Monday, 20 April 2009
Cross section of guests
By Gbenga Salau and Florence Utor
THE need to reposition the theatre profession in Nigeria was the preoccupation of various speakers at the recent six-day celebration by the Lagos State Chapter of the National Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners, to mark the organisation’s 20th anniversary and the 2009 International Theatre Day.
Speakers at the main conference of the celebration held Thursday, March 26, specifically raised issues, which they said are key to reviving the theatre, as well as help build other sectors within the industry, like the movie to grow.
Mr. Ben Tomoloju, the renowned actor, director and culture advocate observed that “for the industry to grow, we must know that the theatre is a nucleus of certain other industries and vocations. And we have to pass the legacy down to the younger generation to be able to grow within these nucleus–– movies, stage, radio, television and so on and so forth.
“So we must draw youth development programmes. Let this be a consistent part of our activities. Then the private initiative is essential and government participation, we should not say the government should go. I have always said it: if the government can build stadia and fund it, why should they not build theatres all over the place and fund it.
“There should not be any double standard in our social life.”
“Then our artistes should aspire to the level of professionalism based on relevant standard to be accorded the right financial rating,” said the former Arts, and Deputy Editor of The Guardian.
In a presentation that could pass for the keynote of the session, Tomoloju probed further into the heart of the problems bedeviling the industry.
“If you were not at the right professional standard, you would not get the right financial rating; you must aspire to that level. The power of lobby… we must lobby; a new minister comes, let us go to him, ‘welcome sir, we have an agenda for you in theatre’.
“The image count, we are not happy that what the media write, especially on movies and music, is how many girlfriends somebody has, and how many wives they are going to marry and how many people get pregnant for another person? As an art journalist, I never encouraged it and I will not encourage it. The dignifying aspect of the art should be what we should project.
“Under the performing arts, which of course is what we are talking about, you have the various disciplines and these disciplines have things in common, which should also give them a unity of purpose,” said the writer, director of such highly rated plays as Jankariwo, Muje muje Askari, Amona among other major theatre works.
Tomoloju also said: “We cannot solve one in isolation; issues like copyright, vetting of the quality of production, marketing, brand management — all these come under some kind of umbrella for the various disciplines that operate under the performing art, and this necessitate consensual coordination of the activities.
“For instance the theatre practitioners in the core theatre, the actors either in the movie or on stage, radio or television, technicians whether lightings men, who also operate on stage or on screen, set designers, they should come together and tackle matters that concern their various disciplines together.
“And in any case, the motivation also for a vibrant cultural sector cannot be left in the hands of each of these units in isolation. So, I think that it is something worthwhile as being suggested by the panelists for these professionals in the various disciplines to come together and tackle them. It is also in the best interest of the professions under the theatre arts. There are also the activism and advocacy aspects, so that they can influence government policies.”
On the effect such could have on the nation, Tomoloju, who recently directed Ola Rotimi’s Kurunmi for the National Troupe of Nigeria to high acclaim, said: “I believe that it will solve economic problems. I have already mentioned something about the need for the government to be involved in building cottage theatres around the various neighbourhoods in the country.”
The culture activist added, “the national cultural policy, which was promulgated into law in 1988 stated that the Federal Government should build cultural centres in each state, and state governments should build cultural centres in each local government, and each local government should also identify various wards and neighbourhoods and build cottage theatres there.
“When you look at the quantitative analyses of these in terms of job creation, it is manifold. You have more people getting involved in production and creativity and it will be mostly young people.
“So, I believe the cultural sector can actually take care of the jobless in terms of getting them jobs within the theatre and cultural circle. There is also a multiplier effect in terms of the other professions that people can be involved in.”
On what could be done to change the dying theatre going culture, Tomoloju said, “if the film industry is moving well, we should celebrate it, though we know that there are substandard aspect of whatever is done in the film industry, but in terms of the theatre, let us not say the theatre is down; let us say it has not assumed the level of full development.
“There are brilliant talents in the theatre–– on stage and in the movies. But they need all the encouragement possible, financial for instance. The corporate sector should try as much as possible to patronise the theatre for what it is. It is a commune; it creates a community, people can go for recreation, people can learn more, people can be sensitised politically, even if the theatre is going on with religious programmes, theatre is theatre; that is what we believe”.
Tomoloju continued, “there should be a full-scale encouragement; people should not denigrate the theatre by treating it in a very derogatory manner, some religious leaders do not want to hear about theatre. They feel that it is a place for idol worshiping and that is a very, very uncivilised way of accessing and appraising the theatre.
“We have to also correct the attitudinal problems that are attached to the theatre; people should have a positive attitude to it. We cannot stop the preaching from the holy books, we can also teach, talk and relate from our life experiences, and everything is tied to a moral thrust. Nobody is producing or writing a play simply for the sake of it. There is no art for art sake, art is for life and we should join in celebrating life wherever life is being celebrated, whether in the theatre or on the pulpit.”
Commenting on the role theatre can play in the rebranding project of the Federal Government, Tomoloju in a separate interview with The Guardian said, “the rebranding project is worth the while, and I personally encourage it. I also encourage it from the point of view of the motivator, in the person of Prof. Dora Akunyili. I think she is a very sincere person and we should give her a chance to succeed and we should also cooperate with her and her ministry and the Federal Government and all the state governors that key in into the project.
“It is essential but we should not just reduce it to a mere lip-service; we should be very, very committed to it, locally and nationaly.
“Now your question is: what the theatre can do? We need locally to mobilise; theatre is a good tool for mobilisation of the populace. We can also sell Nigeria by encouraging cultural exchange programmes with the various embassies and nations that have embassies in Nigeria.
“There was a time when we had a lot of cultural exchange programmes going on for us in this country, going abroad to project the image of Nigeria. I think we should go back to that, invite all the ambassadors, and let us look at our diplomatic documents, the memoranda of understanding we signed with various countries; let us dust it and let these various countries give opportunities for Nigerian artistes to move out to their countries and also talk about Nigeria, bring wisdom from these foreign countries back to Nigeria; that is why it is an exchange on the bases of mutual respect and mutual understanding.”
THE President of Actors Guild of Nigeria, Mr. Ejike Asiegbu, noted that indiscipline is a bane of the theatre industry.
His words: “we need to be more proactive than we are. I remember quite vividly several years back before Actors Guild of Nigeria was formed. I am a member of NANTAP, I am a trained theatre practitioner and I am proud. I joking told uncle Deji that if I was invited I should have been on stage in the anniversary production.
“People these days contest for positions, which they cannot maintain and sustain, people want other people to make sacrifices and they forget that such sacrifices entails a lot of self denials. Most of our big stars do not attend meetings; as far as they are concerned, there is no reason do not see reasons they should be a member of any theatre organisation.”
He added, “the issue of indiscipline; a lot of us are not disciplined, that is why we need to go back to the issue of reorientation, and have this kind of workshop that can bring people together.”
Asiegbu said, “we should try to see and work and sign MoU that can make us work as one; having the kind of law that can cut across board, an MoU that will make other guilds to know their relationship; relationship between directors-producers, producers-actors.”
The bulky actor continued, “what we have today is a one-sided contract talk; producer, most of them tell you ‘just sign for me and that is your money,’ but because the actor is greedy, the actor is hungry, the actor wants to collect that money and sign, and he signs away the future.
“We need to re-orientate ourselves for us to commonly work together and also respect people we have elected.”
For Charles Novia, a film producer, theatre practitioners should embrace home movie industry because this is the time for them to do that.
“Look at the good films you see, you will see that the directors and the producers are strictly theatre trained; many of them. The creative mind is not necessarily a business mind. So a lot of producers today can afford to take a lot of trash from executive producers and say do it this way.”
Novia added, “I am looking for new talents. Right now, the trend is that we must look for new faces. Basically the orientation has to change, we have to get more trained people, the training part of theatre.”
Joke Silva, the popular actress berated the Nigerian producers for shortchanging the actors noting that producers underestimate their budget “because I can’t imagine why a producer should budget the sum of N5 million for a film production.”
The notable producer and covener of the yearly BOBTV conference and market, Amaka Igwe, however, disclosed that “actors take more than 90 per cent of what is obtainable in any other part of the world. In most part of the world, producers believe that 30 per cent of the budget should be allocated for actors while the other 70 per cent should be used for logistics and overheads”.
To round up the conference, there was a performance of the play The Mote in the Eye. Individuals and organisations, which over the years had supported NANTAP, were given awards.
Also different stakeholders and bodies in the theatre industry and the National President of NANTAP, Mr Gregory Odutayo were present at the celebration.