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Lagos Theatre Festival rebranding creative industry in Nigeria

As theatre practitioners lament the lack of performance space seen as the main issue working against the growth of the sector, the Lagos Theatre Festival introduced by British Council in Nigeria about five years ago with 4 successful festivals in the running is regarded as one of the most prominent theatre events in the country to the rescue.

Clips of the open space performance in Lagos.

The event which will hold its next edition from February 27 to March 4, 2018, in Lagos will witness a convergence of young talents in a 5-day open space theatrical performances billed to drive home innovation and nurture creative talents in our youths. At the moment, young artists and entrepreneurs have submitted their ideas to the organisers with the hope of being part of the 2018 edition.

The festival in recent time has been building capacity in the Nigerian theatre sphere and solving the issue of lack of performance spaces through identifying available non-conventional spaces. The non-conventional spaces including open leisure spaces, cars parks and restaurants among others, where performances were adapted, is the main focus of the organisers which in essence is to harmonise with the space, rather than the common remodelling of space to look like conventional theatre.

Lagos Theatre Festival was part of the UK/Nigeria 2015-16 season by British Council Nigeria, a major season of arts in Nigeria aimed at building new audiences, creating new collaborations and strengthening relationships between the UK and Nigeria.

British Council partnered with First Bank Nigeria, which is promoting the creative arts in Nigeria through its FirstArts initiative, for this festival. It has become a vehicle through which many artists have achieved their dreams of performing to an appreciative audience while building solid careers that cut across training in various aspects of theatre – set design, sound engineering, script writing, arts journalism, and others.

According to Brenda Uphopho of Performing Arts Workshop & Studios (PAWS) “The growth of the Lagos Theatre Festival can be encapsulated by the experience the participants took away from the 2014 edition where despite the issue with the weather, low attendance, and people not exactly understanding what site-specific theatre entails, the festival was considered a success.

From a story that started with a quest for ideas on how to build capacity in a sector that was suffering from a dearth of performance spaces and manpower, the Lagos Theatre Festival has claimed its place in the city that embodies Nigeria’s art and culture. The quest focuses on how to expand the successes garnered in the theatre scene in Lagos to the rest of Nigeria and beyond to other countries in the region.”

In the 1940s Herbert Ogunde and his African Music Research Party pioneered a new wave of theatrical act in Nigeria.  The group back then, in one of their stage performance at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos held the audience spellbound when they performed Worse Than Crime, acclaimed by pundits as a new era for an art form that goes back to the early days of human civilisation. After that era, theatre industry witnessed a downturn.

But since the festival kicked off in 2013, featuring 4 theatre companies in 1 venue, it has witnessed geometric growth through the years. In 2016 through British Council’s UK/NG 2015-16 programmes, an open source fringe element involving open-mic performances, comic conventions, seminars and workshops was added to the festival.  Lagos Theatre Festival featured over 70 performances in 16 venues across Lagos.

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