre artist was seen as the most sinful sinner and his/her activities (dramatic performance) mainly sinful. Hence dramatic activities were banned completely. In short, actors were forbidden in participating in the sacraments of the church, and religious authorities issued frequent injunctions both against presenting and attending any form of theatrical entertainment. Actors who dared to flout this order were severely sanctioned. Thus, dramatic activities went underground. However, one unique thing about the theatre artist and his activities all through the ages is that, the theatre never dies!
In our present society, the theatre artist is seen and regarded as a “good-for-nothing”, “social misfit and madmen”, “those people who make plays and jokes on television, Radio and such” (Broken Image p.20). This statement paints the artist as a no-serious person and outright clown. This misconception about the theatre artist is further elaborated in the ensuing dialogue:
Chukwudi: You mean people who do ICHEOKWU
Chukwudi: And yet you expect him to be faithful to you? He is like a musician isn’t he? (She nods) That concludes it. And you expect him to be faithful? Mba nu, nwa m!
Ikenna: Your husband, you say, is a jester? You mean, he is one of these people whom you never know when they are serious or not? Sometimes, they don’t make sense even to themselves? How then do you make out when he is speaking the truth or not?….
Chukwudi: I say you have said it all! He belongs to this group of young men who do not know the season of wears nor greetings. More often than not, they speak to themselves…I say it is difficult to distinguish them from mad men most of the time…
Ikenna: But that is the very mark of their profession! To falsify emotions! I tell you when these actors or jesters are at their most unserious that is when you see them looking very serious. And when they are serious, laughter overcomes them (Broken Image pp. 21-22).
The above dialogue projects the artist as a troublesome human being, who causes trouble where there is none (ICHEOKWU- parrot, but a comic radio play in the Imo Broadcasting Service in the 1990s), but metaphorically, also, a mad man who speaks to himself/herself, a jester and one whose emotions are not real and stable.
The theatre artist is also seen by the society as a flirt and a cheat. The life the theatre artist lives on stage “is inconceivable for outsiders as lacking continuation off stage” (Broken Image p. 44). Hence, the life he/she lives on stage is used as judgmental paradigm. Every theatre artist in our society is seen as the Tonto Dikes, Tuface Idibias, Davidos (David Adeleke) P Squares (Peter and Paul Okoye), Don Jazzy (Michael Collins Ajereh), Genevieves (Genevieve Nnaji), just to mention but few, whose extramarital activities have been everyday lead in the media. The theatre artist is never looked at as the Pete Edochies, RMDs (Richard Mofe Damijo), Patience Ozokwors, Mercy Johnsons, Chewatalu Agus, Sam Dedes, just to mention but six, who are married and equally leading exemplary lives free from the intrusion of the media. The theatre itself, has been branded and given all sorts of names. According to Obinna:
She has been misused by those she is better than. Violated, defiled, raped, scorned and neglected….She is called a harlot by the men who patronize her. Called a whore by her playmates who knew of her chastity and even to her children she is of no good reputation…. (Broken Image p. 18).
As the theatre is ascribed the above traits, the theatre professionals are also deemed of having same hence, Obinna, who lives by the theatre, is accused of infidelity. Yes! It takes reasonable and cogent argument to purge the society of this misconception as we can glean from the character of the aforementioned entertainers.
The usefulness of the theatre artist in the society cannot be overemphasized. Based on the intensive training the theatre artist receives, he/she is fit in every endevour of life. This can be attested to by the role they play in the entertainment, communication, banking and oil industries. Far from the various false impressions of the theatre and the theatre artist, the theatre is one place where the individual and society “feed their hearts and conscience”. It is where the mirror that reflects the life of the individual and that of the society is held so they can feed their hearts; while the theatre artist is a teacher, whose motive is to teach through entertainment. He/she is the “conscience, the judge without the right to convict” (Broken Image pp. 32-33). In the words of Eze, the theatre artists throw:
Open the case. Expose the evil and commend the good. We do not categorically say that something is evil or good. Rather we emphasize the effects of that evil or good. We punish the bad, reward the good without letting on that it is what we are doing. The audience has its own opinions of good and evil which may be opposes to ours. We do not therefore impose any judgment on them. Ours is the conscience that will prick them. We make them smile without grinning; tearful without crying. We try to put a wedge in their emotions because their tears, their laughter, anger, shame, mean everything to us.… Our goal is to make them see through their tears, shame, sorrow, joy. Then go home and reflect and act upon our advice. We are the mirror…
Ours is to call a fool a fool in a polite manner. To find a way to call a rogue a rogue without actually using the word ROGUE. (Broken Image p.32).
The theatre artist is a very dedicated to the theatre. There is a saying amongst theatre artists that come what may, “the show must go on”. To the theatre artist, there is no “African time”. When the theatre beckons, the artist obeys, forsaking every other thing, even his wife! Thus, Obinna, metaphorically refers to the theatre, his profession, as his first wife. Uju, playing Obinna in a play-within-a-play, obliquely tells Ngozi of his relationship with his first wife:
Uju: …. I did not take you unawares, or did I? I told you everything about me and you made your choice. I also made my choice. Yes, I married my first wife long before I met you. And I will cut my tongue before I will forsake her! (Broken Image p.18).
The answer as to the reason the theatre artist is misinterpreted is given by one of the mouthpieces of the playwright, Kolaimi. In his words:
…why many people misunderstand them [the theatre artist] is very easy to explain. That they express themselves in so many ways, by the environment, by words, music, song, dance, riddles and jokes, by tears, laughter and so on (Broken Image p. 51).
He further adds that the artist’s message is encoded in all modes of communication in such a way that the receiver of the message interprets it differently.
Some will go home with the impression of the set; some with the costume, song dialogue or whatever made on them. At the end none will be wrong but few will be correct because they grasped the whole rather than a part of the message (Broken Image p. 52).
It is therefore, pertinent to state that while the image of the theatre artist has been battered and shattered through misconceptions, Anyanwu’s Broken Image is a well constructed piece in dousing these erroneous thinking by members of the society.
Anyanwu’s plays are well written, technically and in a simple language that can be understood by an average reader; crafted in satire. While Stunted Growth, The Battle and Another Weekend, Gone! are written in the Aristotelian tenets of drama writing, Broken Image is written in the African story telling format, as espoused in “Folkism”.
In truth, “the face sees not itself but by reflection”. Thus, Anyanwu, through his plays, has lifted up the mirror for our society to reflect on its past and create a clear path for a better future; a future that is devoid of intimidation, corruption, oppression of the masses and the mass media, in order for our democracy to thrive.
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