Nigerians and the Culture of Theatre

By: Ciuci

/ April 7, 2024

Every society has its culture, and live theatre has been used for centuries as a medium of preserving and transmitting societal values. Theatre is a branch of the performing arts involving drama, dance, and musicals performed on stage to an audience.

Between the 1940s and the 1980s, theatre was part of the lifestyle of many Nigerians, and served as a means of entertainment, education, and social interaction. However, since the late 1980s the country’s theater-going culture has dwindled substantially. Due to its critical role in the preservation of a nation’s identity and heritage, the culture of theatre cannot be allowed to go extinct. Therefore, strategies need to be put in place by the government, theatre practitioners, and other stakeholders to revive the industry.

History

 

Theatre performances date back to ancient Nigerian society, taking root in the cultural and religious rituals of the people. Across ethnic groups, traces of theatrical performances can be identified. For instance, the Egungun performances in Yoruba ancestral worship served as court entertainment during the reign of Alaafin Ogbolu of the Oyo Kingdom in 1590. The Igbos had the Agbaasa Masquerade, which was known for inducing laughter, at the same time, creating socio-cultural awareness. Similarly, the “Yankamanci” craft of the famous Hausa minstrels in the north was famous for its comic performances.Whilst the foundation for theatre was set by religious and cultural performances, professional theatre in Nigeria started in the late 19th century with the emergence of Alarinjo – a set of traveling theatre troupes. This local theatre troupe was popularized by Hubert Ogunde, the father of the Yoruba operatic theatre who started his fullfledged theatre troupe in 1945. In the following year, his traveling theatre had become very popular both within and outside Nigeria, appealing to all socioeconomic classes of individuals. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the theatre culture was fully nurtured and established with over 100 traveling theatre troupes including those owned by well-known Yoruba dramatists like Duro Ladipo and Kola Ogunmola, and subsequently, a National Troupe of Nigeria was formed in September of 1989.

By the late 1970s, what seemed like an opportunity to bring the stage to a larger audience, turned out to be the beginning of the end of theatre performances. The Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) had started recording and broadcasting different live performances of the Yoruba traveling theatre troupes. Subsequently, many theatres went on to produce movies and gradually attention was shifted from theatre performance to TV productions.

Current State of Theatre in Nigeria

 

Today, it has become very difficult to convince people to appreciate the value of live theatre, let alone pay to attend a performance. Advocates of theatre productions, such as Mr. Soji Jacobs, Head of Production and Business Development of the recently refurbished Glover Memorial Hall Marina, Lagos, and General Manager, Lufodo Academy of Performing Arts, a renowned performing arts institute, noted that many people see theatre as a want and not a need, as a result, are unwilling to sacrifice their resources and time to attend a show.

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