March 27 is globally observed as World Theatre Day and thrill seekers in Nigeria are all for it. This year, the repertory theatre company, Thespian Family Theatre (TFT) performed the play, “Beyond the Garb” at the National Theatre, Iganmu in commemoration of the special day.
Prior to this memorable day, the CEO, TFT, Ayodele Jaiyesinmi has rolled up her sleeves, neck-deep in work for the production of the play she wrote. Being a Change Management Expert, the production seemed like a project into which she devoted time and energy. Working with a professional like Abel Otuedor, the masterly choreography intertwined with the storyline which was punctuated with dance, drums and music.
At a preview of the play, this reporter took the pleasure of savouring the stage design which has become a relic of the old theatre tradition. With technology overtaking traditional stage designs, most flats have been abandoned by many technical directors. Thankfully, the set relives the near-truth portrayal of the play’s locale, while the wooden stairway details, placed along wild grasses on stage created a vision of a village setting.
Satisfied by the details in the set design, this reporter settled into a chair, watching the strokes of the brush against the flats as the cast and crew of “Beyond The Garb” got set for their first dress and tech rehearsal. During this kind of rehearsals, mistakes are pardonable. This is because the actors are placed in their element for the very first time. For some, it would be the first time of working with lighting cues, costumes and props. But for some directors, some of these theatrical elements are introduced early in the rehearsals.
The 70-minute play is a total theatre piece, although the economy of the storyline was threatened with later characters whose roles pointed out the propaganda nature of the play. Essentially, the subject matter of the drama rests on the need for Nigerians to do self-examination while clamouring for change in public service.
The plot tells of a village Orurimeto, a fictitious village in Nigeria where the villagers are preparing for the coronation ceremony. Unfortunately, the heir apparent is from the city and by the villagers’ judgement, he is clearly unfit to govern the villagers. Ayan, a very vocal and polygamous man, said people from the city have not laid good examples in governance and must be rejected by the locals. That was the ground for the conflict of the drama which was expressed in bitter dialogue, battle of wits and finally, a sovereign village meeting.
The playwright, Jaiyesinmi, explained the meaning for the title of the play and why it is important for the audience.
“It means what lies under the garment. Our plays usually key into a theme and it is about change initiative. The play is our way of looking at the situation that we have right now in Nigeria. We’re talking about corruption and change. Everybody is blaming the other person for how our country is. We don’t look at ourselves and our role in the change.
“We have a storyteller in the lawyer who points out other corrupt practices. For instance, the garri tin is bashed in at the local market. The fabric for sewing is short by three if not six inches. The policeman is seen as very corrupt. It is not about the profession. It is what affects all of us,’’ she explained.
In the character of the policeman, the playwright establishes the truth about how many professionals have engaged in corrupt practices for the sake of survival. Deprived of salaries for several months and in some cases years, some have sought quick measures of making money to meet daily basic needs.
While igniting the theme of survival and societal change, Jaiyesinmi thought it would be too grim to stage the play without attempting to entertain the audience with other theatrical spectacle. The only challenge in this is that members of the audience typically expect to hear songs that are original soundtracks to the play; that underscore the subject matters just as the narrator does. This is one art that has been perfected in many works of Femi Osofisan.
TFT had the opportunity of staging the production in collaboration with the National Theatre to reawaken the consciousness in theatre artists of the need to use the theatre as a tool for social change and national reorientation.