LACK OF THEATRE BANE OF DRAMA – SOLA FOSUDO
From the stage to the screen and the classroom, Dr. Sola Fosudo, Head of the Department of Theatre Arts and Music at the Lagos State University is drama personified. During the rehearsal for Life's Journey of Choices an adaptation of Femi Osofisan's Twingle Twangle and Twynning Tayle that was staged as part of Toyota Nigeria Limited's tenth anniversary that he directed, Fosudo took time of to share some of thoughts on Nigerian theatre scene with The Nation's Group Editor (Arts and Culture) Solomon Tai Adetoye
The stage is a funny place to earn a living. Yes the consuming public expect to be entertained. The come to relax; and be enlightened, of course. But the amusement of the theatre and the effervescent nature of most artistes make most people get the erroneous impression that career in the field is one lifelong picnic. Not so. Theatre is hard work.
Sola Fosudo is an icon of modern theatre in Nigeria. His name is very popular among home video lovers. But he goes beyond that. Dr. Fosudo is also a theatre arts teacher. And a teacher of no mean stature for that matter. In fact, he is the Head of the Department of Theatre Arts and Drama at Lagos State University, Ojo. As a theatre manager, he has his own production company named Centre Stage Production where he serves as Executive Director. Beyond these, he is also competent in the production area of theatre. He is also a director. It was in the last capacity The Nation caught up with him at the Arts Theatre of Lagos State University where rehearsal were going on for the staging of Life's Journey of Choices.
The stage play which was an adaptation of Femi Osofisan's popular Twingle Twangle a Twynning Tayle, was staged as part of the tenth anniversary of Nigeria's leading automobile importer, Toyota Nigeria Limited. Centre Stage worked in conjunction with Smiling Fortunes, a fast rising Lagos-based events packaging, marketing and artistic consulting firm. The creativity of Smiling Fortunes merged with Centre Stage's experience to win them the project in the first place. At the end, their clients and patrons who watched the two performances that held at the MUSON Centre in Lagos were more than satisfied.
Billed as a consummate actor, director, theatre manager and lecturer, Sola Fosudo trained in Ibadan and Ife under some of the best theatre scholars in Nigeria ranging from legendary father of modern theatre in Africa, late Hubert Ogunde to Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Iyawo Alhaji, Glamour Girls I and Confession were among the dramas that exposed his drama to the world. Also to his credit were others like the Yoruba classic Amin Orun (Birthmark), Village Headmaster, The Third Eye, Ripples, Koko Close, Playing Game and Grace to Grass among others.
The rehearsal had commenced before Sola Fosudo appeared. He had apparently been attending to some other businesses within the campus. The tempo changed as soon as the Director dressed in business suit entered. Not a single facial expression, choreographic move or tonal inflection escaped his scrutiny. This was the Sola Fosudo Nigerian theatre lover apparently never met. The role playing on screen and on stage and the friendly mien he used to display at the special members' corner of Niteshift was gone. Here was not even a teacher. The side of him that came out was that of an accomplished director seeking perfection.
“Cut!” he would shout. After pointing out what was lacking in a particular taking he would state the exact point at which a retake should commence. Then the countdown: “Five… four… three… two… one… GO!” The lively spirit of the theatre was still present. Yet here was a man who took stage production with all the seriousness of an aeronautical engineer. From old hands like Kola Oyewo, Rmi Abiola and Tunde Adeyemo to rookie undergraduate artistes, Fosudo was in charge of the entire team.
The amiable Sola Fosudo returned when he took a break to speak with The Nation about the production. He took the writer to the back of the hall where he found means of cleaning the dust that gathered on the unused classroom benches to reduce the impact of the rehearsal sound coming from the stage. Enthusiastically he answered questions about the production. His infectious enthusiasm boiled over when the topic turned to the state of the theatre in Nigeria. At points he bent forward and grasped the writer's wrist across the aisle to emphasize a point. His expressions drove home his obsession with the issue on the table.
There is the belief in some circles that since the return of democracy theatre in Nigeria has enjoyed better fortune than during the crises-ridden days of military dictatorship.
“No,” came Fosudo's emphatic answer. “I don't think so. Maybe in Abuja according to some information reaching us. But in Lagos, the theatre is not faring better in any way.”
What then shall one say? After all, it was believed that the major problem facing theatre was the lack of peace especially following the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential polls.
“That is not the main problem of the theatre in this country,” Sola Fosudo contends. “The problem of drama in Nigeria is the lack of theatres. There are just no theatre halls where drama can be staged.”
Then the “Prof.” in him came out as he pontificated: “There are basic elements of theatre. Number one, there must be the play to present; there must be a script. Then there must be the production team – cast and crew. When these two are in place, you still need the theatre hall where you will stage the performance. A good script and a good production team that has nowhere to present a drama is as useless as not having anything to begin with.
“In Nigeria today, where are the theatre halls? Apart from the National Theatre and the MUSON Centre, where can stage a performance in Lagos? And maybe the University of Lagos theatre. In those days the Law School hall used to be there. Mind you, there is a difference between a theatre hall and say an events hall or a cinema hall. Tragically, these theatre halls are more less centralised. How do you expect a man living at say Alagbado or Ikorodu to go to Lagos Island to watch a performance.
“The Cultural Policy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says the government shall ensure that there is a theatre hall in each local government area… each local government. Where are those theatre halls? If that policy where to be implemented, one can even take his play to each location apart for the vital fact that development of theatre in each locality would be encouraged.”
Well, maybe one should just thank God for the boom in the film industry. No. Fosudo does no agree.
“There is no film industry in Nigeria,” he affirmed explaining that “What we have is video industry. It is home video industry. The absence of cinema halls alone testifies to this fact. Where are the cinema halls of those days – Roxy, Pen and many others? Those that had not been sold off are both redundant and obsolete. Apart from recently opened Galleria and New Metro, there is no cinema hall in Lagos that is at par with modern cinema halls in the world.”
He went on, “There was a time the cinema culture was booming in this country. Films were brought in from outside and the local film industry was taking off. Then government policies threw everything off balance. Not only was importation of films banned, nothing was done to encourage local film production.”
Sola Fosudo then took the subject in intellectual realm. “The issue of culture is vital in the growth and development of any country,” he said. He went on the explain the link between cultural tools like theatre and literature and societal growth and development. The theatre presents an avenue for the society to hold a mirror up to itself to see its faults. Thus reflected it then becomes impossible to discover and implement necessary corrections. In the absence of this, what the society gets is the type of culture Nigeria has today in which cultural malfunction is the order of the day. Fosudo contends that the downward drift will continue if nothing is done to reawaken our cultural values through literature, theatre and the media.
What then ought to be done?
Dr. Sola Fosudo advocated inter-ministerial cooperation. Because what is involved is an overhaul of the media and culture, there is the need for the Ministry of Information and that of Culture and Tourism to work together a programme for the nation to pursue. He explained that at the moment, there are government agencies under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism that have regulatory roles to play in the theatre industry. At the same time the media housed that handle the dissemination of products of the theatre, literature and music are under the Ministry of Information.
“What is needed,” Fosudo told The Nation, “is an all inclusive participation of all stakeholders – government agencies, the different associations of practitioners, the media, corporate bodies, individuals, the academia… everybody has to be involved. Many of the associations that feel they can handle matters don't even know what they are doing.”
Lamenting government neglect of the arts and culture sector of national life, Sola Fosudo said, “They were even talking of selling the National Theatre at a point in time.” When he was informed that the idea has come back and not just the National Theatre but also Tafawa Balewa Square and the Trade Fair Complex were slated for sale, in utter frustration and anger, he threw up his hands. “You see,” he exclaimed. “Why are they not talking of selling the National Stadium? Provision of social services is a government responsibility. The government is just showing that it is not interested in fulfilling its social responsibility to the people. Is there anywhere in the world where you hear of a national institution like the National Theatre being auctioned?”
Meanwhile the government does not seem to be keen on listening to the learned counsel of people like Dr. Sola Fosudo either for the purposes of cultural development or income generation through tourism. It is arts loving individuals, foreign missions and corporate bodies that uphold the sector. The staging of Life's Journey of Choices itself bear testimony of this. The Chairman of the command performance, firs post-charter Chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of Management and the Osayuwanoba of Benin Kingdom, Chief Lugard E. Aiminuwu said this much in his opening comments.
The performance which was also attended by Professor Femi Osofisan was better than anybody in the audience's expectation as Sola Fosudo added “salt and pepper” to the already mouth watering dish Osofisan prepared years ago and presented as Twingle Twangle a Twynning Tayle. The twingling and twangling tale of the theatre in Nigeria is after all a journey of choices. One only hopes we will make choices that will lead us to a desired end.