Since coming into the theatre scene several years ago, acting and producing plays that have received wide acclaim and defined her vision for the theatre, Bikiya Graham-Douglas, founder of Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF) has left no one in doubt about her passion for live theatre. She spoke with Mary Ekah
What is your view about live theatre in Nigeria?
There is a gradual growth for live theatre, but the slight growth can be sustained and taken further if the enabling environment is provided by government and both private and corporate sectors play their part by supporting live theatre production through funding. There is therefore urgent need to professionalise the industry. This is why apart from its programme to stimulate interest as well as raising standard in live theatre, BUAF is set to hold series of training programmes aimed at empowering theatre practitioners in Nigerian, which also include live theatre productions. Part of what we are going to be doing some capacity building workshop for the practitioners of the industry early next year.
Are you saying that is the only way the industry could be grown?
Another thing that needs to be done for theatre to grow is a constant promotion of the industry. It is not just about putting a production. How many young people are in the theatre today? Not a lot of people because it is not being promoted the same way banking and other professions are being promoted. I look at theatre at par with every single one of these other professions. And I believe that if we do get these children from the incubation stage, from the primary school, from the secondary school stage, create the avenue for them to access theatre, for them to be part of theatre; for them to perform, by the time they are adults, you don’t have to teach them any more; and we would not be having this problem of mediocrity if we get it right from the incubation stage. I remember when I was in secondary school, we used to have competitions among secondary schools; we used to have drama clubs, and that really helped me as a person.
It really helped my public speaking ability; it helped my confidence, my reading ability, because I had to read to understand, and then to rehearse and perform in front of a crowd. All those things helped shaped who I am today. We have to take theatre back to school. So we are looking at collaborating with some other organisations to take theatre back to the primary and secondary school levels. The National Troupe of Nigeria is already doing that, and they will possibly be one of the organisations that we will be partnering with for that.
At the moment do think Nigeria has the capacity to grow the industry?
For the live theatre industry to grow and development, you have to have professionals. If we have the professionals, then we do not have to really worry about content anymore for sustainability because once you have professionals in an industry that is what you need for its growth and for its sustainability. This is an area people are not really addressing; we are addressing that and we want to make a lot of money. But how can you make a lot of money when people are not professionals. How can you make clear mindset and focus on their technique and their improvement. You must constantly improve yourself; you must constantly learn for you to grow; and that cuts across every section and it is not different in theatre industry or in the entertainment industry generally. So we must continue to equip ourselves with the right techniques, articulate our skills constantly and that is why we are really focusing on building people’s capacities in the theatre industry in Nigeria. We are at the final stage of our preparation for the capacity building workshop which will hold from March 11 to 22, 2013.
Is the workshop free of charge?
No it is not but we want to make it possible for many people to take advantage of it by subsidizing the fee. But it is not just about paying fee, we have criteria for participants, we have a selecting process. We want serious minded who would use what they have gained from the training to better the life of theatre. The course is not aimed at beginners, it is aimed at people that have experience but may not have the platform for such training.
What do you think should be done to bring back dramatic societies and clubs to schools?
That would only be possible through the revival of interest in children for live theatre. I can assure you that it is not very hard to do that. When children have access to theatre they become excited and they want to be part of it. That is one thing we are doing; that is why I said we are going to be collaborating with other organisations to take theatre back to schools. We have to organise competitions among school children, let them decide; give them guidelines as to what you expect from the performance; supervise them, and you will see that in time, may be you have about five or ten schools participating in the beginning by the time you keep doing that you will see that a 100 schools would want to participate; you will see that children will take it very seriously, they would study hard and rehearse.
The National Troupe is already doing that. They are really taking theater back to the incubation stage. Parents and the government’s support for the initiative will really help because the children themselves cannot decide for themselves. But if they have parents and government supporting this move to get theatre back to that stage, I think it will really help us in strengthening theater culture in Nigeria today. Another issue is funding. We are very happy about the money President Goodluck Jonathan set out for the entertainment fund. This is the first time any administration has remembered the art; nobody remembered us in the past; so it is a good thing for us. But it will be very nice to see that more funds are given to the theater.
Tell us about your professional qualification as a theatre practitioner?
I gained my performing arts certificate in the United Kingdom and I have starred in various productions on the London theatre scene including the Criterion and the Arcola Theatres. As an event planner, I worked with Zons PR and Africa Unite Music group, which sponsored the first ever, Best African Act Category at the MOBO Awards and organised performances for Tuface Idibia, Ruggedman, Lebo Mathosa, P Square, and Daddy Showkey (among others) in London. On returning to Nigeria, I worked with the National Theatre, MTV Base Africa, Ministry of Tourism and FCT Administration, and starred in The Vagina Monologues at the Muson Centre Lagos and Iya-Ile at the Cultural Centre Calabar. I also have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Economics with Business Law from the University of Portsmouth England.