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THEATRE PROFESSION: A FAD IN THE 21ST CENTURY
- Background of the study
The concept of theatre as a profession or enterprise is better associated with the modern Nigerian theatre strand, which subsumes theatre produced by governmentowned arts councils in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria; experimental theatre; and box-office driven Yoruba Travelling Theatre and the literary theatre traditions. Experimental theatre refers to the ideologically driven applied theatre/ theatre for development workshops that draw from the traditional theatre production aesthetics to lace their socially relevant messages. Their performances spaces range from the market squares, street corners, and other open spaces where people are found. In terms of structure, the performances are basically
SONTA 2017 lead paper: Presented at the 2017 International Conference of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists
exploratory, fluid, unscripted and emphasize research, horizontal communication, people-centred development, and social change as their raison d’être.
The literary strand of modern Nigerian theatre, on the other hand, is a by-product of Nigeria’s experience with colonialism and the intervening European theatre traditions. This is the category of theatre Oyin (2002) describes below: Apart from the popular travelling theatre of Ogunde and his followers, there is also literary drama, which is predominantly anglophone, largely university-based and elitists. One of the first practitioners of this mode was James Ene Henshaw. He wrote several plays including This is Our Chance
This strand of Nigerian theatre emphasises scripted plays, western literary canons, imported theatre technology and box office collections. Rather than the total theatre performance format of the indigenous theatre forms, the literary theatre encourages compartmentalization of the theatre enterprise into different professional callings as playwrights, directors, choreographers, designers, critics, etc. These professionals strive to earn their living by collaborating to make theatre in enclosed buildings, which are specially designed for such purposes.
What is often glibly referred to, as Nigerian theatre nowadays is an amalgam of both the traditional and modern theatre traditions. The traditional strand is indigenous, eclectic, boisterous, diverse, and abounds in every community. This strand of theatre manifests in two forms. First, in the form of purely ritualistic performances, chants, masquerades, and festivals of the over 450 ethnic groups in Nigeria. Secondly, it also manifests in the form of age-long, entertaining and highly educative story-telling performances, folktales, fables, proverbs, idioms, praise songs, mimes, and dances performed during social events. Unlike its modern counterpart, traditional Nigerian theatre utilises any open space as its stage, with or without modern technological support and shies away from purely mercantile considerations.
This paper interrogates the challenges that have attended the development of modern Nigerian theatre in the face of the growing economic downturn of the last decade. Our emphasis is on the modern strand of Nigerian theatre described above because the traditional Nigerian theatre strand being a communally owned cultural product has remained robust and perhaps more resilient in the face of the growing financial challenges affecting the modern strands
Emergence of Professional Theatre in Nigeria and the Search for “Newness”
In 1945, Nigerian Theatre was set on a search for “newness”. Hitherto, theatre was a communal activity, which was jointly created, executed and enjoyed by the people. Though theatre was part of the social and religious lives of the people, it was not a full time vocation. Talented artists and designers engaged in it for free or as a part time vocation.
However, the formal establishment of the African Music Research Party (later Ogunde Theatre Party) in 1945 as the first ever-professional theatre in Nigeria (Clark, 4) introduced new dynamics to theatre making and consumption. The precursor to this bold move by late doyen of African Theatre, Hubert Ogunde, were the intervening English and European styled operas and concerts by popular artists like Handel and Mozart in Lagos city of the late nineteenth century. According to (2002) “The actors, concert groups and clientele of the foreign tradition were the new, Westernised elite… Similar concert groups were set up in lbadan and Abeokuta”.
African Music Research Party (later Ogunde Theatre Party) in Performance in 1945
However, Ogunde’s effort in 1945 was significant because it was the first recorded effort by a Nigerian to eke out a living solely from live theatre. This venture was not without its pains, because from day one Ogunde’s managerial acumen was continuously put to great task. In order to survive, Ogunde continuously reinvented his strategies. He was in persistent search of what was “new” as far as the taste of his audience was concerned. Sometimes he resorted to ‘not too conventional methods’ to keep his theatre company afloat all through the over three decades of its existence. For instance, in order to survive the stiff competition from the concert party and musical maestros like Bobby Benson that enthralled most of the audience in the 1950s, Ogunde acquired modern musical equipment and rebranded his production format to include an opening and closing glee. These were basically short musical sessions that catered for the new musical crave of his audience. In 1969, during his performance tour of the UK, Ogunde and one of his wives had to learn the tap dance in England to further enrich the opening glees of his performances. Ogunde also rebranded the name of his troupe a couple of times to keep in tune with the changing tastes of his audience.
Overall, Ogunde’s search for “newness” was driven by the need to sustain the interest of his diverse audience and surmount the numerous challenges he was confronted with, from the social, economic to even the political challenges like his imprisonment by colonial authorities over the ‘subversive content’ of some of his artistic works. His understanding of the changing tastes of his audience was what led to the unending transformations and refocusing of his performance structure, choice of themes and medium of expression. This also explains his engagement with the different performance media like theatre, dance, music and film. However, Ogunde was conscious of his ultimate goal, which was to use his performances as means to entertain, educate and inform his audience. Ogunde’s appointment as the founding Artistic Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria by the federal government in 1989 is a testimony to the success of his theatre enterprise.
1.2 Statement of the problem
The most relevant infrastructure to a film industry includes nationwide distribution of cinema halls and/or high quality and affordable broadband access. Compared to its population and potentials, Nigeria currently has grossly inadequate cinemas exhibition halls. The few available are sparsely located across the country. This has impact negatively on the growth of the Nigeria film industry. This is so because the availability of a variety of film distribution channels create the environment to allow for large scale viewing of films, and invariably expand the market size and platform for a successful film enterprise. Technology on the other hand has had the strongest impact on the growth of Nigerian cinema because it is as available as labour. Therefore the industrial framework in place for filmmaking lacks the needed cohesion that could allow Nigeria maximise her filmmaking potentials.
- Significance of the study
This work aims at understanding whether the current practices in theatre profession in 21st century will last or soon go away. It also aims at pushing the boundaries of knowledge in this area of discuss to provide resources with more depth for use by future researches.
- Scope of the study
This research was zoned into theatre platforms from selected areas in Nigeria.
- Definitions of the study
- Fad: An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze.
- Theatre: A building or outdoor area in which plays and other dramatic performances are given.
- 21st century: The 21st century is the current century of the Anno Domini era or the Common Era, in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. It began on January 1, 2001, and will end on December 31, 2100. … It is distinct from the century known as the 2000s, which began on January 1, 2000 and will end on December 31, 2099
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