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Big Changes Coming To Jos Theatre Festival



From soliciting funds to sustain the festival last year, to its confident resolve to maintain free viewership, in 2018, with plans to introduce children’s theatre, and orchestrate the smooth transmutation to an international theatre festival, LEADERSHIP Books & Art reviews the big changes at the Jos Festival of Theatre, and its implications. At the 10th Jos Repertory Theatre (JRT’s) Festival of Theatre 2017, events rounded off with artistic director, Patrick Jude Oteh’s entreaty to the audience to anticipate and support the festival with the payment of a token fee to ensure its continued enjoyment in the six-day annual theatre fete. This year, the festival is still free and plans are underway, not only to include children’s theatric production in 2020, but to transmute to an international theatre festival; one that sustains free admission for Jos residents. Free viewership this year, director Oteh says, originated from an anonymous supporter in Germany; in addition, to the US Mission Nigeria’s contribution which made a sizeable dent in the festival’s costs and free viewership.  Incidentally, the anonymous support sparked in Oteh, the zeal to expand the festival yet maintain free viewership for the city’s residents.

This, he hopes to accomplish via internationalisation of the feast, such that non-resident participants will pay for resident’s free attendance. This means additional programmes on the platform such as discussion panels with playwrights and other theatre stakeholders, multiple venues across the city of Jos, and the director’s shift from the directing of plays and administration of festival programmes to solely sourcing finances for it. “It is going to be an uphill task but it is not impossible, I am gradually phasing out, from next year my responsibility will be to look for funds for the festival,” admits Oteh. Although, plans are underway to internationalise the festival which he didn’t expand on.

Indeed, the director’s new responsibility, thrusts the directorial and administrative roles of the festival to his protegees, who, unknown to them, were being groomed by the festival’s founder since joining the company as actors. Of the five protegees who staged productions at the 11th Theatre Festival, one, OsasogieGuobadia, is a femalewhile the others are, Sunny Adahson, SeyiLovingkindnessBabalola, Akolo James Anthony, and EbukaIfebunso. Brimful of talent like her colleagues, Guobadia acts, choreographs, directs, and is a solepreneur make-up artist, about to launch her own fashion line, Uyi Clothing. Sogie, as she is popularly called, welcomed the director’s decision observing, “It takes a lot of confidence for someone to pass on responsibility to another. For someone of his status and achievements to pass onto us that level of responsibility. This means that he sees Big Changes Coming To Jos Theatre Festival. He sees something in us, and knows that we can do better; that we have the energy to do much better.”

“Within the last week, we saw fantastic plays that I had no input in, neither their selection nor the directorial ideas behind them. From 2019, the festival directing and organisation will fall to them,” Oteh, confident of his announcement stated.   Oteh affirmed that the grooming of Guobadia and her fellow thespians, will assure their individual growth as theatric entrepreneurs and the sustenance of the festival via their mentoring of others to transfer the reins of power. The decision to feature children’s production by 2020, comes as no surprise. A historical review reveals its roots of hosting performances in schools during its early days, not to mention the theatre house inherent certified specialist in children’s theatre, NifeOteh, who is wife to the Director.

With 10 schools indicating an interest in children’s theatre, it is more a matter of structure to ensure its sustainability. “JRT takes time in planning. We don’t just start with an idea immediately, we must put in place structures that will sustain the idea beyond the second, third and fourth editions. We cannot promise a children’s production in 2019, but we will host one within the next two years.” With such impending changes ahead, where will the funding for such addons be derived? How will JRT balance support for its seasonal productions and the festival sponsorship? Apparently, there will be much reliance on its loyal supporters, the US Mission, Jos Business School, Grand Cereals Oils, International Performers Aid Trust, and in particular on attracting new supporters like the state government, privateorganisations to facilitate multiple venues during festival, and international organs to persuade and motivate theatre companies’ participation in the festival.

Despite reliability on its diplomatic partners like the US Mission, a steady supporter of the festival for five consecutive years, and the Embassy of Spain which has sponsored over eight adaptations of Spanish plays, their support is dependent on political interests and economic changes. Although state government recognises the festival’s importance and contribution to the state and has pledged to support the festival in the past two years, the support is yet to materialise, owing to the inherent bureaucratic processes in the system. Meanwhile on the road to its transmutation, the festival must persuade first locals, then foreign theatres to participate. This is a tough business which will require richer contents, quality hospitality sector in the state, and at least average tourism power.

The director’s doggedness and focus on independent fundraising is one way. Likewise, the festival’s openness to deploy multiple venues (as it ventured this year with the workshop at the American Corner), feature children’s production, discussion panels, as well as its existing workshops, are all pluses. Where the challenges may lie is in it locale; external forces beyond its control – the hospitality and tourism industry – major areas that should entice, and keep its visitors long enough to contribute to the state’s revenue. There is much to see in Jos, but ‘how to see them’ is lacking. There are no world class hospitality establishments to keep visitors back in comfort, to boost local revenue. All in all, as Oteh said, “government processes are slow, but we will wait on their promised support.” It is hoped the wait will be worth the while.