By Yinka Olatunbosun
When Williams Shakespeare wrote the famous monologue “All the world is a stage”, it was meant as a symbolic statement on life. It is spoken by Jacques in Act II Scene VII who compares the world to a stage and life to a play. The renowned Elizabethan writer’s famous lines have been borrowed over the years by screenwriters and speechwriters. The words may have found its relevance yet again in the ousting of the resident artistes of the National Theatre in Lagos who got an eviction notice to vacate the facility to facilitate its reconstruction into a five-star hotel.
Growing up in the early 80s, it was every child’s dream to be taken to the National Theatre for sightseeing and to watch live performances. The environment defined serenity and the trees were famous for its cool breeze that came at no cost. The eye-catching masterpiece grabbed any child’s attention and many innocent cheeks stayed plastered to the door glasses as the edifice fades out of sight in a fast moving car.
The mention of National Theatre began to echo as ‘National Museum’ in the mind around the 90s as many people sought other forms of entertainment. The live performances died slowly and the movie industry rose to the occasion. It became economical to be entertained at home and many families embraced the indoor entertainment as an alternative.
Security became an issue around the facility. Pickpockets and robbers began to terrorize some die-hard theatre goers. The theatre suffered maintenance and later became the topic of weekly commentaries on art in almost every national newspaper in Nigeria. Change was expected but not the shift of this wonderful legacy into the hands of capitalists.
National Theatre has remained as the only cultural centre owned by the federal government. It is the biggest and has the most intimidating architectural statement. While the clamour for renovation continued, the flood around the building began to take its toll. Still, many theatre practitioners used the theatre space for rehearsals and performances. In fact, the stage was never empty. From time to time, performances were staged and sometimes without a fee to draw people back to the culture of theatre-going.
That effort did not last as many cinemas began to spring up in Lagos and the few outdoor fun lovers switched to the screen at the expense of the stage. The theatre was left for the professionals who performed and watched while the audience was often populated by the children from motherless homes who were brought on occasions to watch performances that would earn box office turn over anywhere in the world. The quality of the performances improved but the need for funding was still evident. Regular members of the audience at the National Theatre are the ones who never forget to bring their torch to the theatre to illuminate in case there is power outage.
Now that the artistes have been thrown to the ‘streets’, the task for practitioners is to go back to the blueprint for theatre performances. Before there were theatre buildings, pocket performances were held in various parts of cities and towns across the world. Theatre flourished so much in the Greek civilization because of the state funding. Drama was not just for entertainment, it served for religious purpose. But in other jurisdictions where theatre was not recognized as important to human survival, artistes became creative and took to the streets. That was the origin of Guerilla Theatre. These kinds of performances were aimed at exposing societal ills and were tools for propaganda.
The closure of the National Theatre for the theatre practitioners should not be the end of ‘play’. Shakespeare had said that “All’s the World’s a stage”. So, artists may have to grab any space they can find to rehearse and perform. But how do they get their funding? Voluntary donations or support from international organizations? Maybe.
For some artistes, the Freedom Park is the new national theatre and performances have begun. But if indeed all the world’s a stage, then there are ample performance spaces such as under bridges and parks around Lagos metropolis. Theatre practitioners have called on government over the years to make available theatre performance spaces for use but the call had not earned any response other than a further depletion in the number of performance spaces.
The growth of the music industry has signaled the need for more art schools and performance spaces to sustain the art. Most talents in the industry are poorly groomed and do not last in the business because it will soon become obvious to their fans that their skills are indeed superficial. These aspiring artistes need performance place to train in order to polish their skills.
Imagine that it is the National Stadium that is to be sold to accommodate a five-star hotel. How would sport fans react? Well, there are other stadia of the same standard. The National theatre is the only ‘national stadium’ of the theatre family in Nigeria, the melting pot of artistic creations and the refinery of raw theatre potentials. For them, all the world may be a stage but all the world is not a performance space. If all the world were to be a performance space, then the artistes should be relocated to any place with raked seats, good lights and inner chamber as green room like the National Assembly.