September 25 – 27th, 2023, marked a notable a notable event in Nigeria’s contemporary theatre scene. It was the maiden edition of ENINA, a theatre festival organized by the Edo State government via the Edo Job Skills, in collaboration with GIZ-SKYE, and the Swiss Development Agency.
The first of its kind, ENINA Theatre Festival unlike other theatre festivals in the country is a state government initiative. Unlike the other festivals whereby global calls for application are placed, and play productions selected to perform, ENINA is part of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s strategic investment in culture to stimulate the state’s creative industry/economy.
Coming off, the success of the maiden Benin Film Festival in 2022, ENINA saw the training of a 100 Edo youths in a 21 days bootcamp supported by GIZ-SKYE, prior to the festival in several aspects of theatre – acting, directing, costume design, make-up, lighting and stage construction. Armed with these skills the youths produced from-the-scratch, two of the seven plays, Azagidi: When gods Die and Mama Bendel, featured in the festival. Every aspect of the play from acting, directing, costuming, make-up, choreography and the huge stage were done by the youths. Even better, they were paid for the brief moment of employment during of the event.
For the governor, investing in the cultural sector, an un-novel yet rare occurrence in Nigeria and Africa’s governance is aimed at unlocking the values in the state’s rich cultural heritage through gated performances as means of creating employment for the Edo people, and preserving its culture and heritage.
Hence, beyond the investment in soft and vocational skills, the state invested in technological and physical facility, Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub (VUCH), managed by Edo Jos Skills. The center houses a cinema/160-seater performance theatre space, a dance and a live-recording studio, a gigantic event space, classrooms, the latest edition of the Dolby Atmosphere 7.7.4 sound editor, and the DaVinci Resolve Editing Suite. This was the venue that hosted the festival.
Needless to say, this is a commendable accomplishment of the state government, counting in the continual trainings on acting, scriptwriting, photography, filming (drone camera), film exchange partnership with a German Film Institute, respectively.
Despite these achievements, one must caution the organizers against resting on its laurels. With the level of high-fiving and self-praises exchanged by the largely inexperienced VUCH trainees, one can only hope that the festival’s closing production The Struggle provided the self-reflection necessary to judge their own performances. While not a perfect production, Dan Kpoda’s The Struggle, featuring University of Port Harcourt students, had the balance, rhythm, energy and full stage use that the others lacked. The actors were audible, with enunciated rather than screamed dialogues.
The festival facilitators agree on this, adjusting their workshop sessions to address the basics of theatre, theatre business, dance, professionalism in theatre, and grant application to suit the perceived need.
“There is a need to upgrade the quality of training or the trainers, because they were lots of lapses. If the main objective is to identify talents, train them to be able to go into the labour market, then you must be able to train them to the level where they are able to compete in all the market, not just your local market. We are now talking of playing in the creative economy, which is the international market. There are standards which will make your product marketable. I don’t think it (ENINA) is there yet. Most times, when you start something, you have to ask, “what are the deficiencies?” That was where I felt that they should have created a forum for feedback,” said National President of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Israel Eboh.
Eboh further stressed the need for VUCH to strengthen interphase between organizers and facilitators, invest in festival organization & management, and the sustainability of the structure.
“What VUCH is, is what they are trying to turn the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos to, but on a higher level. If you are familiar with the National Theatre renovation, it is four-pronged – Theatre, ICT, Music and Fashion. It is a project worthy of commendation. And this is the first of its kind in the country.”
He however, voiced his fears on its continuity, post Obaseki’s administration. He recommended the state’s establishment of VUCH as an independent entity and registered company, with an initial funding from government, but keyed into the private sector for self-sustenance.
“I hope the administration create a platform where it (VUCH) has its own independent management, that runs it as a business without losing the essence of what it is meant to do.”
On the issue of investing in festival organization and management, Eboh said it goes hand-in-hand with strengthening interphase between the organisers and facilitators.
“There is need for the organizers to identify some individuals and send them for training on how to organize, implement and execute a festival. As one of the festival’s guest and resource person, there was no connection with the organizers, no discussions. We never had any interphase with the organizers.
He continues: “It is when you create the platform for interphase, that you create the platform for feedback. I believe they felt these resource persons and facilitators are key players in their field, and can help move things forward beyond where it is now. When you do not at any point interphase with them, when you do not ask for their feedback, then you begin to wonder if you really want them to add to the value of what you are creating,” he said.
Finally, the appeal of veteran actor, Norbert Young, and Edo-born Professor of Theatre, Irene Isoken Agunloye is crucial. The actor who facilitated the Acting and Stage Directing at the festival urged the state to engender the convergence of the practicing theatre/film professionals and the hub’s trainees, to ensure adequate training in the craft of theatre and acting; while Professor Agunloye stressed the need for the consolidation of the tuition of the Drama section of the Cultural and Creative Arts curriculum, through the employment of theatre education graduates.
Both recommendations, alongside the others will ensure VUCH trainees learn what is applicable in the local and global market, thus preparing them to operate confidently and authoritatively in international labour market, to command earnings that will impact the state’s creative economy, which is the real objective of this venture.