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Stage & Screen: The state of the Nigerian stage

By Lari Williams
The Nigerian theatre is in a deplorable indeed lamentable State. The noble legacy from the relics of colonial education which includes the introduction of the proscenium theatre presentation is dying by the day and the government is not as much as batting an eyelid.

This uncaring attitude betrays the national recognition of the artist, which has been exhibited in the last five years by honouring artists with National Honours Award. I am a recipient of the latest National Honours Award by President Yar’Adua and I feel truly grateful ‘for the recognition. The honours truly belong to the industry that was once only allowed a ‘Beggars license’ to operate, and now accepted into the league as member of the order of the Federal Republic. The individual recipient is only a torch bearer.

The industry, spearheaded by the professional actor, the film maker, and the producer, and the Nation take the glory. Why, therefore should the industry suffer and be in such crumbling state? The situation is a laughable contradiction. How can we honour- a body, and stand aside to watch it crumble, when the cure is up our sleeves?

This nation is endowed with great artistic talents that can build the most lucrative entertainment industry in the world and draw in currencies from the world over and rank oil business with palm wine tapping and ogogoro brewing.

The noble Nigerian professionals have held their heads up high over the years and have produced many great artists of world repute. The likes of Sowande in music, Orlando in acting, Bassey in boxing, Theresa Luck in painting, Enwonwu in sculpture, Soyinka in writing, and the list goes on, so we have earned the Honours. These great guys have done it through individuals efforts.

It goes to show therefore that with government support and encouragement this industry can be restructured into a giant show business industry that can spin top world currencies and rebrand the nation in the direction we desire.

If there is anything that sets a nation apart as a cultured nation, it is theatre culture. It documents and demonstrates the history of a nation in details, more so than one footprint in the sands of time’. Theatre documents culture in rituals, music, dances, songs, folklore, politics, language, fashion in costume, hairstyle and even economic situation of the nation; thereby ensuring the later generations a tag on their identity and a style for a people. Obliterate these and any nation is as good as extinct.

Nigeria is fast losing her identity as a distinct African nation,with a style. For instance, since the GSM came into the society,’family meetings’ have become “familiar voices’. Relation don’t call to see each other anymore, they ‘call’ on phone to say ’hi’ there! To dress corporate now means drop the danshiki, buba and shokoto for the shirt and tie. Banks adapted the unwritten law for dress code. Thank God for the politicians who have kept their barbariga or agbada even if only as battle dress?

Our architects are designing the country into obscurity; our streets and roundabouts have no sculpture to identify with the nation. Yes, we had history and culture up until independence, since then civilization has gone west, indeed Wild West. Men dress in Denim jeans and T- shirts, while girls are barely covered, desperately displaying their curves or baring their bosom.

They have lost the ”Up and Down’ wrappers. Our dances have now become museum party affair or at best reserved for welcoming our dignitaries at the airports. Songs are in Jamaican patois or unspeakable ‘jammed -up’ gibberish all in the name of hip-up. One may want to ask “which way forward?” Moving is impossible when the Train of thought’ has derailed.

For culture to preserve our identity, we need to get our priorities right in terms of our social activities. Fashion, music, architecture, entertainment value must be attended to, and the short cut to amendment is through the THEATRE and efficient censors board. We need to pay more attention to the theatre which is the cradle of entertainment.

Writers and producers must go back to their tables and engage their thoughts on the repairs and decays of the Nigerian and African family values, respect, styles, dress code, loyalty, and general appreciation of the indigenous ideas and social interaction that line the base of society. We talk of tourism and our campaign “arrow head” is carnival.

We have two established carnivals. In the country, the Abuja carnival and the big one in Calabar; none of them displaying theatre or selling the nation through theatre. What art form can mirror the nation better? The government’s insufficient interest has allowed the uninitiated to hijack the entertainment industry, what with traders producing Home movies and controlling the market, losing sight of quality, to make do with profit.

If we have quality control, it should operate for all and every industry, after all Artists pay tax, as citizens and as parents, we pay rent to take care of the future generations. To make good movies for the future and today’s consumption we need trained actors, and disciplined artists who can work towards international standard culture and dignity. Only the stage can correct the situation. What we see in Nigerian movies are illusions of grandeur. Listen to the “actors’ speech and you think it is a coded language for a private cult. Story lines are recycled and actors are the same faces swapping roles.

The Theatre Arts Departments are not helping matters, though that is our base-line for corrective measures. So far, the twelve or so universities training artists are producing graduates who are looking for banking jobs, because the theatre is not functioning.

How can theatre function without adequate financial support for the Theatre Arts Department and the industry is not properly structured? In Lagos there is only the national theatre and of course, the Glover Memorial Hall, to serve a city jammed with cars and no parking spaces, where fear of vandals has made night life a nightmare.

At least let the Carnival period make evenings for theatre tradition to grow. If the Carnival can serve as a platform for the showing of tested Nigerian plays on stage, it will create opportunities for our carnival guests to know more about the country’s history and culture.

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