Thespians celebrate day with plethora of demands
Thespians in the country joined their counterparts across the globe to celebrate this year’s International Theatre Day (ITD) on March 27. While some theatre troupes celebrated the day with different performances, including, seminars, dance and poetry, all to draw attention to the importance of the sector in the entertainment and education of the people, others sat back to take a deeper look at the problems plaguing the profession with a view at proffering solutions to its multiplicity of problems.
Though theatre be it in Europe, America and other continents is currently facing serious challenges — low patronage, poor funding and producer shying away from using the stage to tell the truth — this year’s theme, History And Significance Of The Art Form, calls on practitioners to restore the dignity and importance of the art form in their different countries and localities.
Taking a swipe at the day and theatre practice in the country, Paul Ugbede, an award-winning playwright, expects theatre practice to improve holistically both in practice and funding in Nigeria.
He noted that practitioners still do not trust the structures on ground, adding that the various components that make up theatre practice are still not synergising enough and for this reason things would continue to be the way they are for now, until we begin to do the right things.
According to him, the actors that interpret the role, the carpenters that build the sets, the writers, each of this aspect of theatre cannot relatively boast of proper remuneration, all these need to be looked into if we want our theatre to move forward. Although, the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) has been doing a lot to give practitioners a sense of employment, he added that other bodies should also join hands to make the sector work.
He commended the recent health insurance initiative, saying such initiatives will go a long way to boost confidence in the practitioners and make them focus on the job. I expect theatre Productions to enjoy full funding.
Ugbede called on corporate bodies to see theatre as a platform to market their products and invest, stressing that through the promotion and funding of productions and other programmes around theatre they would be helping the sector to grow, adding that proper remuneration is hinged on proper funding. He said the proliferation of theatre festivals all over Lagos should give sponsors insight that theatre is a good sector to invest.
He observed that irrespective of the apathy and the stiff competition the sector is currently facing from the movie industry, theatre still has a propitious future, adding that its practitioners are now beginning to thinking outside the box on innovative ways to put productions on stage to attract a share of the market. He noted that some of these innovations gave birth to musical productions and other multimedia productions. He also observed that more daring and less conservative young writers are rising up to create stories that are fresh and interrogative, while practitioners through social media now reach a larger, younger and more adventurous audience, which has given rise to a new urbane audience who are yearning for entertainment from different space.
Despite this, the playwright believes the sector can return its past glories of people queue to watch plays. He, however, noted that for this to happen practitioners must first agree to work together, saying NANTAP, the umbrella body of practitioners should be saddled with this responsibility and also speak for all.
According to him, there is need to harmonise all theatre activities in the country, saying having a national calendar where all will key in will prevent a situation where two major festivals happen at the same time.
He added that having a calendar would enable the audience to attend different performance at different venues and time.
“Theatre practitioners, troupe and guilds should put all their activities online and in tandem with the tourism drive of the nation. We should look forward to a time when people can come from all over the world to watch plays or participate in our festivals because the calendar is online and they can book hotels in advance too,” he said.
For Chairman, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Lagos State branch, Makinde Adeniran, the sector cannot move forward for now, because of the absence of a national art and culture policy.
According to him, this essential document defines where to go and how to operate in the art and culture sector of which the theatre is a part. He noted that though there seems to be an existing one, it is too shallow and does not fully say much about practice and other things, and as such should be update to reflect modern reality.
The Lagos chapter NANTAP chair noted that the current policy encourages mediocrity in the sector, thereby making theatre an all-comers affairs. He stressed that theatre is a serious business and that Nigeria and practitioners should handle it the same any sector is handled.
He called on stakeholders, practitioners and policymaker to rise to the responsibility of giving the country a new and workable art and culture policy if the nation was any meaningful progress in the sector.
Adeniran said there is a dearth of professionals and even those coming in the field do not want to be trained, because they believe “anybody can act and therefore there is no need for training,” adding, “many of our actors are in this category. Call for audition, you will see thousands of amateur come to perform and once they are privileged to scale through, they will claim they can perform and before long, will begin to act as a professional. We need to have a continuous training outside the normal school system; there should be platforms where professional should teach upcoming ones the necessary things in the profession.
“ We are talking of structure, while professionals in the sector in the really sense of it are yet to organise themselves in a way that government would listen to them; each time one talks about policy, government would say the various guilds are not yet organised. How can we have the right structure, when we are not organised? How can we effectively run the sector when the structures are not in place? And the way out of the woods is to correct all the ills and bring all the guilds to one. This is not what government should do for us; all the professional and the guilds must be involved,” he said.
Segun Adefila, co-founder and artistic director/choreographer of Crown Troupe of Africa, has a divergent view. He believes that theatre and theatre practice have their own lives and have been growing irrespective of the odds militating against the practice.
According to him, what the Nigerian theatre is currently experiencing is not new, stressing right from the time of the founding fathers, theatre practice in the country has faced gradual extinction, saying, “the happenings are all reflection of the quality of life we live.”
He noted, “how well we improve the quality of our lives could be seen in our performances and practice.“ He observed that the sector cannot be said to be crawling when the number of shows are on the increase, expressing high hopes that like other genre of entertainment it would soon attract the needed audience.
On the need to train upcoming ones, Adefila said most people want quick fix, with a few ready to go through thick and thin to get the knowledge to excel in the art form. He disclosed that arts have over the years been sustained by a daring few; those that submit themselves for training.
For Femi Odukoya, a theatre troupe manager, theatre would continue to be relevant to the society, judging from it multifaceted roles of turning out creative people and serving as tool to mirror societal issues and proffer solutions. He noted that for the Nigerian theatre to live up to its role veterans should be given the opportunity to mentor upcoming acts, make them have some tutelage as a way of preparing them to be effective, aside setting them on a career path.
Commenting on the significant of the art form, Odukoya noted that theatre has helped to re-align us to our heritage through the showcase of plays that highlight our diverse cultural values as a nation, our serving as avenue for people of diverse ethnic group and background to converge and discuss issues facing them.
He called on troupes and directors that are fond of not paying members of their cast and crew to desist from this, saying it is morally wrong and unethical practice that should be discouraged if the sector must move forward.
However Professor Carlos Celdrán speech for the day reminds us that, even in the most dire times, theatre connects people, not by erasing their differences, but by allowing a space for all their stories to survive and to thrive.
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