“THE DYING ART OF THE STAGE CRAFT ” : CHIEF LARI WILLIAMS, OLU OKEKANYE AND OTHERS SLUG THE THEME OUT AT ANA’S MEETING

The second monthly meeting of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Lagos Chapter, held on Saturday March 10th, 2012 at the Little Theatre, Artists village, National Theatre Annex ground, Iganmu Lagos. The meeting was spiced up with music rendered by Korede, Lari Williams and a dance drama by the energetic and creative Onileagbon Royal theatre. Industry greats; Lari Williams, Olu Okekanye, Toyin Abiodun (reputable playwright and dramatist), Dr Tolu Ajayi ( first Chairman of ANA) graced the occasion and engaged in an explosive discussion relating to the theme “The Dying Art of the Stage Craft”. Why wasn’t stage drama (theatre) booming anymore?.

Veteran Lari Williams set the ball rolling. In his view, the foundation for stage craft (via theatre) was not laid. According to him “those who are suppose to help it live, have not done anything about it. At the National theatre, the only 5,000 auditorium has been shut down for nearly twenty years. It started with the excuse of minor repairs, then major repairs and now a billion plus budget is needed to get the central air condition working. They must make sure the A.C gets to the road”. He stated that he had written between 25 and 30 articles in his column “stage and screen” in Vanguard Newspapers during a 25 year period, where he talked about growth, and over view of the Entertainment industry.

“How many halls do we have in Lagos?” he asked, “one show cost N500,000 to rent the hall, how much will you charge the masses to watch the show at the National Theatre?. You build the set, advertise, provide costumes, pay artistes fees, there’s the sound, light, how much do you spend to break even?”. He stated that we had lost the theatre tradition and we have become used to one night performance. “I studied theatre in England. In America you have Broadway, which is the mother of Hollywood. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers ran 2,000 plus shows in one theatre before it was made into a film, Sound of Music ran 1,000 plus shows as well”. Another stage performance had run for 58 years in one theatre. He further stated that Government was not helping. They should have established theatres in various places.

Toyin Abiodun was of the view that the problem confronting theatre practitioners lay in the inability to inject stage craft into popular culture. “We haven’t been able to evolve theatre into 21st century…how many theatres have we built… and the audience can’t relate with the plays”. He opined that practitioners can’t run away from the spirit of commercialization and that technology plays a role in modern day theatre. “There should be the introduction of Reality TV shows revolving around theatre, competitive drama amongst schools, and we can invite schools to come and see plays” he said.

Olu Okekanye stated that in his “Ife days”, they took theatre to schools, and also staged market plays. “Theatre is not dying, it’s just passing a phase and practitioners are running away. Those who graduate from the university, just went there to obtain certificates, they want quick money. Those commercializing halls are taking halls from practitioners”, he said. He believed there should be a body to “manage and package” theatre to Corporate bodies.

Femi Onileagbon (Artistic Director of Onileagbon Royal theatre) talked about the frustrations of being a practitioner. “Media houses look at our scripts and say it’s good but that we have to buy air time for Radio dramas, TV drams. Where will we get millions to pay for air time?”. Road side performances come with its price, as practitioners need to obtain permit, police protection and there’s the harassment from Area boys. He believed that the ‘physical concept of theatre be sustained rather than the technological one being advocated by Toyin Abiodun as feed back from critics after watching the stage performance goes a long way in polishing subsequent acts. The physical structure allows practitioners to rehearse there and show plays at least thrice in a week.

Dagga Tolar believed that appropriate policies, programmes and budget for Literature, Theatre, and Arts be put in place by the Government. He lamented over the removal of literature as a ‘distinct subject’ from the school’s curriculum for those in junior secondary. Re-orientation of minds was key, as the very concept of Literature, Theatre, and Arts keeps the society going. It was also the concern of the House that notable, influential practitioners had not taken steps to revive the theatres but had abandoned it to its fate. A theatrical revival was possible following the precedent set in the cinematic zone by Ben Murray Bruce.

It was generally agreed by all that the solution to the problems lay in the implementation of ideas and not just in ‘talk’. Ahead of next month’s meeting (2nd Saturday of April 2012 i.e the 14th ) it was announced that there would be a book of the month reading. Authors were also encouraged to bring their books which would be displayed and sold through an exciting auction process.

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