Festival of Plays At Ekiti State University

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A four-day festival of plays, performed in high spirit by students of the Department of Theatre and Media Arts (TMA), at the new ultra modern theatre complex of the institution brought live recently, to the serene campus of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, (FUOYE), in Ekiti State.

The festival of plays, so christened in the Thespian tradition, was a consecutive four day presentation of four dramatic texts written by some lecturers of the department and directed by them for the delight of the university community who came as audience to watch the shows.

It was a four day of fun, entertainment, refreshment, enlightenment and education for the keen and enthusiastic audience, many of whom were students of FUOYE, who saw the performances.

 

The remarkable event took off with an induction ceremony which was the seventh edition for fresh students of the 100 level. It was tagged: ‘Initiation 2018’ in the Thespian terminology, and had the theme; ‘ Unleashing the dragon’ which metaphorically translates to showcasing the best of the fresh Thespians’ talents.

 

As usual, the audience were held spell bound when a procession of young men and women, chalked to look like initiatees of a traditional cult, danced gracefully into the proscenium stage amid native African songs that express some kind of rituals of a rite of passage.

Their white wrappers and bare feet further convinced an outsider that the youths could simply pass for some members of the dreaded Ogboni cult fraternity, but alas! They are definitely not.

The young men and women are simply in a temporary world of make-believe representing an aspect of the African culture that assigns such custumes and make up for inductees in either a rite of passage or induction into a traditional age group cult; They are simply being welcomed into the performing world of a theatre artiste!

The ensuing performance after the procession onto the stage confirmed the aforementioned as the fresh Thespians dished out scintillating dance steps, melodious songs and beautiful gesticulations to thrill and titillate the audience.

The songs indeed projected their induction into the performing world. Worthy of note in the course of the performance was a procession of the new parents of the fresh students, led by the Acting Head of Department (HOD), Dr. Bifatife Olufemi Adeseye,  who was followed by the Acting Dean, Faculty of Arts, Dr. Niyi Akingbe, lecturers of the department and the Chief priest and priestess to welcome the inductees. The Chief priest and priestess who gave elderly blessings to the young Thespians are well known Hafiz Oyetoro, aka Saka, and younger, upwardly mobile Theatre entrepreneur and designer, Dr. Enakeno Oju, and both gave blessings to the fresh students and advised them to pursue values of humility, hard work, perseverance, justice and fairness among others and shun materialism, corruption and laziness.

Dr. Oju also gave a lecture titled : ” Be an employer and not an employee’ which opened the eyes of the students into how they could become entrepreneurs rather than searching for non existing jobs.

Counseling the fresh students, Oyetoro said: “Those values of hard work, honesty and perseverance would guarantee you lasting success in life, instead of those of violence, restiveness, materialism and arrogance among others, that lead to destruction, ” .

According to the HOD, Dr. Adeseye,  his desire to develop and sharpen the creative and acting skills of the students and promote some works of budding playwrights who are already lecturers in the department had informed the festival of plays that followed the induction ceremony.

First performed by the 100 level students was ‘The Family’ written by Comish Ekiye and directed by Tayo Isijola of the department.

On the second day, ‘The Pact’ by Tosin Jobi-Tume, was performed by the final year students of the department and it received very warm appraisal and constructive critique from the audience.

The play tells the story of two imperfect monarchs, Angbashimu of Emi village and Adole of Kana, whose hubris was the soil on which seeds of discord sown by a third party, Kugbo of Ikuji village, grows to effect an unnecessary war between the two villages.

Angbashimu ‘s weakness as a braggart and Adole’s as a hot tempered fellow make them fall for lies by Kugbo.

Kugbo’s lies to  Angbashimu are that Adole’s ancestors were slaves to his forbears and also that the Emi river from which the  Kana people get their water, actually belongs to Angbashimu’s ancestors. He also told the same lies to Adole, twisting it the other way round.

At the festival of Ogalagon, and before the deity that binds their forbears and the two communities together, Angbasimu ‘s bragging about the lies told him angered Adole and they both drew the battle line.

The war that ensures costs both communities many lives including that of mother of Angbashimu and sister of Adole, and brings untold suffering on their people as Kana people couldn’t assess water from Emi river and Emi people couldn’t get salt from Kana’s soil.

The women eventually deployed their natural and cultural powers to force the men to end the war when they threaten to go naked in front of the gods at the shrine of Ogalagon. It was at the same shrine the priest revealed an age long secret ‘pact’, reached between ancestors of the two monarchs and which eternally binds the two communities together: the fact that their forbears had swapped their two sons, Angbashimu and Adole, before the deity as a show of deep love and commitment to remain one forever. The realisation that they indeed belong to each other dawns on the two monarchs and they embrace to live forever.

Speaking about her play, Mrs. Tume said: “The Pact’ is my first published play in 2013 and most produced. I have written several others such as ‘Sweet Poison’, ‘Not That Woman’.

“The play,’ The Pact’ is set in north central area of Nigeria, the middle belt. Nassarawa in particular and that state is unique and fondly called a mini Nigeria as you have many tribes in the country concentrated there, about 32 ethnic groups are there. The people are unique in their own way in terms of culture and languages. I lived there for six years and found out that though there are many religious and ethnic clashes happening there but they still have a way they manage these in a round table so with this play I present that community to tell the nation that we can actually live together in spite of our cultural diversity.

” All our ethnic clashes are not needed, our differences in ethnic formations should be a strength not weakness. If  we could leverage on the strength of our cultural  diversity and foster inclusiveness,  we would be the better for it.

” In my mind of minds, Kugbo is an outsider, in life, we have both good and evil forces which play on our weaknesses to make us misbehave. Kugbo as that force of evil in the play already knows the weaknesses of Angbasimu and Adole. The former is a braggart while the latter is hot tempered. It was these weaknesses that made them fall for Kugbo’s antics and leads to the war. If they had been patient enough, the war would have been prevented. This is why I didn’t punish Kugbo. The message I am trying to pass across is that dialogue should be the better choice during any disagreement.

” I feel that women actually suffer most when there are wars. They lose husband’s and children. They seemingly have no power to start or end the war. I also believe that women are smarter than men. We are more emotional and internalise issues more. I also didn’t want the women to choose violence like the men chose in the play. That is why I made them use a cultural taboo or natural way to force the men to end the war,” she said.

The third day was the performance of  Dr. Jonathan Desen Mbachaga’s “Security Risk” a political satire that explores themes of oppression, intimidation and torture among others in a prison encounter by an activist Professor,

‘Security Risk’ turned out very moving and successful. It was performed by the 300L students of the department, and narrates the ordeal of prisoners in a typical Nigeria prison yard. It spotlights one among them, who is an activist academic,  Kwaghfan. He is detained on the orders of the higher political powers whose ego was injured by the Professor’s activism as depicted in the superintendent’s lines: “When you were inciting the university students to riot against Government, you did not think about the consequence. When you taught them to write political  jargon in newspapers and to lock ministers inside toilets and to burn commissioner’s car, you did not think about the end result?” (Scene A, page 11).

The Professor engages the  Superintendent in some intellectual discussion which further exposes the rot in the system, the fact that the high political office holders use the instrument of the state, such as the police, to intimidate and oppress the masses and enlightened members of the public who challenge and condemn their corrupt practices.

Speaking about his play, Dr. Mbachaga said: “The political situation in Nigeria has been one that is oppressive and exploitative and favours the political class to the detriment of the masses. My inspiration stems from a marxist position that questions the oppressive proclivities of the political class that oppress the masses even though the mandate they get is from the masses.

“The Professor represents the class of enlightened people in our society who speaks back to the system, and questions their corrupt practices. A reading of prison notes by renowned Professor Wole Soyinka inspired the deployment of that professorial character who speaks back to the system. He has the enlightenment , education and exposure to do so. My approach is Brechtian. I use the dream narrative style to provoke critical thought from the audience. It isn’t meant for aesthetic value, ” he said.

Last in the the festival of plays was Bassey Nsikan Asuquo’s  ‘The Chosen one’, which was performed in high spirit and great energy by the 200 level students of the department.

It explores themes of greed, oppression, anger, love and law of Kamar among others.

Power drunk Oba Akinolu kills his brother to pave way for his enthronement as monarch, but his evils kept hunting him.

His greed with women pitches him against the head warrior of the town, Balogun Akanji, from whom he snatches Kikelomo,  a damsel.

Series of intriguing incidents that follow expose Oba Akinolu ‘s greed for power, wickedness and other unwholesome deeds he perpetrates in connivance with Chief Osi, his favourite palace chief, until he is replaced by the son of his late brother, Prince Olamilere, whose hitherto hidden identity as a twin is revealed by dwarfish character Iya Agbebi at the climax of the play.

Revealing the inspiration for the festival of four plays, a novel development in the department, Dr. Adeseye, said: “When you have a predecessor that is the forerunner and founder of the department who is still with us as the Dean of the university’s Post Graduate school now, That is Professor Rasaki Ojo Bakare, you must create something that is strong, unique and different. I desire to leave my footprints by building on what he has done.

 

“Our life in the theatre is full of experiments and that is what creativity is all about. For the past six years we have been doing only one performance in every first semester.

Now in an expansionist efforts, four plays were done this semester.

So, I wanted to build on that but in a more ambitious way. Some thought it was too ambitious but I didn’t see it from that perspective. We have many students in each of the classes such that each class can form the cast and crew of a play.

What used to be one production for the participation of  four classes was reassigned to four productions; one per class.  I also chose to encourage the lecturers who have written plays and we chose some of their new plays for the experiment. Three of the four plays staged for the festival were fresh on stage.

 

” Initially, I was afraid that the project may flop because the criticism from home was that the plays may be too much to handle, but I was later impressed with the huge turn out of the audience and the success that attended the performances on each night.

It was so successful that even if we have had two shows on each day, the theatre would still be full. So, I am fulfilled with that development.

” What we run here is though educational theatre, but we are also encouraging students to diversify. Like you, Wole Balogun,  was also trained in the theatre but you are a journalist now.  We will encourage students productions. I had that experience when I was an undergraduate and a number of us also had it. So, we will encourage our students to run shows so they could have that experience too because it will develop and empower them.

It is my passion that this festival of plays in each semester should continue and even become more elaborate and successful than this, ” he said.

-Kenny Adewole, Ado-Ekiti