Monday, August 06, 2007

Please Umaru, Don’t Let This Theatre Go

Please Umaru, Don’t Let This Theatre Go

(As published in The Guardian of August 5, 2007)

IT is with utter disgust that I write this piece. In the past, the need to do such was not on my mind, but now, I just have to, especially as it concerns the sale of the National Theatre — the peak of artistry in Nigeria. The venue, which hosted FESTAC 77, one of the defining festivals organised in the continent, has exposed the best of African talent.
Looking back at FESTAC 77, 30 years after, I still remember the performances of Miriam Makeba, and the Ipitombi dancers, whose rhythmic foot steps set the pace for new movement in dance across the globe. I remember, as if it was yesterday, when the late Hubert Ogunde’s films, Aiye and Ayanmo, drew large crowd to the events’ venue, such that four shows were done in one day.
The picture of this edifice is so disheartening, disturbing and sad that I feel guilty being a product of this culture of shame. Really, it’s such a shame to every person that has contributed to its present state.
The theatre gave artistes hope for a better tomorrow. At a time when little or no appreciation was given to them, it served as their home. It was also the only avenue for young and budding talents to showcase their art. It served as a pivot for modern day commercial theatre. In fact, lots of talents ranging from actors and actresses, designers, directors, dancers, and all the theatre, after graduation from school, found the place a solace and an avenue to practice their art. It was Nollywood’s birth place.
It not only served as home to Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), the National Troupe of Nigeria, Nigerian Copyright Commission — before it moved to its own office — National Association Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), just to mention a few, the theatre had hosted numerous such as Jankariwo and Muje Muje by Ben Tomoloju’s Kakaaki Theatre Troupe and Ajoo Festival by Fred Agbeyegbe.
Having this at the back of my mind, I advocate that the Federal Government takes a look at the jargon called concession, which is now the buzzword. The place is the nation’s pride and epitome of our culture. It is the symbol of our unity. That’s one place where discrimination or apathy does not exist.
At a time like this, when the country is looking for other ways of generating revenue, the facility becomes relevant.
The various theatre and dance groups have to be registered under NANTAP, which should now rotate performanes in the pl;ace thereby keeping it busy.
Art is not all about money, but a way of giving hopes and confidence. It provides employment, boosts talent and also aid tourism, which ultimately, generates revenue.
Please, President Umaru Musa Yar Adua try to intervene and stop the sale of this home of excellence like you did with the refineries. The loss will be enormous not just to the country but to the world of African arts, especially with the proposed FESTAC 2010. Help save our monument before the artistes all die.

Phillips is a Nigerian artiste based in the United States of America

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