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Day world theatre critics discussed politics of theatre criticism

By Nwagbo Obi

What impact can theatre criticism make on politics? What are the values of the politics in the theatre? How can theatre of politics be engaged dialectically? How does documentation policy affect the theatre critic? Is theory an accessible tool for the theatre critic?
These mindboggling and many more questions were addressed at the recently concluded conference of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) in Nigeria, whose theme: ‘Theatre, Criticism and Politics – Where Are the Limits?’  Where are the limits, seems to raise a striking question. Also, the attempt to locate these limits created a meeting point for theatre critics in the media and the academic world for the purpose of cross-fertilization of ideas and sharing of experiences on the trends and development of theatre criticism practice.

This IATC 2017 conference, which attracted international audience, was unique in many ways. Apart from the international participation, many other things that made Nigeria IATC conference historic and momentous were IATC-Nigeria collaborated with the British Council Nigeria in the 2017 edition of the Lagos Theatre Festival.
It was the first time since IATC started 60 years ago that its conference is taking place in any African country. So, it goes down in history that Nigeria was the first African country to host theatre critics in the whole world.

This is in addition to other feats Nigeria achieved that the only African member of the Executive Committee of the IATC, is Nigeria’s Prof. Emmanuel Dandaura, and Nigeria’s Prof. Femi Osofisan was the first African to win IATC prestigious 2016 Thalia award etc.
In its preparedness to make the conference vibrant, IATC-Nigeria through the office of the president, Prof. Dandaura called for papers for theatre critics to contribute with the explanation that: “The special International Theatre Critics Conference will deliberate on the theme: Theatre, Criticism and Politics – Where Are the Limits?

Thus, IATC, UNESCO’s statute B global partner in theatre criticism, organized a five-day conference from March 1-5th 2017 in Nigeria, to have a lively debate on the theatre growth through theatre criticism. During the conference, Honourable Minister for Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was represented by George Uffot, the Ag.
General Manager, National Theatre, harped on the importance of theatre practice, theatre criticism and the society.
The event, which took place at the Banquent Hall, National Theatre, Iganmu – Lagos, saw many speakers both from Nigeria and outside Nigeria hammering on the objectives of the strategic partnership between IATC and British Council as organizers of the Lagos Theatre Festival.

These include: opening avenues for more international tours for the average Nigerian Theatre practitioners; increase media visibility for works of Nigerian creative artistes; facilitate cross fertilization of ideas and galvanize discourse around home grown theatre performances and other emerging forms of expressions in Nigerian theatre.
Meanwhile, in the opening session of conference, the President of National Academy of Letters (NAL), Prof. Olu Obafemi, who was the chairman of the event, recorded the presence of intercontinental theatre critics in Nigeria with more than about 70 national and international theatre critics at Banquet Hall of National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.

According to him, they include Margareta Sorenson, the global President of IATC and Swedish renowned journalist and critic; 2016 IATC Thalia Laureate, Prof. Femi Osofisan, Prof. Ebun Clark, foremost Nigerian Theatre Critic, Prof Ahmed Yerima, foremost and award winning Nigerian Playwright, Assoc Prof. Barclays Ayakoroma, Executive Secretary National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) represented by  Director, Training School, NICO, Lagos, Mrs. Bridgette Yerima, President of Society of Nigeria Theatre Artist (SONTA), Prof. Sonnie Ododo, former Deputy Editor, The Guardian Newspapers,  Ben Tomuloju,  former Editor, The Guardian Newspapers, Jahman Anikulapo, Assoc Prof. Ivan Medenica, the IATC Director of Conferences and Artistic Director of Belgrade International Theatre Festival(BITEF); Dr. Octavian Saiu, Adjunct Secretary, IATC, Prof. Ebun Clark, Bernice Chan K Wai (Hong Kong) etc.

On his part, Prof. Osofisan, commended the efforts of theatre critics in Nigeria, urging them to keep the flag flying, just as he dedicated his 2016 IATC Thalia award to Nigeria, saying that the award is not just an honour to him, but entire Nigeria and Africa in general.
He commended Prof Dandaura and Margareta Sorenson, whose tenures asNigeria IATC president and the global President of IATC he was made the 2016 IATC Thalia Laureate. Sorenson commended Nigerians for their efforts in IATC especially the hosting of the 2017 conference, calling on African to really engage in critical discourse by writing on the theatre performances.

Also speaking, Prof Dandaura extolled Sorenson as the first IATC global President to bring the association’s conference to Africa and Nigeria in particular.
He used the opportunity to call on African Theatre Critics to engage theatre practitioners critically as that will bring robust development to African Theatre Criticism.

A lot of goodwill messages were given to extol the conference. Prof Sam Ukala, a renowned playwright and winner of 2014 LNG Prize for Literature, felicitated with the Nigeria-IATC for hosting the conference, describing it as a landmark event because it was the first time both seasoned and budding theatre critics world over would gather in Africa and it is in Nigeria they gathered.
On the theme of the conference, he noted that politics and political events are swift and drama and theatre are mostly built on them after they had occurred, and similarly, theatre criticism follow drama and theatre.

He raised some questions to address the place of the writer and theatre criticism in a country’s politics: Is it not possible for the theatre to create politics of the future-desirable or undesirable, depending on the character of politics of today as a guide on what attitudes to cultivate or avoid if man wants politics to be beneficial to the generality of the people?

He referred to the criticism of politics by dramatists like Hubert Ogunde with his play Yoruba Ronu and what the theatre critics wrote about the play, urging journalists to be vibrant in their criticism of theatre performance.
Prof. Dauda Enna, a fellow of SONTA, recalled when Nigerian section of IATC which was admitted in 2010 took its seat for the first timein 2012 during the World Congress in Warsaw, Poland, saying he was present and it was a remarkable event and since then, the Nigerian-IATC president, Prof Dandaura has worked tirelessly to keep the section afloat.

On his part, the President of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Denja Abdullahi, said the conference was timely as it will provide the critical indices with which writers and critics can use to reassess the place of the theatre in a world that is fast evolving with so many technological devices competing for attention.

In the presentation of the conference papers, the question where are the limits of theatre, criticism and politics received thought provoking answers. Margareta Sorenson, the global President of IATC, chaired a brainstorming session where Prof Obafemi asserted that there must be serious engagement of the polity by the theatre critic.

His paper titled:The Theatre of Politics and Politics of the Theatre: a Dialectics of Engagementurged the theatre critics to use all genres of the theatre to engage the polity, because thetheatre has striking messages that can address the political problems of any society.
Dr. Octavian Saiu spoke on Brecht and the values of politics in the theatre pointing out thatBrecht provided a blueprint of what can address politics in the theatre and politics of any society. Prof Julie Umukoro’s paper dwelt on the Nigerian Playwright and the politics of criticism, while Dr. Ivan Medenica lectured on the Bourgeois theatre and its criticism from emancipation to decadence.

Professional roundtable, which was chaired by Mr. Ben Tomoloju, focused on theatre criticism and the Print Media. Jahman Anikulapo who spoke on Theatre Criticism and Journalism in Nigeria, highlighted what impedes theatre criticism as the relationship of the newsroom, the ownership the newspaper and the environment where theatre criticism should to take place.

Nwagbo Pat Obi of National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) spoke on the Print Media and Politics of Newspaper Documentation Policy, where he observed that there is poor documentation of the newspaper as a research material and a material to be cited by researchers for review of literature, calling on theatre critics to collate their stories being published in the newspaper.

This he explained could accumulate to a volume worth publishing as a book. “This can be documented in the library and by the individual theatre critic,” he added.
Funke Osai Brown, the publisher of The Luxury Reporter, an online magazine, joined forces with Obi to call for;digital documentation as amodern way of documenting what the theatre critics are write in the Print Media.

Chinelo Chikelu of Leadership Newspapers, talked on poor mentorship as a major challenge of the theatre critics in Nigeria. Funke Durodola, of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Radio One, said competence in the electronic media is a major concern, because most radio stations do not give prominence to theatre criticism. They focus more on book reviews. Ropo Ewenla, gave a hard knock to theatre criticism, saying that it has died long ago because of lack of training for the critic.

Jerry Adesewo of Arojah Royal theatre, Abuja reasoned otherwise, saying that theatre criticism was still very much alive, but that so many arts writers are not interested in going into critical establishment, and as such many are not ready for the training or mentorship.
Akin Taiwo Aboderin of The Tribune Newspaper, noted that the risks and hazards that go with critical establishment scare many theatre critics, but no matter the risks, he said, theatre criticism in the print media needs to be encouraged as it helps to build up the politics of any nation.

The second day of the plenary session took place at the VIP Longue of National Theatre, where Prof Duro Oni, former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services, University of Lagos was the chairman.
The first session on Theatre, Change and Free Creative Landscape had Prof. Ameh Akoh speak on theory as an accessible tool for critics and practitioners, calling for the development of theories to be used in teaching theatre criticism in the print media.
Dr. Chukwuma Anyanwu’s paper titled:

From the Age of Innocence to Times of Disillusions dwelt on the trends and developments in theatre criticism with a recommendation that new theories are needed for the theatre critic to engage the criticism of theatre performances.
Salamatu Sule spoke on Theatre, Criticism and Politics: Where are the limits? She described the theatre, criticism and politics as tripod with indispensable relationship, because theatre projects themes on politics and criticism evaluate performances on them.

The next session on theatre, politics and anti-corruption was chaired by Prof Sunday Ododo and Azeez Akinwumi Sesan spoke on Movie of dramatic creative, with a focus on Traumatic experiences, Omorodion Ochuwa dwelt on Theatre Terrorism and the Society, using EsiabaIrobi’s Hangmen Also Die to address revolutionary violence, Margareta Sorenson spoke on Criticism as a shadow theatre play, Dr. Arnold Udoka’s paper discussed the challenges of dance criticism in post colonial Nigeria. There was a dance Drum Invocation, performed by the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) for the closing ceremony. It was choreographed byDr. Udoka

Nwagbo Obi is of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) and Director, Publicity and Membership Services, IATC-Nigeria.

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