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University of Ibadan unveils Wole Soyinka Theatre, Geoffrey Axworthy Studio

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University of Ibadan

All is now set for the unveiling of Wole Soyinka Theatre and Geoffrey Axworthy Studio. The event holds on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Also scheduled for Tuesday is the second Geoffrey Axworthy lecture to be delivered by Professor Ahmed Yerima of Redeemer’s University, Ede. Professor Wole Soyinka delivered the first lecture.

The University of Ibadan Arts Theatre is one of the temples of performances in the country that have been canonised into ‘sainthood’ for their eminent position in the development of literary theatre in Nigeria.

The construction of the Arts Theatre in 1955 was motivatedonly by the need to provide a venue for the holding of concerts and film shows.

But the arrival on campus in the mid-50s of theatre enthusiasts among the teaching staff – of people like Martin Banham and Geoffrey Axworthy especially – helped to shape the new course of events.

Gaining inspiration from the academic atmosphere, a number of dramatic entertainment groups emerged, creating a vibrant theatre culture in Ibadan. The groups included the Arts Theatre Production Group (ATPG), which comprised mainly staff and the University College Ibadan Dramatic Society (UCIDS), comprising students, and, in addition, a series of theatre workshops for the departments of English and of Extra-Mural Studies, as well as the Institute of Education, encouraged the establishment of the school and the development of the Arts Theatre.

With a background of an indigenous vibrant theatre tradition and the influence of a largely European expatriate community, many European plays were also performed at the new Arts Theatre.

Plays by Bernard Shaw, Andre ́ Obey, Shakespeare, Gogol, Anouilh, Ibsen, Fry, Pinero, Miller, Dryden, Webster, Frisch, Mortimer, Wilder, Jonson, Yeats, Du ̈rrenmatt, Congreve, Molie`re, Behan, Beckett and Pinter also graced the new altar of performance, the first of its kind in Nigeria.

In 1959, the Players of the Dawn was formed as an amateur group by graduates of the university residing in Ibadan. Most of the members later formed the nucleus of Soyinka’s  Masks.

The formation of University Travelling Theatre in 1960 concretised the idea of having a formal drama and theatre education. At that time, students went round the halls doing performances, climaxing in Trenchard Hall.

It was used as a kind of playwriting workshop, where students were asked to write a 30-minutes play without any scenery or complicated lighting. The first production in 1961 was That Scoundrel Suberu, an adaptation of Moliere’s Les Fourberies de Scapin by Dapo Adelugba, Alfred Opubor, Browson Dede and Ayo Amu.

The School of Drama itself was founded in 1962 under the direction of Axworthy, assisted by Banham, but already, as part of the English Department, the duo had produced a number of plays, including Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel .

Regular courses started in the 1963/64 session in the Arts Faculty, offering Diplomas both for non-graduates, and also at the graduate level, with the late Kola Ogunmola becoming the first student in residence. This was to prove historic, when, through another grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ogunmola created the unforgettable stage adaptation of Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard.

In 1966, the Rockefeller Foundation funds ran out. But by then, the arguments for the School had been firmly established. The Nigerian Universities Council not only accepted to finance the School, but also to upgrade it into a full-fledged department. This dream could not be realized, however, for another four years, owing to the outbreak of the Biafran conflict. But happily, in the 1970-71 session, with the cessation of the war, the Department finally took off with Wole Soyinka as its inaugural helmsman.


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