Professor Ameh Dennis Okoh is a Professor of Theatre studies and sits on the board of excos of Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists. He spoke with Adeola Ogunrinde on why SONTA is partnering with NANTAP.
What do you think are the challenges in the theatre?
There are many challenges if you are talking about academic theatre, but we are keeping it going. In the University we don’t just teach theory , we have our laboratories , perform our plays. The major challenge we have regarding performing our plays is that we no longer can stage plays in the night in some parts of the country because of the security challenges, outside of that is the problem of funds . If you have a Vice Chancellor who doesn’t like theatre , you won’t have sponsorship of your productions. We are having that challenge in some universities, not all but outside the universities ,Nollywood has come and is taking over life theatres. That is only a challenge. The second challenge is the script challenge and the fund which is sponsorship. It is difficult to get funds for sponsorship nowadays. Even many Artist don’t live off their works because we don’t have sponsors. Private organizations are not sponsoring the Arts and these are challenges for theatre practice. Theatre is nothing if we only teach it in the classrooms
What are your challenges with your students regarding theatre?
I think I came in when nollywood was rising up. I have spent 15 years in the university. I came in at a time the fortunes of the theatre had started growing and theatre started growing. Parents began to appreciate the need for their children to study theatres. Arts, before it was not so. I wasn’t also accepted as a theatre practitioner until I reached my Ph.D. The fortune are getting higher because of Nollywood. Parents look at theatre in the light of Nollywood. We don’t have that segregation we use to have from the society anymore. Theatre is now one of the subscribed courses in the Universities.
What can be done to encourage theatre in communities?
That will be if the government is committed. Take the National Theatre; it has become a shadow of itself. Money had been spent. If you ask the government to built another Theatre like the National Theatre today, I am sure they won’t be able to build a Theater like that. If they are not able to maintain National Theater, one wonders what they can do. If the government is committed to the theater, private individuals and organizations will also invest. If that is not done Nollywood will be overloaded to the extent that, it will turn out to be like any other business people engage in.
You are part of SONTA, what is SONTA about?
It is the Society of Nigerian Artist. We are the society of teachers of Theater. Ours is to set the standard for the teachings and the practice of Theatre in Nigeria. Recently, we are collaborating with National Association of Nigerian Theater Practitioners NANTAP, which is the practicing arm of theatre in Nigeria so that there will be some form of quality control in the performance of theatre.
You are part of the exco of SONTA , what are your roles?
I am the editor of SONTA for the journals . I was a treasurer for some years before becoming the editor of SONTA. I have spent six years now as part of the exco. We are trying our best to see that there is a synergy between us teaching the Theatre and the performancers.
What are the challenges of theatre this new government must address?
It’s the involvement of government in the Arts generally. We don’t just want to limit it. Theatre Arts is not just performance on stage. We have many Artistic form , we have dancers , we have visual Artist. We have technical people , even engineers . There is a need for the government to invest in the Arts. I spent two months recently in South Africa and I realized that the government is so much interested in the Arts. They have theatre everywhere. I am not talking about America but Africa.