Published On: Wed, Feb 3rd, 2016

The new face of the Theatre

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FROM THE LIVE STAGE with Patrick-Jude Oteh

0803 700 0496, 0805 953 5215 (SMS only)

For some of our arts organizations in Nigeria that are independent and not-for-profit, our response rate to happenings in our environment has been very slow. I came to this conclusion in a rather curious way.

Out here, plays of every genre will sell and will definitely attract its own audience and depending on the versatility of the theatre management, programming of different kinds of plays go on all year round and the audiences keep coming in if the offering is exciting and good. I am not saying that theatre organizations here do not have their own challenges – they do and there are lots of challenges.

We in this part of the world cannot afford and sustain such diverse programming. The reason is simple and painful – we do not have enough audiences to sustain such diversity. My thinking is that the new face of the theatre in the next few years to come is – comedy that genre of the theatre that shows us off as worse than we are and the coarser the comedy, the more appealing it will be and the more audiences it will gather.

The curiosity of this realisation came from our recent performance of The Political Lunatics. First, the play was devised at the height of the illness and disappearance of our then ailing President and the efforts of the National Assembly to find a solution to the men-contrived crisis that we were faced with. It was also the time of a lingering fuel crisis that defied solutions because we were profiting from it? There were so many other undercurrents going on at that time so initially we thought that the title was not apt or that it was too direct. We were wrong. It became the high point of the selling of The Political Lunatics.

Secondly, with the exception of the stage adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, The Political Lunatics is the next play that has had so many calls for its re-run and call back or remounting. The audience that watched the comedy in our estimation had a good and great time in the theatre for the two days run and the volume of calls and e.mails that we received confirmed this. Now we are getting the calls that it should be brought back and we have even had some people sending us more news and items to be included.

Why would comedy be attractive – the reason is that there is too much pressure in our society right now and there are too many angry people but a lot of us are angry for the wrong reasons and at the wrong people. So people need to laugh. Ask the comedians how true this is and they would gleefully show you their bank statements! According to some members of our audience, they have no business with tragedy as they have enough of it on a daily basis already. They would rather look at all that is going on right now and have the ability and capacity to laugh over it all. This is what would enable them to live longer and enjoy some little pleasures of life in a very tough environment. I agree with them.

In terms of materials we have so much begging to be used on a daily basis. Look at how we stumble from one crisis unto another, look at how even a mere mortal sneeze can be given a million interpretations in our clime, look at how our men of timber and calibre are developing feet of clay and these were men and women that we felt had the feet of the gods. Sometimes, these can be very acute signs of joblessness as it is only a vey jobless mind that interprets intrigues into the gait of mere men and women. Look at the materials and look at the intrigues. It can only happen here because we are very unique. We must learn to create materials from our daily foibles.

The challenge is now left to us theatre practitioners to take up the gauntlet and push our craft in the way of comedy. Comedies are easier to travel anyway – a two or three man cast will do and with significant and brilliant role playing by a duo of versatile actors, they could play one hundred characters within the society for which we have a lot to choose from. The era of court tragedies and lifestyles I think for now should take the back bench while comedies take the front bench. It is the way of the future and it is one of the few ways to go to ensure our survival.

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