The National Arts Theatre, Lagos. Photo: Nairaland
Nigeria, a multicultural nation, has a lot of festivals that showcase the culture and value system of the people.
In fact, these festivals remind the various natives organising them of what they were in the past, what is recurring and what the future is likely to hold.
Aside the conviviality and nationalistic proclivity, in concepts and theatrics, these festivals are now beginning to shift from mere cultural shows to achieving specific goals.
Knowing the imports of festivals in the society, some theatre practitioners have keyed into its gain to showcase talents and project diverse performances.
Commenting on how theatre festivals could help develop and grow the Nigerian theatre and theatre practice, Adeniran Makinde, chairman, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Lagos State Chapter, observed that organisers of some of the theatre festivals in the country are not getting it right.
According to him, the organisers lack the knowledge of what festivals are and as such bring in plethora of activities, which at the end make the fiestas appear like a jamboree.
Saying although the tradition is new in country, he noted that there is a dearth of knowledgeable festival managers and organisers to properly organise these festivals, especially as some individuals have begun to hold theirs.
Makinde noted that theatre festivals are supposed to be platforms for growing and identifying new talents, which would at the end be for the growth and development of performance art, but the current situation is not really pointing to that direction because of the way organiser are going about it.
He added that for theatre festival to be effective, it must have a specific goal it tends to achieve; be it developmental, capacity building, training or showcase of culture.
Not giving up on Nigerians holding the fort, organising theatre festivals, the thespians revealed that the impact of their works might not be immediate, as some upcoming performers must have honed their skills through this means, which will later manifest in their stagecraft and would be to the benefit of all in later years.
Makinde added that there are over 1,000 festivals across Europe and the United States of America, saying if the festivals are not of any benefit to the artform these countries would by now jettisoned the idea.
He called on those that have the interest to organise any to go learn how to do it and do it right, stressing that theatre festival is a potpourri that positively impact on practitioners, playwrights and others professionals at the fringe of the of the arts.
According to him, getting it right can place Nigeria on the global tourism map, as tourists who are interested in the African stories and would love to watch our actors perform on stage would come to the country.
Apart from this, it offers a lot of opportunities for investors in the sector.
He said: “There are different theatre festivals. They are different because of what organiser wants to achieve through them.
There are theatre festivals for capacity building, talent hunt and others.
Nigerians are just beginning to catch the bug and I know with time things will be done better.
However, we cannot rule out that some people have through this garnered experiences on stage performance and as well honed their stagecraft.
“Getting it right does no come overnight. In fact, organisations whose festivals are really setting the trail should be appreciated and encouraged to do more.”
On who is to fund theatre festivals, Makinde said, it could be anybody that has the fund and interest of theatre.
According to the Lagos NANTAP Chairman, theatre festival is for all and as such could be organised by government, corporate bodies and even individuals, adding that it is a sure avenue to exchange ideas and showcase culture.
Festival Director, British Council Lagos Theatre Festival (BCLTF), Kenneth Uphopho, observed that theatre festivals are very useful to the development of theatre practice and growth, adding that it sets the premise for creatives to interact with each other and exhibit their works, aside serving as marketplace for arts audiences.
He noted that artistes participating in festivals open themselves to creative exchanges with international artistes, curators and arts managers across the global.
Encouraging Nigerians to be involved in theatre festivals, Uphopho revealed that the country needs more of it to stimulate the scene and to create jobs.
According to him, the existing ones have made some positive impacts, which practitioners are leveraging upon to improve their stagecraft, scriptwriting skills and other activities surrounding the arts.
Recalling what the situation was before the intervention of British Council, he said: “There are some level of growth in the theatre compare to what the situation was five years ago and this can be attributed to the British Council Lagos Theatre Festival, which I ran for five years.
I say this, because the definition of growth in this context for me is in the number of theatre makers and arts managers that were birthed from that initiative.
“Over 20 new writers, about 30 emerging producers and directors came from five years of consistently presenting works at the festival.
And we are yet to fully scratched the surface.
Even at that, the festivals currently on ground cannot cater to the large number of artistes in Lagos State alone. We need more festivals.”
On who should organise theatre festivals, the BCLTF Festival Director revealed, it is not for greenhorns, as the whole activities go beyond what is seen on the surface.
“Only experienced stakeholders should organise theatre festivals because it requires a lot of work, commitment and selflessness.
I also believe that festivals’ programming should be a combination of training/learning, panel discussions, seminars and performance.
These combinations provide robust engagement for participating artistes, as well as the audience.
So, it is not what amateurs can handle because one needs to identify the issues involved and as well understand the terrains,” he said.
Identifying the roles of theatre managers and directors play in the whole engagement, Uphopho disclosed that this group of people is primarily responsible for the overall delivery of the event.
He noted that their roles begin from initiating the vision, to strategising to achieve it and mapping out programmes that can actualise the vision.
The thespian disclosed that in most cases theatre managers and directors bear the burden of raising fund for the event, adding that their crucial role give them the privilege to most times decide when and how the festival is to go.
Drawing examples from countries in Europe and the Americas where theatre culture is well established and festivals held in different locations throughout the year, Uphopho noted that Nigerians could replicate what is happening in these countries with the right structure and awareness.
According to him, we need to get a number of things aright before we can begin to harness the gains of holding festival through out the year.
He noted that there must be the right funding, infrastructure including stages, specified vision for the festival — if it’s outdoors or in-doors — among others.
Failure to have all this, he advised stakeholders to work within their budget, stressing that all over the world, arts and artistes get funding or subsidies from organisations and government to create their works.
“Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), corporate and government should fund festivals and artistes.
In five years, the BCLTF directly and indirectly created employment and engagement for over 600 artistes.
So, you see, there’s a ripple effect to funding and support. Also, government should implement policies, build infrastructure and give tax exemptions or rebate to companies and organisations that support the arts,” he said.
Kicking against critics who say Lagos has always taken the glory of hosting theatre festivals and would want the table reversed, Greg Mbajiorgu, a foremost mono-dramatist and theatre scholar, observed that Lagos would for long remain the prime centre for theatre events.
According to the award-winning don, the state has the highest number of theatre troupes, platforms and people supporting the arts, noting that moving theatre festivals around would entail making practitioners pay more for accommodation and other supports.
He noted that in some states the awareness is not just there, while in others there might be less than two or three troupes.
The don stressed that stakeholders need to adequately create awareness about theatre and build a following, before thinking of organising festivals in such area.
Calling for festivals to be organised on regular basis, Mbajiorgu disclosed that theatre fiestas are platforms that could easily showcase artistes’ works to critiques and new audience, make him or her learn new things, apart from facing stiff competitions.
He stressed that participating in festivals help artistes hone their skills, grow new talents and build synergy across board.
For Dr. Tunji Sotimirin, actor, proponent of Konkere music and lecturer at the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos (UNILAG), the idea of festival itself is theatre in terms of conceptualisation and composition.
According to the actor, festivals integrate various theatrical activities such as dance, music, drama, drumming, aerobatic display, games, and others, adding that it is a platform that artistes collaborate, celebrate and showcase different artistic talents and as such very useful to the development of theatre practice.
Sharing Uphopho ideas, the Konkere music crooner disclosed that Nigeria needs festivals that are viable, vibrant, sustainable, dynamic and capable of improving the morale and earning capacity practitioners, and as well positively impact on the practice.
The don desires a festival that will get rid of delinquents from the streets, rehabilitate youths for a better society, encourage practitioners – young and old by organising awards ceremonies – and providing funds for productions among others.
Sotimirin who wants and all-inclusive theatre festival craves for a situation where stakeholders would put theatre festivals between February and March, saying dry season period is favourable, as it would not prevent outdoor activities, among others.
Commending festival managers and producers for their important roles during festivals, he noted that theatre managers organise and coordinate all the departments, manage human and material resources, procedures, as well as marketing and publicity.
While directors choose the plays, see to productions and carry out the artistic vision of the festival.
Listing the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON), Wole Soyinka Festival of Plays, British Council Lagos Theatre Festival, Crown Troupe of Africa Theatre/Cultural Festivals among others, Sotimirin disclosed that these private initiatives are encouraging theatre and setting standards.