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Lagos Theatre Festival 2017… a harvest of ideas, performances

By Omiko Awa and Florence Utor
05 March 2017   |   3:13 am
British Council Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF) 2017, has again been loud in Lagos, Nigeria, in the past six days, as the largest gathering of performance arts and seminal discourses about theatre.

Discussants at LTF Opening in Lagos

British Council Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF) 2017, has again been loud in Lagos, Nigeria, in the past six days, as the largest gathering of performance arts and seminal discourses about theatre. The festival, which started in 2013, opened on Tuesday, February 28, and was a showcase of over 70 performances in 16 venues across Lagos city. The festival has been produced by the duo of Kenneth and Brenda Uphopho.

With the theme ‘Rhythm of the City,’ this year’s event was in partnership with First Bank Plc and began with a symposium on leveraging and interventions in the arts sector for effectiveness of productions and enhanced benefits.

At the opening, Country Director, British Council Nigeria, Connie Price, said the council founded the festival in 2013, as apart of its ambition to foster exchange and collaboration between Nigerian and British artists through the presentation of high quality Nigerian and British theatre. According to her, one of the hallmarks of the festival has been the promotion of theatre in unconventional spaces, which has enabled theatre makers and producers to expand their practice beyond traditional theatre spaces by creating work that responds to any given space.

“This year, lots of unconventional performances were showcased,” she said. “The festival also featured developmental programmes for artists and stakeholders.”

Director, Arts, British Council/Chair, LTF, Advisory Board, Ojoma Ochai, disclosed that this year’s festival had visitors from the Informal European Theatre Meeting (IETM), one of the premier theatre networks in the world; International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) and festival management organisations and trainers from around the U.K., like Walk the Plank, London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) and institutions such as Edinburgh Napier University.

In her goodwill message, Lagos State Acting Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Ms. Adebimpe Akinsola, said apart from boosting art and culture, “Theatre helps us to understand people from other climes and never to be ethnocentric,” adding that plans were underway for Lagos State government to build five theatres, one each in Badadry, Ikorodu, Alimosho, Epe and Ikeja. She stated that the present site for the Lagos State Arts and Culture would soon be converted to a Cultural Village with a theatre, noting that the centres would be managed by professionals through a public-private initiative.

Akinsola stated that Lagos State government was ready to collaborate with genuine and registered arts and culture organisations to boost the sector, as well as tourism in the state.

While speaking on the topic, ‘Opportunities for the Nigerian Performing Arts Sector to Leverage More Corporate Support,’ Head, Sponsorships and Events, First Bank plc, Ms. Bridget Oyefeso, said artists should know their onions, have the mastery of a particular genre of art they want or are interested in and learn how to properly package themselves to attract sponsorship.

Oyefeso also noted that an artist stands to be better recognised if he or she belongs to a professional union, as this would create the impression that such a person was aware of the happenings in the sector, stressing that attention should always be given to details when writing proposals.

Noting that all organisations needed one form of help or the other, Oyefeso said artists should always think of advance solutions, when discussing with potential sponsors so that would-be sponsors could be better informed to put their money in such projects. She added that her bank was interested in supporting arts, as a way of creating jobs and giving expression to artists.

“Corporate organisations are getting smarter and wiser and want you to bring solutions, contents that will make them get a wider space,” she said. “There is cost of efficiency in collaboration; speak to yourselves as industry practitioners; belong to a body of the genre of arts you want and create contents that sell.”

while making her own interventions on the topic, ‘Interventions for Developing the Performing Arts Sector in Nigeria: Private Sector Perspective,’ Founder/Managing Director, Terra Kulture, Lagos, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters, said before now people perceived artists as people, who have nothing to do with their time or outright failures in the society. This, she said made the public to pay little or no attention to the sector.

However, she said the perception has changed, and called on artists to be more professional in the way they carry out their affairs. She urged artists to handle their craft like a business, have data of what they are doing and be able to tell the impact their works have on the people. She noted that investors were not able to capture what is happening in the sector because there were no data to work with, adding that her organisation has begun to capture data of plays held in a month, in a year, the amount generated from gate-takings and the number of people that turned up for each show.

Austin-Peters stated that Terra Kulture provided free space for artists of different genres for six years to perform or showcase their works and that many of such as artists have grown over the years and have begun to do great things. According to her, if there were such platforms as the one she provided across the state or country, more jobs would have been created.

The producer of Saro and Wakaa musical theatres also highlighted the fact that Nigeria’s comparative advantage to create jobs lay in the arts, and not necessarily in the sciences. She stressed that many people in the profession were yet to understand that art is money or business, apart from the entertainment value it offers. While emphasising the importance of the arts sector in the economy, Terra Kulture boss noted that although Nigeria is in recession, the arts industry is not in recession. According to her, it is the only industry that is not in recession because artists have to perform to keep people happy so that they do not commit suicide.

The founder of upscale Terra Kulture noted that government alone could not provide all the infrastructure need in the system, adding that the private sector needed to come in to play its critical role of intervening in infrastructural deficit to make the sector viable.

Corroborating Austin-Peters’ intervention was, Chairman, Social Media Week, Lagos, Mr. Obi Asika, who said artists could merchandise their brand, license them or look for people to sell them. He noted that it was only when artists work together and partner with others that they would achieve great things.

Acting General Manager, National Theatre, Lagos, Mr. George Ufot, also made intervention, while representing Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. He said Nigerian performing arts sector has grown steadily and the public sector has a crucial role to play for its productive development and asymmetric growth.

George noted that government, through the public sector, plays a pivotal role in the establishment of necessary legal, technical, institutional and infrastructural framework for the development of the performing arts sector. According to him, the Federal Government is working with different state governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector to bring enabling environment for things to work.

According to him, “The National Theatre, for instance, was commissioned in 1975 for the development of the performing arts, but its main bowl has not been used for 25 years. But through the efforts of my minister and the intervention of the Lagos State governor, the main hall will be opened in another few months. This is one way we truly welcome the private sector.

“Government has created the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) to facilitate the sector. The body has been working to make sure that copyright owners are projected. We have the National Video and Film Censors Board (NVFCB) regulating the industry at the film level and, today, I can assure you we are working towards the establishment of the Nigerian Endowment Fund for the Arts (NEFA).

“This administration has continued to support the establishment of Project Act Nollywood, established in 2012. This project, has so far benefitted more than 412 Nigerian film practitioners: seven film schools, 93 movie production outfits, 260 individual filmmakers that undertook training locally and internationally and 106 distribution/exhibition companies. I am also aware that Bank of Industry (BoI) has spent more than N2 billion supporting the sector.”

He also stated that the ministry has signed MoUs with the British Council and Tony Elumelu Foundation, saying that government believes that the partnership would provide the requisite framework for stakeholders to partner with investors to make the sector contributed better to the economy.

George also noted that the development of the arts sector is one of the main job trusts and mandates of his ministry and it was in recognition of this fact that the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) is developing a template for the establishment of the ultra-modern cinematography film entrepreneurial centres or film villages across Nigeria. This, he said, was to encourage the development of the sector, improve capacity and skills and provide necessary infrastructure in line with public and private sector partnership. He said the pilot scheme is being developed in Kano State.

As he noted, “The performing arts has the capacity of creating more than 20 million jobs, which could improve internally generated revenue (IGR) of the nation. However, the activities of pirates have hampered the growth and development of the sector. And to proffer sustainable solution posed by pirates, my ministry and its agencies are partnering with relevant stakeholders, state governments and inter-government organisations to fight and curb piracy.”

In order to make the festival all-inclusive, some stakeholders called on organisers to provide a platform for grooming children artists so they, too, could leverage on the platform and grow in the sector.

Mr. Segun Adefila of Crown Troupe of roles, so artists know their limits when creating and performing. According to him, it would be difficult for the artist to be the initiator of an idea, promote the idea, write or perform and, at the same time, be the marketer. He noted that such practice could make an artist lose concentration and fritter away the potentials of a production. Adefila canvassed the need for marketers to help out with the marketing of ideas, so artists concentrate on performance.

According to Adefila, there should be specialisation in the performance chain to enable practitioners develop their careers.

While commending British Council for the festival, which is now in it fourth edition, Adefila also called on organisers to provide a platform for traditional African performances. According to him, the Eyo masquerade or any other, as the case may be, should be part of the festival. Performance, he noted, should not be restricted to stage, as defined by the festival’s conformity to English theatre tradition. These African performances, he argued, take place in market-square, palaces, streets and other non-conventional spaces.

Abuja Festival coordinator, Mr. Biodun Abe, requested organisers to bring some of the performances to the National Theatre. According to him, although putting up performances on the Island may attract high calibre audience, but that it would only amount to a few people seeing such performances. He noted that any show held at the National theatre would always have huge following because of the advantage of the theatre loving population that lives on the mainland.

Abe noted, “We tend to make theatre appear to be only for the elite when we move away from the mainland.”

While dispelling the fears raised by Aremo Tope Babayemi, that festival could be another form of cultural imperialism and re-colonisation, Ojoma Ochai said the festival had over 500 artists from Nigeria, South Africa, United State of America and the United Kingdom and featured different genres of performances. According to her, there would be comedy, design theatre, fashion, dance and dance, adding that it could not by any means be an only British or Nigerian affair, as such the issue of cultural imperialism or re-colonialism was ruled out.

In all, it has been six days of spectacular performances that captured the sight and sound, rhythm, costumes and performance aesthetics of cities around the world that converged on Lagos, the state of aquatic splendour!