When Lagos Rocked With A Six-Day Theatre

Brenda Uphopho (left) and Bikiya Graham-Douglas speaking recently at ‘Women in the Arts’ seminar during Lagos Theatre Festival at Freedom Park... in Lagos

Brenda Uphopho (left) and Bikiya Graham-Douglas speaking recently at ‘Women in the Arts’ seminar during Lagos Theatre Festival at Freedom Park… in Lagos

When Lagos Theatre Festival opened on Tuesday, February 23 through 28, at The Kongi Harvest Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos, it seemed a reclamation of one of the city’s lost pastimes. From Freedom Park, Terra Kulture, University of Lagos and more, theatrical activities – acting, workshop, masterclass –characterised the weeklong event that drew together a clan of thespians and culture workers.

The festival was the initiative of the British Council Nigeria in partnership with First Bank of Nigeria, with support from individuals and corporate organisations, collectively referred to as ‘Friends of the Festival.’ The Country Director, British Council Nigeria, Conny Price, Lagos State Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism, Hon. Folorunsho Folarin Coker and Head of Sponsorship, First Bank Nigeria Plc, Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami addressed guests of the festival ahead of the package in store for them.

Price said she was delighted with the turnout of guests at the festival, and noted that Lagos Theatre Festival was the largest performing arts festival in Nigeria. For this year’s festival, Price said the programme of performances, produced by Nigeria and British theatre practitioners, was part of U.K./Nigeria 2015-2016 theatre season of arts aimed at building new audiences, creating new collaborations and strengthening relationships.

Coker said the performance locations would be expanded to places like Mushin, Agege amongst others in future. First Bank’s Oyefeso-Odusami noted that the festival was a platform to give talents exposure as it was fashioned to promote art and culture.

The evening was spiced up with music from Isaac Gerald who sang songs like ‘Ain’t nobody’s business’ and ‘Dodo oni moimoi,’ ‘If you marry taxi driver’ and ‘Is this love that I am feeling’. His act added wonderful sparks to the evening as he made the audience sing along.

The audience then moved from Kongi Harvest Gallery to see a performance titled Every Single Day at the Food Court. The play was about a beautiful, unmarried lady who gained attention from men she would never dream of settling down with such as tugs, a policeman, a fake pastor, her landlord and his son, with her mother constantly nagging her.

FESTIVAL Director, Mr. Kenneth Uphopho, said the festival which is in its third edition started in 2013 and had its maiden edition at Eko Hotel, Lagos. According to him, “The festival was born out of the dire need for theatre-makers in Nigeria to start producing works outside of conventional spaces. Nigerian theatre doesn’t have enough of that and British Council Nigeria came up with this initiative to encourage, or rather, to build platforms to encourage theatre producers to see other spaces where their work could be produced. The festival started with three production companies from Nigeria and one from the U.K.

“The experience from the festival in 2013 showed the endless possibilities of outdoor theatre. So, in 2014 it was taken a little step further in order to create a festival format where people will converge and still have the same experience of outdoor theatre and still see quality works.

“So, in 2014 Freedom Park hosted the show. Specific spots were chosen for the shortlisted plays such that the directors created the works to suite the spaces; so, the plays were written and directed for the spaces. This year we decided to up the ante and invite more production companies”.

Uphopho also spoke on the state of theatre in the country and noted that things were gradually looking up and urged his co-travellers to brace up for the future. As he put it, “Lagos Theatre Festival is fast growing; it has grown from four production companies in two years to over 40 production companies in 2016 and over 100 performances in six days. It has also grown from four venues in one space to 10 venues.

Another area in which we can talk of the progress in Lagos Theatre Festival is in the area of ‘capacity building,’ the learning/workshop scheduled for 2016 are amazing. The workshops were designed to suite different skills’ sets. We have the creative writing workshop, the directors’ workshop, masters’ class in acting, etc”.

On the objectives of the festival, Uphopho argued that the aim of theatre is to inform, entertain and educate. According to him, “The festival aims to educate and inform theatre-makers in Nigeria to be able to produce and design their work without the fear of lack of facility to present them. The festival also creates an enabling environment for theatre-makers and art lovers to come together to see performances; it presents opportunity for investors to see that there is already a structure in place so they could be motivated to invest in theatre”.

Expanding audience base is another area Uphopho expect the festival address, adding, “Our audience developmental strategy was this. We designed the festival to last for six days because we know we do not have a week-day going theatre audience in Nigeria. We are trying to develop it, but we have to also realise that if we don’t set the standard for it nothing will happen. It won’t change; that’s why we decided to create a week period for the festival. We knew the halls won’t be full, but it would create a vibe for people to know that there is an event coming up and by the weekend it would have increased in terms of awareness and all”.

Looking forward, Uphopho projected that Lagos Theatre Festival would be self-sustaining, have different programmes, see improvement in the area of funding and capacity building geared towards empowering new theatre-makers and new producers alike.

ALSO, Bikiya Graham Douglas performed Wait, a play that showcases the strength of the African woman and her capabilities. According to her, “Most people who know me know how important theatre is to me as a craft in Nigeria. I felt it went through a depression and I am part of that process. I’m one of the voices of the new wave of Nigerian theatre. In what other place could you have a collective of artists than the Lagos Theatre Festival? So, this has become like a centre-point for all of us where we can all come around to showcase different works, interact with each other, share ideas and learn new skills. So it is the heart of theatre in Nigeria today.

“Lagos Theatre Festival is the biggest theatre festival in West Africa. It is not a matter of ‘do you want to be part of it? We are theatre so we have to be part of it.’

“For every thing you do, if people can identify with the message you are putting out to them, then they will come to you. I think that we are slowly getting there; we have to draw the audience in. It is our responsibility to draw people in, to recognise that theatre is a vital form of entertainment and theatre is just art in its most expressive form. And I think it would be bigger in the years to come”.



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