It was with some trepidation mixed with hope that I awaited the call which would confirm if I had been chosen to participate in a capacity building programme powered by a triumvirate of the British Council Nigeria, International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) and Nigerian Guardian Newspaper. The programme, Young Critics Programme, was designed to train and mentor twenty (20) young writers and journalists in theatre criticism as part of the recently concluded British Council Lagos Theatre Festival 2017. And the email dropped. I was chosen. Hurray.
Then came the frenetic flurry of attending classes on criticism facilitated by a ‘big masquerade’, the international President of the IATC, Margareta Sorenson, in the company of other IATC members, watching series of performances; drama, music, dance, comedy and rap and, homework of course, writing reviews on each piece to be submitted during the night. Sleep became a luxury. Other luxury items that were handed down in the course of the three day training programme included networking with 19 other brilliant young Nigerians, a free pass to over 30 mind-blowing performances, getting schooled in the art of writing globally acceptable reviews and good food.
At times, it was comical and at other times, a cause for concern, when at various times during discussions and class work, writers from the theatre, academia and writers for the common theatre goers clashed in their views of what made for a good review. The contestations were forged by amateur writers who drew strength from their years of journalistic writing experience in spite of a lack of academic theatre background while the theatre professionals took solace in their expertise in academic writing. This gripping tension was palpable from the first day of the programme and continued till the end of the programme. The solution which I decided upon was this – the writers from each camp would have to clearly define who they are writing for and this would inform how they write. However, it was a great thrill to have rubbed minds with the intelligentsia of theatre considering that some of us had no academic theatre writing background as we picked up valuable gems of knowledge from the professionals in the field.
One of the notable personalities in the theatre industry who graced the training programme with his majestic presence was renowned Nigerian playwright, Professor Femi Osofisan. Osofisan was the keynote speaker at the International Theatre Critics conference with the theme, Theatre, Criticism and Politics: Where are the Limits? The speaker rather seemed more concerned about the apparent lack of patronage of theatre in Nigeria and spoke at length on the issue. He went as far as seeking answers from the audience. Osofisan’s discourse was very stimulating as he raised a critical poser – who then reads the work of the critic considering this dearth of theatre patronage in Nigeria.
Actor and media administrator, Mr. Ropo Ewenla was emphatic in postulating that “the theatre critic is a relic” as nobody wants to bear the burden of being a critic. Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, former arts editor at the Guardian newspapers, argued that “criticism can’t thrive in a society that is not creative” and provided examples of how mental corruption in the society has been choking the creative industry.
Amidst calls for documentation and the archiving of theatre works in Nigeria, the issue of the reportage of the theatre of the middle class which can be said to be produced mostly in the city of Lagos for only certain members of the society also reared its head. To my mind, theatre can’t be said to be completely dead in Nigeria therefore, the theatre critic can’t be described as a relic. It however, does mean that something needs to be done urgently to resuscitate the creative industry in all parts of Nigeria.
With all the discourse, those of us who were participating in the Young Critics programme realised why the task of the critic in Nigeria is almost an impossible tall order. However, the good news is that, armed with the knowledge amassed at the programme, made possible by the trio of the British Council, IATC and Guardian Newspapers, Nigeria’s hitherto comatose theatre criticism space has received a moonshot.
Ireyimika was one of the beneficiaries of the 4 – day Young Critics Programme – a project to develop critical journalistic engagement with the fast developing theatre sector in Lagos and aimed to train, mentor and promote 20 young writers between the ages of 18 and 35 to build their theatre criticism skills. This was designed to aid in professionalising the arts scene, up skilling young people, building new audiences for theatre, increasing media engagement with the Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF) and the wider theatre sector and build the capacity of the theatre makers in the festival – organised by the British Council, in collaboration with the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC), and the Guardian Newspaper, as part of the British Council Lagos Theatre Festival 2017 which held from 28th February to 5th March 2017.