Rising from a two day conference which held at the Conference Centre of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, from March 8 to 10, Nigerian playwrights have called on practitioners in the country to make their plays relevant to the needs of the society, in the same way as move for the establishment of cottage theatres in all local government areas of the country.
The confab organized by the Institute of Cultural Studies in conjunction with the Department of Dramatic Arts of the University attracted over one hundred playwrights across generational and geographical divides.
The conference, an initiative of renowned playwright Femi Osofisan, had several themes necessary for an appraisal of the playwriting enterprise.
These themes included but was not limited to the state of playwriting in the post-military era; the playwright’s experience in contemporary society; philosophy, ideology and culture in Nigerian and African playwriting; the quality of plays in our dramatic literature over the decades; the problems of having plays staged and published typically encountered by playwrights especially of the younger generation; inter-generational and intra-generational relations between Nigerian playwrights with special reference to the complexities of the influence of the “Masters”; and relations between playwriting for the stage, for films, for television and for publication as literature.
Part of the resolutions of the just-concluded playwrights’ conference also included calls by the practitioners for a national community or organization of playwrights to be inaugurated, retreats or centres to be created where tools for play writing and play production are readily available.
According to the playwrights, there is a need for writers to break away from the Greco-Roman models and create authentic African paradigms, just as they advocated that drama and theatre should become a staple in school curriculum throughout the country, a need for a vibrant reading culture to be inculcated as an important feature of Nigerian society.
Concluding the list of resolutions, Nigerian playwrights called for the reintroduction reading clubs and debating societies in schools in Nigeria, while recommending that the conference be made a biennial event as a way of consolidating the tremendous achievements of the confab, with special regard to sustaining vital activities and contacts in the periods between confabs.
The confab identified the crises and challenges confronting playwriting and playwrights such as crisis of relevance, crisis of visibility, crisis of fragmentation of community, and crisis of exhaustion; funding; language; censorship and tyranny in both the military and post-military eras; and the survival strategies of writers; the mass illiteracy and the absence of a vibrant reading culture in the Nigerian nation; and the problem of alienation of the masses due to their marginalization by the elites. The confab also discussed the question of who the playwright is writing for, the dearth of theatres in which to stage plays and the challenges posed to live theatre by various social media such as film, television and more importantly the viewing centres dedicated mostly foreign soccer leagues.
The confab also identified the problems of distraction occasioned by survival needs that lead to acceptance of appointments that reduce commitment to the creative enterprise; the phenomenon of too many self-published plays that are of low quality by younger playwrights in terms of both form and content as a result of lack of good editorial input.
Another major problem identified at the playwrights’ conference was the decline in reading culture which, among other factors, can be traced to the removal of Literature in English as a compulsory requirement for Ordinary Level education.
A major point of contention at the confab was the imitation of masters by younger playwrights who borrow creative idioms without understanding their true essence thereby producing works that do not adequately or authentically reflect their contemporary realities.
The conference which therefore observed a minute’s silence in honour of playwrights and theatre practitioners such as Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, Ken Saro-Wiwa ,Ola Rotimi, Zulu Sofola, Duro Ladipo, Bode Osanyin, Esiaba Irobi, Ossy Enekwe, Laide Adewale, and Wale Ogunyemi and others, fixed 2015 as date for the next meeting at the same venue of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, with Professor Femi Osofisan given the mandate to organise it.