There’s hope for theatre in Nigeria – Ben Tomoloju
This year’s edition of World Theatre Day (WTD) was well attended by thespians when they converged on the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, to join their colleagues all over the world to celebrate the recent World Theatre with the theme “Theatre Artistes for Proudly Nigeria” (TAPNigeria).
In his address of welcome, the Interim National President, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Isreal Eboh, recalled that, in the last few years, the Nigerian theatre, through mostly individual efforts, had experienced a rise in profile in both economic and entrepreneurial terms. Productions like Saro the Musical, Waka!, Heartbeat, Hear Word, and Kakadu, he said, had captivated and enthralled audiences around the world, comparing them to the Sikulus and Lion Kings.
In his words, “If we must overcome recession, we must recognise the place of theatre and the whole entertainment industry as an alternative revenue generating source. Theatre will not only boost the economy but also create jobs for many youths roaming the streets. Today, the largest number of young millionaires worldwide are entertainers, yet government and corporate organisations continue to pay lip service to the sector.”
For our culture to be appreciated, Eboh said we must promote our history and culture through their teaching, adding, “Any nation that wishes to create a better tomorrow must teach its history of yesterday. As artistes, we urge the government as a matter of national interest bring the teaching of history in the educational system.”
He commended his members for operating in a most unpredictable and insensitive environment, even as he enjoined them to work in a society where their function is considered premium.
He lamented that “a situation where government can classify the artiste as an artisan speaks volume of how we are perceived. A situation where corporate organisations regard theatre as a sector that should be merely tolerated through handout, shows how unenlightened they are about what artistes do and how they contribute to national development.”
NANTAP, Lagos Chairman, Makinde Adeniran, commended Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State for his unwavering support and commitment towards the growth of culture and tourism.
“To have narrowed down to culture, arts and tourism as the financial game changer in a nation experiencing economic depression, and most importantly, to have moved on it speedily as the governor has done. He has commissioned six theatre buildings across the state and has re-ordered the outlook of the state physically with the beautification of landscape with historical and artworks.
Ben Tomoloju, in his lecture, entitled “Rescuing the Theatre from Down-Under” disclosed theatre has been in documented existence since B.C 4000, from the old Egyptian rites of Osiris over 6000 years ago. The Greeks had their Dionysian festivals, so do the Romans have their Ludi. There were the Mystery or miracle plays in Medieval France and England respectively, and the Comediadell’arte in Italy.
“Theatre flourished in old Asia with the likes of the Japanese Noh and Bunraku theatre traditions, and just like the Yoruba Alarinjo, the Igbo Mmanwu, the Tiv’s Kwaghir Puppet theatre which are still innovated upon by contemporary playwrights and performers. Theatre never dies.
Continuing he said, today, Nigerian Theatre was being re-energised, citing that Keen patrons, producers, directors and players were pumping resources into the industry, implementing productions across the various theatrical genres: drama, dance, musicals, etcetera.
Echoing that “there is hope,” he appealled to NANTAP to brace up for the challenges ahead. He urged the present leadership to identify the shortfalls and revitalise its administrative machinery to recapture and creatively explore the foundational vision of the association as a way forward.
He said, “It should also be open to fresh ideas. The spirit of enterprise should be boosted organisationally and individually. NANTAP members should realise that, if the association fails, the blame is not on the leaders alone, but also on the poor quality of followership. The capacity of individual members should be enhanced and activities standardised to demonstrate a higher level of commitment.”
Tomoloju admonished NANTAP executive members to embark on effective networking locally and internationally with vigorous membership drive and high-wired advocacy at all levels in Nigeria. Linkages with thousands of Nigerian artistes in the Diaspora and connections in bilateral and multilateral intercultural relations can add value to the profile of the association,” he concluded.
Dignitaries present at the event were the immediate past Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer of National Theatre, Akin Adejuwon; Greg Odutayo, Femi Odugbemi, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), Teju Kareem, Director of Culture, Benue State, Gonje Edwards; Biodun Abe, Fred Amata, among others.