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IDEBE, Abel: Synergizing Nollywood and TfD Praxis in Actualizing Rural Community Development: Prospects and Challenges

Synergizing Nollywood and TfD Praxis in Actualizing Rural Community Development: Prospects and Challenges

Abel IDEBE

Doctoral Student

Department of Theatre and Performing Arts

Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria

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GSM: +234-806-586-3960

Abstract

The efficiency of the theatre as a tool for communication creates a veritable platform through which issues of social agenda and needs could be addressed. Theatre, using different mediums, has been explored to foster developments across the globe. In Nigeria, the development of the home video industry (Nollywood) has been well recognized for its strategic role in contributing to the development of the nation’s economy. The experiences of the Nollywood industry in spite of its national and global acclaims still seems to be far off when it comes to it being employed to concretely address the socio-economic realities of rural life. The need to bring Nollywood closer to the social needs and progress of rural masses will be the thrust of this paper. It seeks to examine and explore the possibilities which can be attained in synthesizing the praxis of Nollywood and Theatre for Development (TFD). It is however important to state that the synergizing of these two seemingly contrast mediums presents some challenges which will be highlighted. The fusion also offers some prospects and new ideas that could be explored to actualize an improved social life for rural communities, that is capable of translating into peace, harmony and social security for local communities and consequently, for the nation as a whole.

Introduction

Theatre, as experience has shown in various countries, can be an effective medium for raising the aspirations of a people and for welding them together in order to ameliorate their lives individually and collectively (Adelugba 45). The functionality of the theatre practice in Nigeria has in no small measure imparted on advancing and promoting virtually all facet of our social existence. This is rightly so because of the idea of the theatre practice which by its very nature is expected to examine and mirror the experiences of human life.

Theatre as an art exists in different forms. These include, Festival drama, Children’s Theatre, Opera, Dance Drama, Stage Plays, Community Theatre, otherwise called, Theatre for Development (TFD), Films and other creative and media arts. Through these various forms the theatre is put at the service of entertaining, educating and informing people, as well as contributing to the development of the social, economic, political and cultural spheres of the society. Despite the gains which the society can derive from the theatre experience there are however apparently some challenges which affects the theatre practice. These challenges present itself from one form to another.

This paper intends to look at the role of the theatre practice as it relates to community development in Nigeria. This is carried out with the intention of studying two forms of theatre practice, as experienced in our social environment and to see how the combination of both practices can be used to address the needs of local communities. The forms to be studied include; Theatre for Development (TFD) and Nigerian home video (Nollywood). Although it is important to state that as a practice, Theatre for Development is primarily aimed at engaging local communities with the aim of bringing about development. However, the idea of interfacing it with the Nollywood practice is done with the intention of revealing and producing bridges of interaction which can further aid greater and more effective approach to addressing community challenges through the theatre experience. The prospects and challenges as may be derived from this synthesization will be further analyzed.

The Theatre for Development (TFD) Practice

Theatre for Development as a practice involves a process whereby the members of a given community are provided with the opportunity of addressing social challenges within their terrain through their active participation in the process. Community members are engaged in order to get them conscientized and raise their level of awareness and commitment on the role which they play in the sustainable growth and development of their society. This form of theatre practice is also identified by different nomenclatures some of which include People’s Theatre, Community Theatre, Participatory Theatre, Applied Theatre and Popular Theatre (Nwamuo17; Abah 98-99; Etherton 27).

Unlike the conventional forms of theatre practice which involves a creative story performed by actors for audiences’ appeal and entertainment, this form of theatre practice goes beyond entertainment. Jenkeri Okwori explains further that TFD practice:

… can do more than Entertainment. It can go beyond fiction to intervene in reality because it is based on it. Theatre can do this when it becomes authentically “popular.” This popularity is not predicated upon wide appeal. It is founded on its negation of conventional theatre, adopting instead alternative dimensions; destroying the gulf between the Spectators and the stage, actively involving the rhythm of the People’s daily lives(Okwori 119).

The above remark underscores the ideology behind the praxis of Theatre for Development. TFD deals with issues in such a manner that the community members’ involvement in the different stages of the process becomes very conspicuous, crucial and instrumental. The praxis of TFD follows a methodology in the attainment of its objectives. This is done with the aim of effectively identifying and addressing the issues that prevails in the community which the community members themselves have so acknowledged. Basically, the methodology will involve the following stages:

  1. Preliminaries: This is basically the stage where necessary preparations for the successful execution of the project are made. The idea, modalities and logistics are been discussed and worked out with the community leaders and relevant authorities. It is after this stage that the project to be undertaken can then commence.
  1. Community Research: This is the stage of fact finding about the community. It usually begins after entrance and reception into the community is done. At this stage it is expected that you gather information about the community. This is achieved through discussions and sharing experiences, observations from walking around and taking part in their daily activities. It is important to state that this process is usually done together with the community members.
  1. Data Analysis and Scenario Building: Having obtained necessary information from around the community. These facts will then be examined and a story for performance is then developed out of it. The plot may not be as structured and well designed as you will have it in the conventional theatre. This is because the inputs of community members who are not professionals are usually taken into serious consideration during scenario building.
  1. Performance and Post Performance Discussion: The performance stage is usually carried out by the community members in a public space. The story been acted usually reveals the issues as developed from the community research which has been undertaken. After performance there is post-performance discussion with the gathering of all members of the community to further discuss on the issues as emerging from the drama and to then proffer some solutions on the way forward.
  1. The Follow Through: The performance and post-performance discussion usually develop a lot of issues that needs further examination and response which may not be addressed during the short experience in the community. It is at the follow-through stage that these issues are attended to. The follow-through offers the opportunity for re-visitation so as to ascertain and evaluate the state of development of the agenda as examined through the TFD methodology. It also gives opportunity to connect relevant authorities and organizations that can be of help in some of the issues that have been highlighted and examined.

Despite the above stated, it is important to note that the processes as explained above is usually not be taken too formally and rigidly; rather, each TFD project should be approached as a unique experience of its own that have their accompanied dynamics, challenges as well as their defined focus. Some Nigerian theatre practitioners who have made great use of this process to reach communities over the years include: Steve Abah, Salihu Bappa, Steve Daniel, Egwugwu Illah, Tor Iorapuu, Ruth Sankey, Elizabeth Nyager, Jenkeri Okwori, Desen Mbachaga, Matt Dadzie, among others.

         

The Nollywood Practice

As an emerging concept in the development of Nigerian motion pictures, Nollywood is a term that has been used to refer to the engagements and practices that are connected with the production and distribution of movies and films, which is unique of the Nigerian socio-cultural terrain. Olushola Adenugba further states that: “Nollywood is the term that is used by critics, audience, reporters and some practitioners in the industry to refer to the totality of the Nigerian Film/Motion Picture Industry”(para.13).The name Nollywood was coined to resemble similar names of other film Industry such as Hollywood in America and Bollywood in India.Adegboyega Arulogun recounts that the emergence of Nollywood can be well traced to: “The pioneers of Nigerian popular theatre, particularly the practitioners of the Yoruba Travelling Theatre (Hubert Ogunde, Moses Adejumo, Duro Ladipo) who branched off from mainstream theatre to experiment with celluloid” (30). Giving further insight, Opubor et al explain that: …with the introduction of the first Film production in Nigeria (Calpenny Nigeria Ltd. founded in 1960 and Latola Film founded in 1962) who experimented with “Kongi Harvest,” a film version of a play written by the World famous Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka which was produced by Francis Oladele and directed by a Black American Ossie Davis as released by the Calpenny Films of Nigeria, Nigeria experienced the entrance of a phenomenal spectacle in the country (1).

The 1970’s and 80’s saw the likes of Ola Balogun, Hubert Ogunde, Adeyemi Afolayan (aka Ade Love), Eddie Ugbomah, Adebayo Salami and Ladi Ladebo made movies that were mostly situated and obtained within their cultural domain. However, most of these films did not enjoy massive commercial patronage. It was until the early 90’s that the Nigerian film industry blossomed and gained wide commercial reckoning. Living in Bondage produced by Evangelist Kenneth Nnebue is widely regarded as the ground-breaking movie production. Since then wide range of home videos have been produced by Nigerian filmmakers, which have captured vast National and international audiences’ view. The Nigerian Nollywood industry has produced filmmakers and actors/actresses that have become famous and widely acclaimed not just nationally but internationally. Some of these filmmakers include: Zeb and Chico Ejiro, Amaka Igwe, Tunde Kelani, Teco Benson, Lancelot Imasuen, Jeta Amata, Kunle Afolayan (son of the famous Ade Love), among others. Some popular actors and actresses over the years include Kanayo O. Kanayo (KOK), Liz Benson, Alex Usifo, Pete Edochie, Omotola Jalade-Ekiende, Olu Jacobs, Sam Loco Efe, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), Zack Orji, Fred Amata, Patience Ozokwor (aka Mama G), Genevieve Nnaji, Rita Dominic, Funke Akindele (aka Jenifa), among others who blaze the trail in the movie industry.

Through the efforts of film producers, actors/actresses, marketers and all those in the Nollywood business, Nigeria film industry has taken an admirable place in the world of movie production. As it stands Nollywood joins Bollywood of India and Hollywood of the US, as the three most popular film industries in the world over. The impact of the Nollywood industry has been well acknowledged by the Nigerian government as one of those entertainment and creative areas of the economy that have contributed significantly to job creation and the overall enhancement of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Martins Ayegba further reveals that: “Globally, the phenomenon has put Nigeria on the global cultural map and has generated a lot of awareness and interest on Nigerians and Nigeria as country” (464).

            Nollywood films exist in English Language, various Nigerian languages as well as in local Nigerian English (Pidgin). The Nollywood films have been categorized into various genres that include: the evangelical/Pentecostal, the romance, the comedy, the cultural, the epic, the fantasy, the action/gangster, the ritual, the political, and the gender genres, among others (Ayakoroma 32; Nnenyelike, 121; Adenugba para. 20). Through these various genres movies as it affect the gamut of our national existence are creatively reflected and portrayed for the audiences viewing pleasure.

Towards a Synergy of Nollywood and TFD Practices for Community Development: The Prospects and Challenges

Having examined the both practices it is therefore relevant to point out those areas in which the interaction of both practices can aid in contributing to the much needed progress and development of rural communities. To do this we shall first take a look at the prospects which this interface holds for rural development.

It is important to state that the TFD practice has come a long way in addressing developmental issues in different communities across the nation. The central focus of TFD has always been to conscientize and spur community members so as to help them make some concerted efforts to upgrade their living standards. The idea is that over reliance and dependence on government and other external agents may leave the community in endless waiting. This idea of rural development through theatre has mainly remained within the boundaries of the academics’ and the communities that have experienced them and as such there becomes a need to further make this community development process to expand its tentacles in order for it to have far reaching impact. Establishing an interface with Nollywood films will be of great impact in this regard.

         As an electronic media enterprise, Nollywood can be quite apt in reaching vast audiences beyond the communities where TFD experience has been carried out. More so the creative inputs by filmmakers which can help the message of TFD process to be more appealing and absorbing as film media content can help in evoking the desired interest from the audiences. Edison Egbe further submits that: “Since Nigeria is still developing the filmmakers should use his arts as an instrument of development and not merely entertainment”(94). It suffices to say therefore that home videos has the prospect of galvanizing the process of community development, thus the TFD experience taking the advantage of this media is able to propagate and spread widely the need for community transformation and development. Appropriate home video genre can be developed that will have as it preoccupation the ideas and approaches of community development through theatre. The evolvement of a new genre that focus on community development will be well received by audiences as it will capture the all important desire of audiences to attend to the issues of rural development especially those residing in poor urban and rural communities. This will therefore form a shift from the usual reflection of Nollywood themes on community life which has always been the presentation of entertaining stories that reflect leadership/monarchical life, the complexities of religious experiences and their personal family/social day to day affairs.

         Furthermore the need for appropriate home video method to be integrated in the developmental strategy of the TFD practice becomes necessary. It is in this light that Onugu Williams submits that:The effectiveness of the video film medium of transferring this message will also to large extent determine the level of influence it will have on rural populace towards developmental changes. Based on its (film’s) effect in terms of audio visual presentation coupled with the high desire and demand for video films in Nigeria, video films approach …becomes pertinent to theatre for development practice, so as to ensure effective development campaign among rural communities (page?).

It is also important to note that the film media can also provide a veritable channel by which useful documentation and preservation of a number of these TFD experiences as undertaken in different communities can be actualized. This is an aspect of the TFD practice which scholars of the field have identified as one of those challenges that currently faces it.

Despite the obvious potentials which are offered through the interface, there are also concerns and challenges which this synergy poses. A critical challenge which this may pose could be an alteration and deviation from the TFD practice which strives towards ensuring that community members absorb and go through it as a collective participation for serious social action, rather than as a product to be consumed delightfully by an individual. This is because most audience approach and view digital media experiences as content that only serves as product to be consumed for their entertainment purpose. This on the contrary is far from what TFD as a Theatre genre seeks to achieve. This thus demand practitioners to find a way of meandering to achieve an outlook of making this interaction to gain audience appeal in such a way that they do not just see it as an entertainment product alone but as an experience that sensitizes and empower the audience to take action for collective social change.

Another challenge maybe the profitability of such synergy. Since most filmmakers spend a great deal in production; it is expected that they make good returns. Venturing into themes and processes that have to do with community development which may not have higher prospect like the other topics as pursued by them may not catch a number of their interest. However, it is important to state that advancing movie products which can aid the development of rural communities cannot be over-emphasized. This only demands looking out for ways of ensuring that productions of movies of such are done putting into consideration factors that can possibly make it a profitable venture. Some of these factors will include the language appeal, the popularity of the social issues as addressed in the movie, collaboration with relevant organizations and agencies that seek to employ mediums of this kind, and of course the creative ingenuity and expertise of the filmmakers to reveal the TFD strategies and experiences as advocated in the movie.

Conclusion    

Theatre practices over the years have in one way or the other been of great benefit for rural communities and as such rural development through theatre becomes apt and applicatory. The need to explore from the diverse theatre platforms to actualize this very important goal cannot be over-emphasized. It is to this end that this paper has examined Theatre for Development and Nollywood praxis. This has been done with the sole aim of seen how the interaction of both theatre media can drive rural community development. Although as a practice Theatre for Development is more of a traditional medium that has always been used to communicate development in rural communities however there is the increasing need and relevance to see how its functionality stretches out to accommodate the dynamics of a contemporary society. Employing modern digital mediums such as the Nollywood films serves as a useful symbiotic possibility to effectively communicate the role which theatre experiences hold in attending to the challenges that are currently plaguing rural communities. More importantly community development through this creative synergy further opens up a new vista which can be effectively harnessed by relevant stakeholders and authorities in advancing useful agenda that will lead to the growth and betterment of rural communities in Nigeria.  

Works Cited

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