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NUTAF set to Rekindle FESTAC 77 Experience, Old Thespians Rally support for students

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
29 September 2019   |   3:18 am
A sudden jolt, then a frigid fight for life. “Only God would save me,” Becky Musa would tell her fellow actors. A member of Collective Artistes, in 1989, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment that required urgent medical treatment abroad.

A sudden jolt, then a frigid fight for life. “Only God would save me,” Becky Musa would tell her fellow actors.

A member of Collective Artistes, in 1989, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment that required urgent medical treatment abroad. The cost of treatment then was $30,000.

Becky was pummeled by what Dr. Ogunaike, Head Cardiologist at LUTH, called Cancer of the lymph, otherwise known as Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; a condition, which stops the flow of blood from the heart to other parts of the body.

For months, she became so bloated that even movement was hampered. Her gigantic size was caused by the inability of the blood to circulate properly.

She struggled for survival. Doctors had given her a few days to live, but she kept praying. And the paralysing weight of helplessness was much on her.

“Save me, O Lord. Please, don’t let me die.”
Heartbroken, she kept faith.
But succor came at last.
And through an unexpected source: The First Lady of Nigeria, Mary Babangida.

When the Collective Artistes raised the alarm over her ailment, Maryam convinced her husband to help and they did. Becky has flown abroad for treatment and she was brought back, hale and hearty.

Becky’s acting career, which started with a role in the now rested Mirror In The Sun, which aired on Nigeria Television Authority’s (NTA) was truncated by the illness.

Becky was lucky. Many artists have not been that fortunate.

The aftermath of Becky’s illness was the setting up of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) in 1989/90.

But before NANTAP, there was Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Students Association (NUTASA) — the students’ body that was formed on January 10, 1981. The body went on to organise the first Nigeria Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF) in April of that year at the University of Ibadan with four schools offering theatre arts in attendance — UI, Unijos, Uniben and Unife now OAU. Subsequently, Unijos, UNIBEN, ABU and UNIFE (OAU) hosted in that order.

So, when theatre arts students from 33 universities across the country converge on National Theatre, Lagos from October 20 to 26, 2019, for the special edition of the yearly NUTAF, it would be to rekindle memories of the early days of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), as well as celebrate an art that has put Nigeria on the front burner.

The second generation of writers — those born in the 40s and 50s — who provided the manuscript for the robust drama of the early generation of NUTAF.

The emerging NUTAF had already become a vestment for a National Theatre, which writers such as, Ola Rotimi, Femi Osofisan, Olu Obafemi, Kole Omotosho, Bode Sowande and Ben Tomoloju, leaning on Marxist ideology, deployed myths, legends and fables to write their drama, which the students used for their performances during NUTAF.

Osofisan’s Red is the Freedom Road, Morountodun and No More the Wasted Breed; Sowande’s Farewell To Babylon, The Night Before and Tomoloju’s Jankariwo

With most of the NUTAF generation graduating, Lagos became the point of convergence for theatrical activities. The AjoFest initiated by Fred Agbeyegbe eventually opened the theatre space for NUTASITE waiting to exhale in 1986.

The now rested NIB plays and those of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), as well as Chuck Mike’s Artistes Collective created an opportunity for that continuous stream of productions of live theatre, which was on the rise before Nollywood.

This is the first time it will be hosted outside its traditional hosting area—the university. The festival has since inception, held on rotational basis among universities in Nigeria. The last edition of the festival held in June 2018 at the Plateau State University, Bokkos, Plateau State.

This special edition, which aims at enhancing talent and creativity among theatre arts students across the nation’s universities is powered by NANTAP in association with NUTASA and the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists (SONTA). The National Theatre will host this edition, with support from MTN, Zmirage, and Airriya.

NUTAF was established as a yearly platform for students of theatre arts in Nigerian universities to exhibit their creative talent in an intellectually stimulating environment under the guidance of tested academic and professional in the performing arts in Nigeria.

Over the years, NUTAF had functioned as a bridge between theory and the practice in the performing arts training in Nigeria. The festival engenders constructive conversation of ideas between students, practitioners, and scholars in Nigeria universities. It brings about the desire interface and communication between the town and gown as it exposes creative products from university undergraduate’s to industry players and the general public for possible patronage by individuals and corporate bodies.

President of NANTAP, Mr. Israel Eboh, said that the association agreed to host this special NUTAF because it aligns itself with the desire of the Board of Trustees of NUTAF to expose the students to “a more professional environment of theatrical presentations particularly the technical aspects.”

According to Eboh, “this year’s special NUTAF also affords town and gown the platform to meet to further deepen the academic and practice mix.’’

Eboh also remarked that the use of the National Theatre would afford the festival, multiple events, and performances space within the same venue.

He said, “the entire festival, which is planned to host a series of workshops, is designed to expose students to more high technology performance support facilities, which, unfortunately, almost all our theatre arts departments lack.”

The Festival Director, Mr. Biodun Abe, and Festival Head of Secretariat, Charles Ukpong, explained that NANTAP was hosting the festival alongside National Theatre with the aim of fostering interaction between Nutasites and ex-Nutasites. ‘

“As the umbrella body for practitioners of theatre arts in Nigeria, NANTAP has the professional expertise to provide the platform for the achievement of the laudable ideas as envisioned by the NUTAF Board of Trustees,’’ Ukpong told The Guardian after the official unveiling ceremony of the festival logo held on Friday September 27, 2019 as part of NANTAP’s 2019 Fellows Investiture Dinner, which held at the National Theatre.

On NANTAP’s expectation, Abe expressed optimism that at the end of the festival, the students would have had a unique and memorable experience that could help their creative work. ‘’It is going to be one week of cross-fertilisation of ideas on theatre tradition and contemporary theatre practice. With the workshops that we have lined up and the facilitators that will be taking them, I’m sure the students would wish the festival continued, ’’ Abe said.

Speaking with The Guardian, former President of NANTAP, Gregory Muyiwa Odutayo, said it was a pride to be part of your school’s contingent to the yearly feast.

‘The auditioning are always very tough,” he said, “as every school always wants to present its best.”

Recalling his experience in 1982, he said, “we were on our way to Jos. We went by rail and by the time we got to Kafanchan, the train broke down, you needed to see how we were behaving. The same thing happened in 1984 when we were going to Zaria for the ABU edition. Our train broke down too and in the process of our shouts and banters, students of Dramatic Arts, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo joined us.”

He added, “let me say that most of the friends that I made in the cause of my career were during our NUTAF days. It was fun being part of the festival.”

Odutayo said, “what sustained NUTAF was its intellectual slant, as revealed by Edmund Enaibe, a founding member of NUTASA.”

It was as a result of heated debate on a directorial concept that made the NUTASA assembly to prohibit written plays, a decision that has aided creativity among the students. Writing your school’s winning script seems to be the price to get into the next available vehicle for NUTASA.

According to Dr. Diran Ademiju-Bepo, an Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Jos, where he has been teaching, researching, facilitating workshops and directing since 2010, his drama that made the Nigeria Prize for Literature longlist was written as a sequel to the University of Ibadan’s offering in NUTAF 1990 held in University of Nsukka titled, Rhythm of The Wind.

Drama connects and indeed celebrates unity, love, peaceful-existence, social justice, participatory democracy, freedom of association, freedom of speech and all other social-political metaphors of human rights. It is, therefore, important to note that NUTAF aims at dramatising and celebrating cultural rejuvenation, healthy competition, social engineering, national rebirth, love, peace, unity, brotherhood and group cohesion.

In the words of Abe, ‘my doors are open for the NUTASITES to pick what will enhance their careers in my office. I’m pretty sure it is going to be a mind-blowing experience.”