Lagos Theatre Festival hosts international theatre critics conference

National Arts Theatre, Lagos
National Arts Theatre, Lagos

A two-day special International Theatre Critics Conference will begin Thursday at the National Theatre, Iganmu, as part of this year’s edition of the Lagos Theatre Festival which began on Tuesday.

Foremost dramatist and the 2016 Thaila laureate, Femi Osofisan, has been selected to keynote the event at which theatre critics from across the world will deliberate on “Theatre, Criticism and Politics – Where Are the Limits?”

According to Emmanuel Dandaura, the President of the Nigerian chapter of the International Association of Theatre Critics, IATC, which is organising the event, the theme of the conference was necessitated by some of the biggest crises in the world today.

These include the ascendancy of right-wing movements in Europe, Brexit, the EU crisis, neoliberal slavery, the migration crisis, an upshot of the “Arab spring,” political instability in Africa and global terrorism.

Justifying the theme during a call for papers, Mr. Dandaura, a professor and Africa’s sole representative in the IATC International Executive Committee, argued that the world is now witnessing a volatile global political regime.

”Politics, theatre, and theatre criticism have long been interwoven and interdependent. In the highest peaks of its history, theatre and other performing arts have been a collective self-representation of society, its basic values, and beliefs, including mainstream political narratives.

“When contesting these narratives, theatre has been more ironic, subversive and blasphemous than openly confrontational — although direct theatrical conflicts with society are also well known”, he stated.

“When theatre criticism appeared as a genre in Western media in the 18th century, it fought the same battle as the (bourgeois) theatre itself. Theatre and criticism were important social platforms in the battle against conservative, aristocratic, and clerical states – even as they advocated a new and progressive bourgeois society.”

Recalling the rich history of theatre and theatre criticism as they relate with politics, Mr. Dandaura said further: “In the last two and a half centuries, the relationship between these three ‘players’—politics, theatre, and theatre criticism—has been fluid. There were periods in which all were going in the same direction – for good or ill.

“In some historical periods, (dissident) theatre was courageous, provocative, and challenging. Criticism, however, strongly controlled by mainstream political power (as with much of the media), could not support it. In some constructs, media demanded that theatre be more politically daring.

“The international Theatre Critics Conference, therefore, will interrogate how global theatre and theatre criticism respond to current political events.

“Does theatre, internationally, address these challenging topics? Is there a new political theatre? Is there a growing trend toward the political or do individual cases arise on their own? How do critics react? Are we free (enough) to openly support theatre that dissents from accepted political and cultural norms? Is the social impact of this type of work more relevant than its artistry? How do we recognize a politically brave theatre in societies different from our own? If we recognize it, how do we communicate it to our readers?”

The President of the National Academy of Letters, Olu Obafemi, a professor, is one of the notable delegates to the conference at which 76 national and international theatre critics are expected.

These include Margareta Sorenson, the global President of IATC and Swedish renowned Journalist and Critic; Ivan Medenica, the Artistic Director of Belgrade International Theatre Festival; Jeffery Erik Jenkins, Editor Best Plays Theater Yearbook, USA; Maria Shevtsova, Co-editor of New Theatre Quarterly Cambridge University; Halima Tahan, Journalist and Director Artes De Sul, Argentina; and Deepa Punjani, Editor, Mumbai Theatre Guide, India.

The special conference is the first ever official event being organized by the IATC, the UNESCO Statute B global partner in Theatre Criticism in Africa.

Mr. Dandaura said IATC-Nigeria is also partnering the British Council Nigeria to deepen international participation in the Lagos Theatre Festival.

In order to reinvigorate interest in theatre criticism in the younger ones and particularly for those who wish to take to journalism as a career, the IATC and British Council have agreed to mount a young critics seminar, in line with the IATC global format where 20 Nigerian young critics and a few of their foreign counterparts will be mentored through workshop sessions.

He said the objectives of the strategic partnership between IATC and British Council include: opening avenues for more international tours for the average Nigerian Theatre makers; 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.
The event will also create a meeting point for sharing of experiences between theatre critics in the media and those in the academia.

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