When I was a university student, I spent a considerable amount of time with theatre arts students, even though I wasn’t ready to dip a toe in the waters of that art form. One thing I sensed from Nigerian theatre arts students of that era was a sort of weariness. Was this due to the psychological and physical demands of their studies? I’m not sure.
I knew quite a few sportsmen and women in the university as well and they didn’t give me the same feeling that I got from the thespians – something to do with being stretched and used in ways that were possibly beyond their control. This energy wasn’t a great advertisement for their art form. I wasn’t tempted to join them to work on anything.
Many years later, I worked with quite a few Nigerian trained theatre practitioners in England, on a wide variety of projects. Some of the qualities that they bring to the table are exemplary – especially their knowledge of folkloric song, dance and drumming. Many of these artists could be regarded as shining beacons for the much vaunted Nigerian virtue, often described as “being detribalised”.
On the other hand, most of them seem to struggle with the idea of creating a satisfying process out of collaborative work – something which is valued a lot more in English performing arts practice. One theatre director with a luminous reputation in Nigeria couldn’t bear the number of tea breaks that were taken in rehearsals by his performers. These breaks are a lot more significant than it might appear on the surface, because they help to sustain a relatively consistent level of mental energy which is needed when people are working together so closely and intimately.
When I look back on the theatre students from my university days, I wonder if they were simply suffering from mental fatigue, due to the lack of boundaries in the culture with regard to pacing of energy in rehearsal rooms. We can all learn new things from each other.