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WILDEST DREAMS: Taylor Swift at the Precipice of Prejudice or Ignorance

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A few days back Taylor Swift sent her Swiftlings into euphoric fits with the announcement that she would be dropping a video for her song Wildest Dreams on the 31st of August, the night of the 2015 VMA’s. Tweets announcing the video release and a 15 second teaser on YouTube contained enough mouth-watering features to get fans excited.

Apparently styled after The Notebook, the video appears to be set in 1950s Africa with Taylor Swift and Scott Eastwood entang– Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! REWIND! “1950s Africa?” As in: nineteen-fifties Africa? As in: the African continent in the years dated 1950 – 1959? Oh, boy!*insert facepalm emoji here*

Now, I don’t know how big the issue of Swift’s Shake it off video being racist got (didn’t really follow the story at the time, and as far as I’m concerned the video isn’t racist) but having tread into “are you racist?” territory before, you would think more aptness would be shown by the Swift camp when entering the mother of all “are you racist?” territories: the (mis)representation of Africans.

Not caution in the “let me present everyone as good so as not to offend anyone” sense. Rather caution in the “let’s get our details right so that we actually know what we are presenting” sense – you know, life professionalism dictates.

The possibility that a large number of people can’t fathom why a music video by a (though I detest using skin colour to describe any human being) white musician set in “1950s Africa” is (potentially) offensive suggests just how vacuous this great age of information is.

Here’s the thing: 1950s AFRICA IS COLONIAL AFRICA! Colonial Africa as in oppressed Africa. Colonial Africa as in socio-politically enslaved Africa. Colonial Africa as in European occupation of Africa and subjugation of Africans.

The last female mail carrier service. Photo: C.R. Dickenson, O.B.E, ex. P.M.G. Nyasaland. Donated 1982 (from Flinaa, USA). Mr. Dickenson, Spears.

The last female mail carrier service. Photo: C.R. Dickenson, O.B.E, ex. P.M.G. Nyasaland. Donated 1982 (from Flinaa, USA). Mr. Dickenson, Spears.

The way I see it there are only two ways this can play out: the video will end up as some prejudiced assed ish or some ignorant ass ish. I don’t want it to be. I would much rather be writing the fourth scene of my play or watching re-runs of House than bitch about two people kissing under the rain while zebras run around, but I just don’t see how else this video can end up if not in prejudice or ignorance. Consider the two likeliest outcomes:

1) The video turns out to be an inaccurate representation of Africa in the 1950s.
2) The video turns out to be an accurate representation of Africa in the 1950s.

Outcome A:
History and geography would probably crumple themselves into the foetal position and weep in agony if 1950s Africa in Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams video turns out to be generic Hollywood Africa. What greater embodiment of ignorance in the 21st century when a simple Google search with the phone right there in the palm of your hands will give you, at the very least, an idea of something you are clueless about?

The phrase “1950s Africa” doesn’t help either. That’s already a big fat finger pointing at ignorance. Saying “1950s Africa” in the context used is like saying “1950s Europe” or “1950s Asia”. That’s like me saying, hey I’m writing a new play and it’s set in South America of the 1980s … ya, but where though? Reducing the myriad of cultures and histories of a freaking continent to a set of stereotypes is …? No extra marks for guessing the answer.

Outcome B:
If the video turns out to be an accurate depiction of Africa in the 1950s it will be digging one of two graves for itself.  (i) It would be a critique of the colonial era, and we all know that isn’t going to happen, or (ii) It would be a celebration of the colonial era, inadvertently so, at the very least. Any need to explicate why both of these are graves? Good, didn’t think so.

And here’s the thing, except the time period the Wildest Dreams video is shot in changes, there’s no escaping the fact that it is occurring in colonial Africa. Only 6 African countries gained independence during the 1950s (Libya, 1951; Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, 1956; Ghana, 1957; Guinea, 1958) so it isn’t like the last days of colonialism in Africa. It’s smack in the era which means, if you think about it, Swift and Eastwood are playing the parts of colonials.

***

It’s quite ironic that not so long after Taylor Swift’s mini-squabble with Nicki Minaj on Twitter OVER THE ISSUE OF PREJUDICE in entertainment/pop culture, a video teeming with such rich and colourful possibilities for prejudice would be coming from Taylor Swift.

Of course, music or a music video isn’t necessarily a representation of an artist’s personality or personal beliefs. For some the art reflects the artist, for others the art is just an image, a manufactured product. What cannot be ignored is what that art, artist, image or manufactured product advocates in the pursuit of its own success.

That’s why things like this are dangerous. On the 31st of August, 2015, Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams video will help millions of people around the world believe that Africa in the 1950s was Zebras running around buck naked or some other blindly painted portrait.

Things like this, in their institutionalised multitude, are the stumbling blocks to the flourishing of inter racial relations at the global level. A music video set in 1950s Africa about colonials falling in love (and getting to second base) is like a music video set in Auschwitz about two Nazi’s falling in love (und immer zur zweiten base) while the Jews watch from queues leading up to the furnace.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong and jumping the gun. Here’s expecting that I’m not. On the flipside:

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James DeMonaco’s THE PURGE, Nigerian Elections and the Catharsis of the Progressive Spirit

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How does a horror thriller starring Ethan Hawke and set in the USA of 2022 relate to Nigeria of 2015 and its near future?

A pretty cool concept

2022, the United States of America. Crime and unemployment are at an incredible low of 1%, business is booming, the people are happy. To maintain this status quo, the “New Founding Fathers of America” instituted a national ritual known as: the purge. Once every year, for a 12-hour period, every conceivable criminal activity becomes legal. Kill, maim, steal, rape, vandalise! The aim is to provide an opportunity for the American people to release all repressed emotions and aggressions. This is the world of James DeMonaco’s The Purge.

Beneath the surface

But the purge isn’t actually about releasing repressions, that’s just on the surface. Its actual function is related to power and submission. In the pseudo-utopia of DeMonaco’s 2022 the purge is a socio-political structure used by the powers-that-be to keep the people under submission, a trap of docility. This is the same effect the purge of elections has on the Nigerian people.

Catharsis

In his Poetics Aristotle highlights a socio-political relevance of purgation. Watching the tragic hero suffer through torturous experiences, the audience undergoes a catharsis, purging itself of hubris. By extension, society is also cleansed.

The flip side to purgation is that it could rob society of its progressive spirit, sapping the passion needed to confront challenges of the world. Should one form of energy (angst, frustration, etc) not be separated from another (passion) catharsis would see both expunged, creating a docile populace. This is a passive catharsis.

As history piled upon itself and socio-political concerns diversified, so also did the nature of catharsis. From this arose, an active catharsis. Unlike its antithesis, active catharsis works in tandem with the progressive spirit. It is marked by a desire in the man and woman on the street to exert more influence over political structures.

We can turn to art for an example of how this works. A film, play, or song built on active catharsis deliberately leaves the experience of purgation incomplete. It engages audiences and stirs up their repressions, bringing anger, frustration, desperation and more, to the surface, right to the very point of catharsis but it doesn’t provide a release. This leaves a storm of dissatisfaction brewing in the belly of the audience. Therefore, to complete the purgation, the people must take those awoken repressions back to society and release them in their streets, homes and offices.

Whether the medium is art or something else, the process and effect is the same. In this light, we can associate active catharsis with times such as the US of the ‘60s/’70s and Nigeria of the ‘10s. Used properly, active catharsis can lead to an outpouring of the progressive spirit unto society. Of course in excess even the progressive spirit can turn destructive.

How does the interplay of power and submission manifest in each case? Where catharsis is passive, power is with the ruling elite and the people give in to submission. Where it is active, more power shifts to the people and the political elite must give more room to submission.

This is the foundation upon which the 21st century Nigerian purges have occurred – a catharsis which presents itself as active but in truth is passive, caging Nigerians in docility.

2015 Elections

The elations following the announcement of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s next president are historical for many reasons but most of all for its significance for the Nigerian people. It was the first time an incumbent president was not only defeated by an opposition, but kicked out of office by the Nigerian vote!

A resounding sense of empowerment followed: the peoples’ votes count! Democracy works! From this sense of empowerment has emerged a popular thought, one which seeks to capsule the peoples’ newfound might:

“Now our politicians know we are not joking. President Goodluck didn’t deliver and he has been kicked out of office. If the new president doesn’t deliver, in four years he will be kicked out of office. We will keep doing so until they get the message and do what is right.”

Nigeria election

The voice of the empowered?

On the surface this thought suggests empowerment, but peel at its layers and we find it is a far weaker position than its speakers realise. It presents the power of the vote as an active catharsis but in actuality it is passive. Why so?

Nigerian elections: a false active catharsis

In practice, Nigerian elections function (incidentally and deliberately) as a passive cathartic structure while masquerading as active. The elections use ‘hope’ to create a loop within which Nigerians are kept docile, submissive to oppression. At no time in our democratic history has this been stronger than in the 2015 elections.

Summarised into a historical timeline starting from Nigeria’s first democratic regime, we can examine how this loop works (note: each ‘purge’ is an election period):

  • The 1999 purge: frustrated with the terror and excesses of now-ended military regime, Nigerians are hopeful of progress under civilian rule. Nigerians vote a civilian president into power. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2000 – 2003: no major progress in the Nigerian condition. Nigerians look to the future for improvement. Hopes and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2003 purge: despite frustrations with the president, no concrete alternative presents itself. The incumbent uses power to ensure his stay in office. Deflated, Nigerians hope for progress in the future. Hopes and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2004 – 2007: no major progress in the Nigerian condition. The ills of corruption persist and new woes fall upon us. Angry we are determined to see the president not remain in power. Hopes and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2007 purge: a new president is chosen, a soft spoken apparently good-willed man (with a shoddy liver). Nigerians hope he will be the change they have been praying for. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2008 – 2010: the new leader dies. His deputy takes command. The Nigerian condition continues to worsen. Hopes and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2011 purge: the deputy is retained as president. As a man who once had no shoes, we hope his empathy will make him do right by his country. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2011 – 2014: the Nigerian condition worsens to dire and pitiful states. Woes increase: poverty, corruption, unemployment, and more. The man with no shoes now has shoes and can no longer empathise, he must leave and this time we can’t let the ruling elite manipulate us any further. Hopes, fears, desperations and frustrations climax in…
  • The 2015 purge: a new president from an opposition party is chosen. For the first time, Nigerians have made their votes count by kicking out an incumbent. We hope the new president can be the change we pray for. Hopes, fears and frustrations carry us through…
  • 2016 – ???

In generic terms, it is as simple as this:

Unending cycle

Vicious cycle

Cathartic deception

Build hope, lose hope, build angst, purge angst – repeat.  This is the cathartic deception, a loop sustained by blind hope, a rise in frustration then the calm after frustration has been released through the ritualistic purge of elections.

Tweet screenshots

The power!

This 2015 the ballot-power to eject an incumbent has given us a taste of empowerment but we overestimate the value of our votes by believing that alone is enough to effect political change. It isn’t! The passive catharsis of the elections is merely fronting as an active catharsis.

This front makes the illusion harder to spot. Have we the people not made a great achievement by demonstrating that democracy in Nigeria works? Indeed we have but perhaps an analogy will help illustrate how the illusion works.

In Krabi, Thailand, there is a place known as the Tiger Cave Temple.  To reach the summit of the temple requires climbing a whopping 1237 steps. The temple’s summit symbolises good governance and a thriving Nigeria, and so dire is our condition that we have been at the bottom struggling to climb the first 20 steps. Then, with a swift and sudden burst of energy we climbed 200! And now we celebrate this achievement ignoring the stressful fact that we still have 1037 steps to climb (Can you blame us?). Rather than continuing our climb we want to stop at the two hundredth step and hope the political elite will lift us to their backs and carry us the rest of the way. They won’t!

Beyond the purge

To expect that the fear of being kicked out of office will spur a notoriously corrupt political elite to “turn a new leaf” is grossly naive.  Revisiting the ‘popular thought’ discussed earlier, this naivety is glaring:

“Now our politicians know we are not joking. President Goodluck didn’t deliver and he has been kicked out of office. If the new president doesn’t deliver, in four years he will be kicked out of office. We will keep doing so until they get the message and do what is right.”

Nigerians' opinions

The power! The power!

The subtext of these thoughts reflect a people about to submit to the docility of passive catharsis.

The power of the vote puts a politician in office, it has no power over what the politician does in office. In the 4 year period while waiting for the next elections/purge, millions of lives can be ruined and industries damaged severely – especially taking the decades of ruination that the Nigerian economy sits precariously upon.

For the Nigerian vote to have power beyond the purge a new system of governance is vital, one which holds public office holders to account. For the Nigerian vote to be truly powerful, it needs to evolve into checks and balances which pressure politicians and public office holders to deliver on their duties regardless of elections.

Efficient governance is a system. A system does not hope for good natured hearts in order to be efficient. In fact, a system bends the nature – good or bad – of people who work under it to its order. Consider tellers at the bank, some may be saints others the biggest thieves West Africa ever saw, but they work within a system and are pressured by checks and balances to make ensure the deliver on their duties, and efficiently so.

The elections process is not inherently a passive catharsis, it is merely used in such a manner. Can we not turn this into an active catharsis? Can we not move beyond hope and passive observation to active participation?

It took 16 years before we learned the power of the Nigerian vote, a lesson we could have learned in a much shorter time. Will it take us another 16 years before we learn we need to be active participants in governance? Or will we continue to be like Ethan Hawke’s family, shutting ourselves in and hoping to make it through the 12 hour terror of The Purge?

Buhari Goodluck Jonathan

Hire and fire

The power?

The four year plan

The … the … power?

Dear Nollywood … A Love Letter

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Dear Nollywood,

How are you? It’s been a while since we hooked up on here, hasn’t it? Forgive me, I’ve been occupied with a bunch of personal stuff. While I was away I did keep up with all the exciting stuff going on in your life, though! You aren’t ever a boring girl, are you? I remember you celebrated October 1st in style, and everyone loved that (in fact I hear the party is still going on). And I must confess, I got a bit jealous when I heard you asking some other guy what happens When Love Happens? Anyway …

Nollywood, there’s something I really want to talk to you about. It’s a sensitive topic and I hope it doesn’t get you mad, yet strangely I hope it does get you mad. Not mad like never-want-to-talk-to-him-again mad, or mad like hire-Lasgidi-area-boys-to-kick-his-ass mad; certainly not mad like cancel-our-traditional-wedding-and-return-his-bride-price mad. But mad like I-have-to-do-something-about-this mad; mad like I-have-to-be-responsible-for-myself mad, you know?

Here’s the thing babe, these days, it’s getting harder to recognize you for who you are. Your identity is fading away, Nollywood. Perhaps more specifically, the uniqueness of your identity is fading away, vanishing, and frankly that worries me. You’re in an identity crisis, babe, and we have to address that.

Now, I’m going to say something and I don’t think it’s something you’ll like to hear, so I’ll just come out and say it: Nollywood, this identity crisis all began when you started hanging out with that American girl, Hollywood. Yes, yes! I know, I know! She’s very pretty, has a great rack and an ass that won’t quit. And she’s also friend’s with the Kardashians … I know. I’m not saying it’s bad to be friends with her, no. I’m also not saying it’s bad that she influences you, no. What I am saying is, it’s messed up that you’re letting her influence on you distract you from discovering and exploring who you are.

See, Hollywood is doing her thing, being herself, and that’s inspiring. But rather than that inspiring you to do your own thing and be your own self, you’re abandoning your identity and trying to be Hollywood. Nollywood, that’s messed up. You’re not Hollywood and Hollywood isn’t you. Would Hollywood be a cool chick if she was trying to be like that Indian babe that lives across the street, Bollywood? Would Bollywood be so hot if she started acting all European? And what if Euro chicks started pretending to be like those sexy girls from the Orient and the sexy girls from the Orient started behaving like South American mamacitas? See where I’m going?

I’ve been doing some thinking, Nollywood, and I think I get it. I mean, why you’re so hung up on Hollywood, I get it. You spent your life watching Hollywood! Think about it! From childhood to your teenage years you watched out the window as Hollywood teased her cleavage and swung her hips and all the guys just fell under her spell. And now that you’re beginning to grow into a beautiful lady yourself, you think that in order to be sexy and beautiful you have to be like Hollywood.

But it’s a big world out there, Nollywood. A big big world and there are so many ways to be beautiful. What makes you sexy, and what will make all those guys swoon because of you, are the things that are unique about you. (I mean, why should they toast a Hollywood-wannabe, when they can actually toast Hollywood?) I’d really really like to go out on a date with you to the cinema (our favourite spot, right?), get some drinks and popcorn, and watch a movie that doesn’t feel like a pitiful knock-off of J’Lo’s romantic comedies from the early 00s, or a poor photocopy of thrillers from the late 90s, or action movies that look like The Matrix shot on a deficit.

One very cool influence Hollywood has had on you is providing some pretty awesome things with which you can accessorize your persona. I can’t tell you how so damn good you look anytime you step out in that form fitting DSLR dress that accentuates your curves, and those Red Dragon heels that push up your booty, and that flashy F55 handbag, and… whoo! So so so much better than that VHS outfit you used to wear before. But these things are meant to aid you find yourself Nollywood, not lose yourself.

Take the world by the scruff of its neck! Don’t be afraid to explore what it means to be Nollywood. Experiment! Get adventurous! A great discovery of who you are awaits you, but you have to take the leap. The lovers you are trying to attract, whether it is a true love or a sugar daddy, will be way more attracted to a “you” that is like no one else, not a “you” that is a cheap imitation of someone else.

Learn from the errors of your elder sister, Federal Government. For many years have people not been encouraging her to get involved in other ventures apart from that her crude oil business? Did she listen? No! Now the price of oil barrels is dropping like a hot piece of ass in a Snoop Dog video and she’s getting all confused and panicky. Don’t wait until you are at the fringes of a crisis, Nollywood, please don’t.

The myriad of identities are what make life on this third rock such a beautiful and captivating experience. Be part of that adventure Nollywood, a full part, not just an imitation of it.

With relentless love,

Pensage.

The Grand Nollywood Plan … Or Lack Thereof

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Where is the Nigerian film industry headed? When does it aim to get there? What is its vision? What are its goals? Are there any targeted milestones? Does a plan exist to lead the industry to some El Dorado or is Nollywood content to go wherever the wind blows?

Nollywood Nigerian film industry

First Encounters of the Twitter Kind

Sometime in July when the film adaptation of Half of A Yellow Sun was in the news for being banned by the Nigerian Censors Board, a lady I follow Twitter posted a comment about a conversation she had with a Nollywood director. He had told her that the ban on HOAYS would discourage Nigerian filmmakers from tackling serious and controversial, perhaps politically risqué, topics. I found this odd.

Nollywood isn’t exactly renowned for producing movies which shake the Machiavellian foundations of the Nigerian polity. I replied the tweet with a question that zapped into my mind: can an industry be banned from doing what it wasn’t doing in the first place? If Nollywood filmmakers weren’t making controversial content, can a ban, unjust though it may be, really be considered a hindrance?

Her response was that the few who do make controversial content must be protected from bans which poach on an endangered species. Though I agree with this, I expressed a countering conviction – a story will always find a way to tell itself. To this she replied that while that may be true, the realities of Nollywood, a world where things must happen sharp-sharp-sharp, does not accommodate the adventures that come with a story finding a way to tell itself. Adventures after all are expensive, a luxury that tight budgets and tighter production schedules cannot afford.

What I found most intriguing about this opinion was its accordance with a belief in the Nigerian film industry which has always discomforted me: the well-widespread belief that Nigeria’s socio-economic stumbling blocks, so huge they dwarf the Great Wall of China, prevent Nollywood from growth such that the industry can only produce mediocre content, with the occasional exceptional work; but these average works should be lauded as excellent, they are testaments to Nigerian ingenuity. In my frank and ebonics-flavoured opinion, that’s some ol’ bullshit.

But why, pray tell, do I consider that belief equal to the faeces of Bos primigenius? Well, because it erroneously concludes that extensive and innovative planning CANNOT provide solutions to the industry’s problems. Granted the sharp-sharp-sharp world of Nollywood is often like a rampaging bull at a rodeo, yet to tame the beast must the cowboy not plan and be well prepared?

Second Encounters of the Critical Kind

A few weeks later I came across an article, Nollywood Nightmare At Durban Int Film Festival by film critic Oris Aigbokhaevbolo – a really interesting read. As can be surmised from the title he details how “Nollywood films took a beating at the Durban film festival due to the quality of our films”, with noted inferiority next to Ethopian, Kenyan and South African movies.

So what about this article caught my attention? The writer looks at two different receptions to a “much-hyped” South African film, Cold Harbour. One critic Kavish Chetty had positive reactions “hinging his praise on two politically charged scenes” while filmmaker Jozua Malherbe was “unimpressed” as the film “gave the impression … that it was a thriller but it failed to be a good example of one”. Then the writer expresses an opinion which reeled me back to my previous encounter on Twitter.

Reacting to Malherbe’s criticism of Cold Habour, the Nigerian critic finds himself thinking, “here is a man spoilt by a national cinema producing excellent films regularly. Nigerian cinemagoers don’t have that luxury. A film half as well made as Cold Harbour will meet with deserved acclaim. Expression of chagrin at the little letdowns of a film with such production values as Cold Harbour is a privilege exclusive to customers of better fare“.

Malherbe’s dissatisfaction is apparently justified since as filmmaker and cinemagoer he feeds on a regular diet of quality productions. But more importantly because socio-economic circumstances permit him to feed on such a diet. Were it about a Nollywood film such criticism would apparently be unjust because of the harsher realities faced in producing a Nigerian film. While it is true production realities are tremendously challenging, a poisonous seed lurks in the subtext – mediocrity is excusable.

Common Threads

I find both encounters lined with a common thread of thought: due to the challenges of filmmaking in Nigeria, to survive the industry must sacrifice quality. Hype becomes a vital weapon, as well as a blind support for “our own thing” regardless of its quality – a long-running campaign in the industry. Early in the 21st century, the branding-boom and growth of digital filmmaking technology added two crucial instruments to the Nollywood survival kit; with them the outer shell of Nigerian films could now be made more attractive though the meat within was still uncooked.

Counter Hem

While believing in the sacrifice of quality has aided Nollywood’s continuity it is a double-edged sword leaving more than its fair share of wounds. As already stated, it is an easy access-road to mediocrity. Indeed one can link the pervasion of this notion to old Nollywood (i.e the pre-digital era 1992 – 2006) and its band of unskilled filmmakers who needed a justification for their less-than-mediocre home videos, knowing that they couldn’t do any better. (It’s a deviously ingenious marketing scheme, to be honest! Exploiting our sense of indigenous pride and search for a common identity.)

The most grievous damage remains the industry’s inability to continuously evolve effective and innovative plans unique to Nigeria’s socio-economic conditions. Plans that position the industry to produce quality films, rather than deluding ourselves that that new boring movie is great and even if it isn’t so good at least they tried sha. I feel the urge to lay out various benefits of good planning but that’s too damn elementary, Watson! The essence of a plan is undeniable. Heck, every good villain, both real and fictional, knows that a plan is vital to achieving efficient destruction. How much more so when you are trying to build?

Planning isn’t merely an act; it is a philosophy, an attitude, which we as a people – not we as individuals, now – are yet to develop. As a group of people bunched together by brethren Frederick Lugard, we are way more reactive than active. Even when staring at a blatant problem we refuse to take the initiative until calamity erupts then we start scrambling for half-baked solutions. Our original sin is passivity. Probably the most common solutions to social problems are 1) Pray to God and all will be magically fixed without us having to break a sweat or 2) Just wait until some other person finds a solution then do exactly what he/she/they did even if it doesn’t entirely apply to us. Generations have used these approaches to graduate from Universities with top honours, how won’t they apply it to every aspect of life?

A Long Walk To Nearby Destinations

Maze of truth
In its quest to win international acclaim Nollywood is taking the needlessly long route to confronting a homegrown problem – the absence of a plan. It should be obvious without experiences like the one at the Durban Film Festival that ours is an industry void of an identity and starved of a common purpose. We needn’t be pissed or scared about this, we just need to sit down and fix it.

Having buried the value of excellence so deep you’d have to multiply six feet by six to locate it, the journey ahead is a long one. The allure of the global limelight – being the first Nigerian to win an Oscar and all that – would only help if tempered with patience. So far we are impatiently clawing at international success. As dust raised in hyping the ostensible Nollywood renaissance settles it is becoming more obvious that HD cameras alone do not make a good film, certainly not a good industry. Access to cinema’s international community also serves as slaps into realization. There the struggles of Nollywood, its no-be-our-fault and just-manage-am-like-that strategies, are impotent. The solution always bring us back to the same point – we need a plan, holmes!

The resistance to accept the unavoidable truth is understandable. The old mentality is too saturated into the consciousness of some; catharsis will take time. Some sense that in the sea of impending change they will drift to extinction. Perhaps what scares the industry most is the (sub)conscious awareness that, to achieve the next level of progress, the mentally pauperish pillars which have long upheld it must be destroyed. Delusions of grandeur, banal praise and subtle compulsion will repetitively lead to the same old thing – weak films which will be praised at home but lambasted in the wider world.

Reel-ality Twist

The confusion of an industry without a plan is humorously captured in the way neo-Nollywood sought to disassociate itself from old Nollywood. Back when all we had were shitty scenes poorly shot on video cameras with an Igbo woman bellowing a theme song every ten minutes, the poor quality of home videos was unquestionable. Yet the industry refused to confront this issue. It took the easy way out: screw looking for some sort of way to improve, let’s just defend these movies no matter what.

Then boom! digital filmmaking technology became accessible. A new path appeared before our Nolly-feet. And then the funniest thing happened. Actors, directors, marketers and publicists who migrated from old to neo-Nollywood, seeking to improve their brand by showing how much better the new era films are, began to criticize old Nollywood. Suddenly all the criticisms which were vehemently defended a few years back became weapons of attack – and they knew just were would hurt the most. Now that’s a priceless piece of irony and the trademark of a vicious cycle.

ABOUT THE WRITER (this is where I talk about myself in the third person)
Playwright Africa African
Africa Ukoh (@Pensage – abeg, follow me for twitter oh!) is a playwright, screenwriter, creative director, and arts administrator. And protector of the realm. He has been the recipient of awards such as the BBC African Performance competition and the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House prize. In 2014 he won the prestigious Oscar award for best actress in a supporting role … Oh, no, wait, that … that was Lupita N’yongo. His works have appeared on platforms such as the BBC World Service, Voice of Nigeria, Sentinel Nigeria Magazine, Sentinel Annual Literature Anthology, and more. If you’d like to get in touch with him you can send N1500 MTN recharge card to 08036207841 and he will call you back, sharp-sharp. Or maybe just email him: africaukoh@gmail.com.

Part 2: The 6 Biggest Myths About Nigerian Theatre

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The Nigerian theatre industry sits so close to the edge of non-existence if it snee– Wait! Hold on! I already used that line in part 1, didn’t I? Ok, quick recap! Previously we looked at the: Comic Relief, Applause Is Approval and Go Big Or Go Home myths; examining how these pervading falsities unleash wraths so horrendous upon our dearly beloved industry they’d give Hades a hard-on. So without any ado!

4. THE ‘ALL THEY DO IS BOOGIE’ MYTH

The Myth
The (mis)belief here is that the only thing there is to the art of theatre in Nigeria is dance. The true danger lurks in this myth’s harmful subtext: Nigerian theatre is a narrow practice which offers little value to society – apart from the occasional distraction of watching people twerk in ankara. Trying and failing to be concave lenses to this myopic notion is usually due to: selective blindness of the myth believer (you know that thing about illusion being tastier than the truth?), a need to deliberately deride the arts as a study/practice (a very complex issue, this), inability of the practitioner to demonstrate specialization, or just good ol’ innocent-minded ignorance. The paucity of commercial theatre shows also keeps this myth well fed.

jungle boogie

Thespian boogie! Parara-parara! Thespian boogie! Get down!

The Impact
Apart from sounding like an insult from a 1970s blacksploitation movie (“Hell, them no-good jive turkeys? Only thing them cats know howda do is boogie!) this myth leaves grievous psychological scars in its wake. Its subtextual damage occurs at the delicate level of “image and perception“.

The image of every study/profession is polarized in positive and negative terms. We associate studies/professions with: dignity, power, stability, wealth, sacrifice, sufferhead, mysticism, etc. The more positives, the more attractive the study/profession. Externally this manifests in the value placed on objects which become prideful emblems – the doctor’s angelic coat, phallus-like stethoscope; the lawyer’s/judge’s black superhero-cape and that annoying wig thing that looks like a sheep’s butt.

When negative perceptions about Nigerian theatre seep into our social consciousness the barriers raised in response hurt the industry. The would-be audience member comes to consider himself too good for Nigerian theatre, even if he has the cultural sensibility of a wet mop. The student of theatre develops an inferiority complex, and to disassociate herself from the cause becomes academically nonchalant – losing out on general benefits the academic experience offers. (This is especially stronger if the student was forced to study theatre, as, sadly, is the case with most.) Some students start out resilient but eventually cave to this myth; others spend four years in confusion, oscillating between dedication to the study and derision towards it.

The practitioner must constantly prove the worth of his profession to the larger section of society who neglect or just don’t care about it (… yet). This makes marketing theatre, a process which is already a chore, A CHORE!!! Some will find themselves, having failed to conquer PDP-and-APC-fueled unemployment, returning to the very studies they neglected for sustenance; then years of nonchalance will return with Piranha-sharp teeth for vengeful bites.

The Reality
Do I need to say Nigerian theatre offers immense value to society? Do I really? We are talking of THE art form which gave us a Nobel Prize winner, need I remind yo’ ass! Thankfully, history suggests theatre will remain valued by the highly cultured; the true arts lover; the seeker of aesthetic joys; the traveller of imagination’s endless acres.

HOWEVER! Practitioners must take responsibility for the perpetuation of this myth. In Universities a lot of theatre arts departments place so so much emphasis on dance, inadvertently reinforcing this myth in the student-audience’s psyche – from there it’s an easy extension into the scathing subtext. Students go through four years of higher education without receiving advanced (sometimes even basic) education on other vast practices in theatre. This constricts the value they place on the study thus enabling rogue behaviour.

Practitioners must enlighten whatever segment of society is within their reach and influence. This need not be a tedious or confrontational activity. Demonstrating expertise the non-practitioner doesn’t possess sets society on a road to realization. The recognition that “this vocation requires a level of skill beyond what I (the layman) has and which only the professional can provide” gives our practice much needed respect for growth. Think of how much reverence filmmaking earns from ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘making of…’ documentaries.

5. THE ‘MESSIAH’ MYTH

The Myth
There is a tale they tell around camp fires in green rooms. Not merely a tale … a prophecy. A prophecy in the ancient book of Thespis which speaks of a great theatre show which one day shall come.

So magnificent a performance shall it be, a never-before-seen splendor in its invocation of spectacle, that it shall revive the entire Nigerian theatre industry. There shall be rejoicing as infrastructure and institutions shall appear out of the very earth and stretch far into the sky. There shall be singing of Eminado and dancing to the music of Don Jazzy again as sponsorship worth millions of naira shall flow steadily from the pockets of telecommunication companies and rich politicians like Loya milk (Looooyaaaa!).

And the people will look at it. And they will know that it is good. And no longer will there be hunger in the land. And no longer will they have to eat Fayose-and-Fayemi flavoured rice.

statue angels

And with the coming of the saviors hammering and chopping of money shall be plentiful.

Among practitioners and investors, you will find some who believe that a single show (the one they are, conveniently, currently working on) will be so successful it will revive the moribund Nigerian theatre industry. Of course it is believed that if this revival is not (conveniently) limited to the myth believers, it will be spearheaded by them. You’ll often find shows, usually large scale ones, stating as their objective: “we hope this performance can revive the theatre industry in Nigeria”. It would be all nice and cheery if this just ended as pretty talk, but yawa dey gas when people start believing it.

The Impact
The constant pursuit of instant success, a defining characteristic of the Nigerian huzzle, holds much blame here. Other times it’s just the pressure of pursuing a passion in an economy more twisted than Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (make I use google form effizzy, o jare!). And sometimes it’s just plain naivety. When the expectation of a meteoric rise to fame and fortune is DASHED by reality’s rocky ground, the effect can be destabilizing.

A great loss of confidence invariably follows – “e no suppose be like this, I suppose don blow by now“. The practitioner having spent the entire production process hyping himself up for the coming of the messiah is left feeling dejected. If he mistakes dejection for disillusionment, he is likely to voluntarily become a chairman of the “there is no future in Nigerian theatre” committee.

If he continues to practice, horrendous project planning haunts the rest of his career. Indeed it was this together with unrealistic expectations from having no well set production goals which screwed dude up in the first place. He throws himself into the constant chase of the messiah or half heartedly executes theatre projects when they come along. Any slim chance there was for business/artistic research and experimentation is gone with the wind (Swish!).

The impact on the investor can be summarized thus: as him money don troway, chairman pack him load run! But let’s delve a bit deeper. The defining impact on the investor who falls prey to this myth is a loss of confidence in theatre’s financial viability. Typically he bails out of the business sharp-sharp. Should he chop liver and remain, it will be marked with a discomfort towards new ideas and approaches; or worse, an inability to take calculated risks. However, henceforth, everything will be done on his terms. Of course he is too busy to go through the paces of acquiring proper knowledge on the business of theatre, so he treats it like any other business. When this equally fails, as is practically inevitable, he grows more convinced that Nigerian theatre is a waste of Naira.

The Reality
Don’t get me wrong, instant success isn’t impossible (though closer examination reveals instant isn’t always as instant as we mythologize it to be). Yes, there are those who rose to fame quicker than a plate of ijebu-garri soaked with half sachet of pure-water, but this isn’t something you plan for. If instant success comes it will be in your favour – except you aren’t prepared for it.

Get your head out of the clouds, but keep them in the sky. Translation: DREAM BIG WITH A PLAN. Short term, mid term, long term – HAVE A PLAN. A realistic plan with measurable goals. And ps: realistic does NOT mean inferior. Plans change or don’t always evolve as expected but organizational skill allows you stay flexible. Reading all the ‘how to’, self help and motivational books in the world is pointless if at the time of ACTION you can’t APPLY.

And can we agree to take a collective chill-pill on the messiah-performance neurosis? The future of Nigerian theatre does not rest on the shoulders of one, two or twenty shows. What will lead us to the gates of the promised land is efficient administration. Development and application of innovative and efficient operational frameworks, achievable in Nigeria’s socio-economic conditions, which will turn these shows we love making from short-lived independent entities into finely woven symbiotic organisms of productivity.

6. THE ‘BANKRUPTCY’ MYTH

The Myth
In the entirety of the english language there are no seven words which spear my heart deeper than these: THERE IS NO MONEY IN NIGERIAN THEATRE. Goodness gracious f@#%ing hell what da actual f@#k?!!!!! Ok … Calm down … Breathe … Breathe … This one stands in contention with the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ myth for most damaging misconception. Amongst those who propagate this myth the most pertinent are financiers.

Investing money in Nigerian theatre is considered a fool’s venture that ends in a pit of financial wastage. The ardent spokesperson for this myth is commonly an investor whose previous foray into the business of theatre ended in grave financial loss. Or he/she is considering making an investment but witnessed, or heard the gist of, some other person whose dice failed at the gamble.

The belief that the only good kind of arts business is a corporate scale business (see the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ myth), coupled with having the closest thing to a fully functioning outfit in only one out of 36 states, reinforces the faith that (must thou spear me again, ye words?) there is no money in Nigerian theatre.

atm machine

 

The Impact
Belief in this myth has strangulated the practitioner’s ability to develop a financially sustainable structure for Nigerian theatre. Hence, the industry is almost entirely (if not completely) sponsor-based. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with sponsorship, theatre needs sponsorship (subsidies don’t hurt either, so anytime you’re ready Ministry of Arts and Culture, NICO, NCAC); however no serious business can function sustainably on sponsorship ALONE – and certainly not an ENTIRE industry. But the practitioner’s brain is so hardwired to seek sponsorship he can’t think outside the box. (And believe me, for theatre to blossom we have to think outside the whole freaking box manufacturing factory.)

The sponsor-based business model has more potholes than the road from Ogba junction to retail market (na one road for Lasgidi), and in these crevices lies Nigerian theatre, clawing at sparse patches of available coal-tar. Being not only sponsor-based but corporate sponsor based means we remain snared in the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ myth. The corollary is simple: failing to turn out a large enough number of annual shows to generate broader scale business interest, the industry will struggle to see any appreciable growth, and with this the contorted conviction that “there is no money in Nigerian theatre” will persist – and that’s just a fine ass piece of irony!

More ironic is the counter-approach taken by some investors. Dedicated to the vision of reviving Nigerian theatre, mixed with an appetite for chopping big-time arts money, they come to a strange conclusion. They decide to throw an inordinate amount of money into a commercial theatre set up, doing something like building a theatre house or purchasing a large amount of equipment without any sustainable plan for profitability. The chain of thought (one I cannot wrap my head around!) seems to be: I’m not totally certain how to make money from this business, so I’m going to randomly spend an excessive amount on it and the sheer Voltron force of my money will make it work.

Panic sets in when the cash doesn’t come in as expected. The investor now employs constraints to the point of administrative asphyxiation. Again the courage needed to take calculated risks dissipates. And now he’s pissed! He’s royally pissed! Millions of naira, a fair amount of which could have been well spent on family and/or runs-girls, have gone down the ol’ drain. And what does he blame for this loss? His uninformed business decision? No, he blames it on the Nigerian theatre industry.

The Reality
Keep calm and know there IS money in the Nigerian theatre industry. We are talking of an art which has persisted, thriving sporadically, ever since the 40s – and even further back. It has survived cinema, Nollywood, and television – all of which falsely heralded its doom. Obviously there’s a resilience in there we aren’t harnessing.

Theatre makes money in its own way, this must be understood and accepted (not the same thing, mind you). Though there are similarities commercial theatre for the most part doesn’t function like concerts or galas or launches. It can’t be expected to make money in the same way. It is an art and a business in its own right. It has its constants, variables, gestation periods and birth expectancies. These, alongside much else, must be well grasped if you want to earn back your bucks and then some.

A peculiar reality that must also be confronted is that there is no actual Nigerian theatre industry. We just call it that because … well, wetin else we wan call am? The Nigerian theatre paroles? The Nigerian theatre hustle? Wouldn’t make for intelligent writing in a proposal, would it? The proper infrastructure doesn’t exist. The equipment is far from accessible. The fluidity of capital is turgid. The provided service comes so infrequently market/audience stability is a perpetual struggle. What we have is a semblance of an industry at its thinnest.

Money is almost always invested into theatre shows NOT the theatre industry. Understanding this difference can mean the difference between success and failure. I’ll give one example: money invested into a theatre show can only work for as long as the show is alive i.e its performance run. Since socio-economic factors only allow for brief performance runs, the investment has a specific gestation period (mostly days, often weeks, occasionally a month or two) within which to deliver returns. If you were investing in the theatre industry, the gestation period would be waaaay longer.

Ultimately, be honest with yourself. This is the cornerstone which not only the builder refused but breaking the stronghold of any myth relies on. Understand and accept that the business of theatre isn’t for all-comers. It requires a businessman with a particular set of sensibilities which may not be in your personality. It requires a wealth of passion and courage and not everyone is rich in every way.

There once was no money in Nigerian music and stand up comedy. Artists pursuing careers in those fields were considered fools. Any businessman sowing his money in those fields was an even bigger dodo bird. That was just a little over a decade ago. Today, they are both thriving sectors for artists and investors alike with the music industry possibly reaping more than grandpapa Nollywood. Ask yourself this, what are those industries doing right for themselves that Nigerian theatre isn’t for itself?

And there you have them! The 6 Biggest Myths About Nigerian Theatre! Did you dare brave the treacherous terrains of scrolling and megabyte consumption to read all 6? If so, you’ve just won yourself a loaf of bread to go with the toaster from part 1. Thanks for reading.

READ: The 6 Biggest Myths About Nigerian Theatre (Part 1)

ABOUT THE WRITER (this is where I talk about myself in the third person)

African Playwright Africa Ukoh

Africa Ukoh (@Pensage – abeg, follow me for twitter oh!) is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, theatre director, and arts administrator. And protector of the realm. He has been the recipient of awards such as the BBC African Performance competition and the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House prize. In 2014 he won the prestigious Oscar award for best actress in a supporting role … Oh, no, wait, that … that was Lupita N’yongo. His works have appeared on platforms such as the BBC World Service, Voice of Nigeria, Sentinel Nigeria Magazine, Sentinel Annual Literature Anthology, and more. If you’d like to get in touch with him you can send N1500 MTN recharge card to 08036207841 and he will call you back, sharp-sharp. Or maybe just email him: africaukoh@gmail.com.

The 6 Biggest Myths About Nigerian Theatre (Part 1)

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The Nigerian theatre industry sits so close to the edge of non-existence if it sneezed it would fall into a pit of blazing lava and burn into extinction forever and ever till the end of all time in the world ever. Ok, maybe things are not that dramatic (see what I did there?) but you get the idea. The large scale ignorance about commercial theatre in Nigeria would alarm most people from countries where the art is common practice. As Nigerian theatre struggles to overcome this ignorance and bring itself into the mainstream, there are myths which hinder its progress. Ghouls, spectres, that try to scare it off that edge into calamitous descent (cue Wilhelm scream).

To know your ailment is the first step to finding a cure, so let’s whip out the ol’ pointy finger and start … er … fingering these diseases. Part 1 of this article looks at 3 myths and part 2 (starring Dolph Lundgren) will examine another 3. Ladies and gentlemen (cue drumroll), I give you the 6 BIGGEST (echo: biggest! biggest! biggest!) myths about Nigerian theatre.

1. THE ‘COMIC RELIEF’ MYTH

The Yoruba joker

Oremi, do you know how I got these scars?

The Myth
The mantra to this myth goes, “You know Nigerians, the only thing they are interested in watching is comedy”. The belief is that Nigerians are so stressed and depressed due to the endless woes of being Nigerian that when they come to see a theatre show they are ONLY interested in laughing their sorrows away, hence they only want to watch comedies. What scares me is how often I’ve heard this asserted BY THEATRE PRACTITIONERS.

The Impact
So corrosive is this myth that some practitioners contort or limit their artistry to comedy – or what they mistake to be comedy, thus ironically making a joke of their art. The biggest damage has been the retarded development of non-comic content in Nigerian theatre. Deduct dance and song from the equation and you’ll find performances struggling to genuinely hold the attention of an intelligent teenager.

Among actors you find those who cannot perform a non-comic role without impressing comic stylings upon it. The ‘serious’ performances end up as limp imitations of generic physical and vocal of expressions. (Ever noticed how similar the line delivery of various actors sounds? Think of how practically every actor talks the same when playing the part of an African King.) Most vulnerable are students of theatre who have to create for an audience whose tastes are prone to erroneous constriction.

The Reality
Here’s a question: how come these so so depressed Nigerians are eager to engage with tragedies, romances, thrillers, and horror stories from other countries? Does our own depression discriminate against us? (If so God punish am!) Nigerians aren’t an alien species. Nigerians are human beings. And human beings have a range of emotions. And human beings are interested in art that explores these emotions. The difficult question we must ask is: how good is our handling of non-comic content in theatre?

The sad assumption that comedy is easier to accomplish than other genres is itself a farce of ignorance. Any comic actor worth his/her weight in Lannister gold knows that assumption is a great injustice. What many tend to call ‘comedy’ is plain old buffoonery (*cough*cough* Mister *cough* Ibu *cough*). On the positive side this myth seems to be on the Grim Reaper’s path. As frequency of theatre shows increases, albeit marginally so, diversity of content is inevitable.

2. THE ‘APPLAUSE IS APPROVAL’ MYTH

Standing ovation

“The audience was a great success, but the play was a disaster.”

The Myth
What we have here is a belief that no matter how tamely or mechanically an audience applauds a performance it means they absolutely love it. Now I hear you saying, “but of course”; yet to see why this is a myth you must understand a fundamental of the psychology behind the audience-performer relationship in Nigeria. You see, criticism of Nigerian performance art is TABOO. (“How dare you say that a shit work of art is shit!? Where your own dey!?“) Professional or casual, critics are not welcome – except you are here to heap praise in which case, please, come feast at my house, I shall kill you a calf!

This partly arose out of the good intention to support indigenous art, then veered off track as it became a defense mechanism used by producers and performers against failure and ego bruises. (Could this also be tied to our larger attitude of docility, whereby even if deservedly so we are not supposed to question culture or teachers or leaders or Jose Mourinho?) Over the years audiences have come to accept this lack of open criticism as a norm. As a polite gesture which is their part to play. And so a myth was born. And the people looked at it. And they saw it was good.

The Impact
This is one myth whose growing impact should worry us. For one thing, the quality of our already watered-down dramatic criticism will continue to decline. We’re already stuck with a fair number whose indepth opinion about a performance begins and ends at “it was good oh, they tried”. Again students of theatre are the most at risk here; which puts everyone at risk for when, after graduating, these students begin to f@#k with the industry, they transmit whatever diseases our educational system infected them with into society.

Individuals and groups also lose out on a vital organ of the arts which helps artists develop. Then there is the emotional maturity of the industry which will continue to go Benjamin Button unless we get a grip on it. The biggest impact remains that in the mid-long term we will not develop the kind of audience attendance needed for live theatre to flourish simply because WE ARE NOT LISTENING to our audiences.

The Reality
Look, if a dude dresses up, drives (or treks, all na movement) to a theatre show, spends a couple thousand naira on a ticket, sits down with a drink and a snack to spend an hour plus of his allotted Jack Bauer (i.e 24) watching a stage performance, he is highly likely to force himself to have some damn fun. Reinforce this with his belief that open disapproval is impolite, especially so as not to be labelled the ‘oversabi‘, and you get a submissive audience member who smiles outwardly but inwardly is dissatisfied. Now multiply by 80% of the people at the show.

I always try to get a few people I know to see a play I also intend to see, then ask them how they felt about it 2 or 3 days later. Free from the compulsive environment of the event, I find genuine opinions are more accessible. Ultimately, the truest opinion about the quality of a show rests on (i) the audience’s eagerness to see it again, (ii) their excitement to recommend it to someone, and (iii) the treasured memory of it in their hearts.

3. THE ‘GO BIG OR GO HOME’ MYTH

Greedy worm

Said the worm to the burger, “you gon’ learn today!”

The Myth
This is very much connected to our ostentatious culture and the belief that quantity supersedes quality. So long as its BIGGER, even if it’s crap, it’s BETTER. The misconception therefore is that the only theatre worth making is a theatre of spectacle. The corporate world plays a part in the prevalence of this myth. Being a major source of funding, corporate institutions are solely interested in a theatre of spectacle which reflects their brand power. And they are totally justified! No one spends five or six million naira and expects a ‘nice little’ show (if na your money you go gree?). Where we have a myth is in the belief that mid-small scale theatre shows are not productive; that ONLY mega productions have business value and so are the only ones worthy of sponsorship or investment.

The Impact
This is possibly the most damaging of all 6 myths. Now, don’t get me wrong, big theatre isn’t bad. I’m a young Nigerian theatre practitioner, I spend waking hours conceiving big shows. But making ONLY big theatre is BAD FOR BUSINESS. Every art has certain constants it needs so as to be profitable. Musicians and record companies, for example, need their music to be heard constantly. So, airplay and downloads, despite the latter’s impact on record sales, are crucial for success.

In theatre, the indispensable constant is: shows. Shows! Shows! Shows! Day after day, week after week. But you can’t spend 5 million naira every month of the year on one show that will only run for 3 days, can you? Focusing only on big shows we produce a phenomenally low number performances annually. I’d go so far as to say there are states out of the 36 which have close to 0 commercial theatre performances yearly. (Oy! Performances by all them defunct art councils don’t count, bruv!) The limited number of shows simply means that the theatre industry – from the sponsors to the investors to the theatre companies – is not making nearly as much money as it could be.

Another impact is of course the comatose state of mid-small scale productions. The mentality that they are “poor” has seeped into the minds of audiences who now believe these shows are not worth attending. Theatre directors aren’t spared from the scourge of this myth. Unable to have the frequency and variation of practice needed to hone their art, coupled perhaps with the laziness of some to put in the mandatory extra self-development work, and the pressure that comes with ‘big money’ productions, the director doesn’t develop an individual philosophy and style. He limits himself to archetypal theatrics which quickly become predictable and boring for the audience. (If you are a frequent theatre-goer with a keen eye you may have noticed that ‘spatially‘ a lot of stage peformances are basically the same – but that’s a topic for another day.)

The Reality
Mid-small scale shows are just as – probably even more – important for the business of theatre as the ‘big boss’ productions. They may or may not make gazllions in returns but they certainly facilitate the mid-long term generation of Juicy J profit (Bounce it!). On da flipside! it must be admitted that the infrastructure for frequent commercial theatre performances does not exist. But that, mes amis, is why theatre is the most adaptable of all performance arts; it can thrive regardless of this deficit. We mustn’t wait until infrastructure exists to make the all-important step towards performance constancy. Innovative thinking and key partnerships can solve the problem. But, well, that’s easier said than done in a “na based on who you sabi” society.

Perhaps a too-pessimistic point of view would be to say we lack the volume of creative personnel for performance constancy. Eventually our creative monotony would be exposed. Stripped of the deceptions of fancy lights and costumes, our art, in the nude, would reveal an ugly form. Perhaps it is fairest to say this is both true and false?

Either way, let me end with a story to illustrate this clear and present danger:

In school we were trained on how to produce the popular “big Nigerian theatre production” – flashy lights, hypnotic songs, bulldozer acting, exuberant dances and a village-sized cast. This one time (in band camp … sorry, couldn’t resist) a 3rd year student working on her directing practicals with a cast of about 30 students was having a horrible experience. As always this was mostly due to unruly and nonchalant student-actors.

One day I shared a thought with her. “Why not choose a different play?” I suggested, “Something that has 3 or 4, maybe 5 characters, so that you’ll just work with the serious actors and give the rest other duties?”
“No oh,” she replied in shock, “ha! I don’t know how to direct that kind of play, oh. They did not teach me that one. If I do that one there will be plenty space on the stage, that is when I will now have to do the real directing. It is this crowd-crowd type I know. At least if I put twenty people here,” she gestured to her right, “and twenty people here,” she gestured to her left, “it is just one small space in the middle that will remain. That is the way I know how to do it.” I cannot begin to explain the many levels of screwed in that thinking process.

Hey, thank you for reading! If you read the whole thing you just won yourself a toaster! If you didn’t, scroll back up and read the whole post, come on! Look out for the second part of this article where I’ll write on the other 3 biggest myths about Nigerian theatre.

i. The ‘All They Do Is Boogie’ Myth
ii. The ‘Messiah’ Myth
iii. The ‘Bankruptcy’ Myth

What about you? What myths are there about theatre or other entertainment industries in your country? I’d love to hear about them.

READ: Part 2 – The 6 Biggest Myths About Nigerian Theatre

ABOUT THE WRITER (this is where I talk about myself in the third person)

Africa Ukoh (@Pensage – abeg, follow me for twitter oh!) is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, theatre director, and arts administrator. And protector of the realm. He is a co-founder and artistic director of African Renaissance Theatre & Entertainment, an Abuja-based performance art outfit. He has been the recipient of awards such as the BBC African Performance competition and the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House prize. In 2014 he won the prestigious Oscar award for best actress in a supporting role … Oh, no, wait, that … that was Lupita N’yongo. His works have appeared on platforms such as the BBC World Service, Voice of Nigeria, Sentinel Nigeria Magazine, Sentinel Annual Literature Anthology, and more. If you’d like to get in touch with him you can send N1500 MTN recharge card to 08036207841 and he will call you back, sharp sharp. Or maybe just email him: africaukoh@gmail.com.

Theatre From Africa: 54 Silhouettes

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I got a theatre show coming up in Jos city “J-town”, Plateau state, Nigeria. Watch this space from lots of awesome photos from rehearsals and performance.
Find out more here: http://wp.me/p2VHfW-HP

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