Revival of live theatre performance remains a front-burner issue. This explains the recent effort by the University of Abuja’s Department of Theatre Arts to adapt the 1965 American musical drama Sound of Music to the Nigerian context.
The director Nigerianised version of the play, Dr Olympus Ejue, says the intent is to draw moral lessons from the musical even as it is domesticated for the Nigerian audience. “The Sound of Music is very popular and we are now trying to adapt it on stage, we are trying to graphically represent it on stage,” he explains. “It is a classic and putting it in stage might not be as easy as we see in the movie because of the limitations we have on stage and that is what is intriguing in the whole process of trying to dramatise the Sound of Music.”
Of course, in the attempt to stage and direct the play, significant changes would have been brought to bear on the whole production. “We have decided to change some of the names although we still left some English names because we did want to go into our ethnic names…We also tried to customise the costumes to ensure that some are dressed in the Nigerian way, and then we tried as much as possible to talk as Nigerians.”
The changes also affected the songs, most of which have been Nigerianised. In addition, there is an orchestra stand for the performance. “We have changed the lyrics to suit us as a people so that we can project some cultural nuances of the Nigerian race,” Dr Ejue continues.
Debunking the assertion that live theatre is dying, he argues: “It is a complete fallacy because from the things we have experienced within the last couple of years, within the last three years the theatre particularly in this part of the country is awakening because we have been doing a lot of productions, we have taken production out of the university environment even to the city centre.”
On the impact and imperative of theatre arts studies in the university, the lecturer pointed at the existence of private theatres by ex-students as evidence.
Also the Head of Theatre Arts at the University of Abuja, Professor Barth Oshionebo commended Dr Ejue’s version of the account of the Von Trapp family’s escape from Austria in 1935 to the US for bringing screen to stage in a transcultural representation. “He brought the entire setting of the play to Abuja-Nigeria.”
Professor Oshionebo also called it “a stylised display of theatrical merits and conventions to suit the Nigerian audience.” He also commended “the straight take method, which sees the actors replacing sets on stage themselves before the full glare of the audience. The play director did not only transplant the social and cultural heritage of the Austrian to Nigerian lifestyles, but twisted the political history, the history of moral and religious beliefs to fit into the Nigerian world view.”
In a mix of socio-economic and security challenges, the Department of Theatre Arts is resolved to spice up live theatre in Abuja and its environs. Through adaptations and stage aesthetics, it intends to increase the drive and desire of the public to once again embrace the beauty of live theatre.
The answer to that according to Ejue lies in the fact that “live theatre is beginning to metamorphose into something else. We are beginning to use the multimedia approach which you can easily find in the movies and you cannot compare the two. The live theatre has its own strong affinity with its audience that you don’t find in the cinemas and so when you come to the live theatre you get it raw the way it ought to be. We are trying to do that and then bring in those media elements into our stage production in order to keep our audience glued to their seats even though some persons have actually said live theatre in Nigeria.”