The 8th edition of the Lagos Theatre Festival took place March 18-21, 2021, with the theme RECKLESS ART, and there are so many stories to tell hereafter from an edition that went out of bounds to showcase art that impacts. To further this storytelling, YNaija sat with Bikiya Graham-Douglas and had this conversation:
Unlike last year’s edition, the Lagos Theatre Festival 2021 held within the limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. How were you and your team able to navigate this?
In 2020, our Festival opened on the day the first Covid-19 case was announced in Nigeria, and we had to think very quickly to ensure we kept everyone safe and, luckily we had no problems at all.
Off the back of that experience and how the virus had evolved, safety was at the fore front of all of our planning and that is why we decided to have a digital festival.
So, all the Plays seen at LTF 2021 were pre-recorded. While we miss the feel of being together and the energy of the festival scene, we could not take the risk of exposing people to COVID-19.
We still organised some of the Play recordings ensuring all COVID protocols were observed, and set up selection criteria for Plays to be selected and screened. We are happy it was a success with five countries sending in their work and audiences from 24 Countries.
Since the inception of the festival in 2013, how much of a shift in public perception has taken place in seeing theatre as a legitimate art form or medium?
It has been wonderful! LTF started with just four productions, and in total we have worked with over 300 production companies and by extension 50,000 individuals.
LTF is now the biggest performing arts festival in West Africa and was listed as top 20 festivals in the world. We can confidently say that LTF has been instrumental in repositioning Nigerian theatre and changing perception of theatre as we are contactly gaining new audiences across the country and across borders.
The Lagos Theatre Festival has been in the business of creating a platform for young performing artistes to showcase their talents, do you have success stories around any artiste or performer who has gone ahead to achieve bigger things?
Indeed! We have many success stories from the LTF family and I will start with myself. LTF has been instrumental on my journey where I started off as a Fringe Producer, then I was a curated Producer, and today I am the Executive Director of it. Some other success stories include the likes of Adesua Etomi, Ade Laoye, Diana Yekini, Paul Ugbede, Joshua Alabi, Lala Akindoju, Africa Okoh, Brenda and Kenneth Uphopho, who have gone on to establish their own Theatre Festival and so many more success stories, and we are proud of the LTF brand.
What challenges did you face in running a virtual theatre and how can it get better next time?
Running a virtual festival for a theatre festival was the challenge. As thespians, we thrive on human interaction and engagement and this just was not possible on the scale we would have liked due to the pandemic. It was difficult as the experience was completely different. Having to record the plays and not having audience reactions was hard. Even the conversations and workshops all online posed a different experience. But I must commend our efforts as we found ways to still keep people engaged.
We had many lives sessions on Instagram, we had tours of notable sites across Lagos, including Balogun Market and Freedom Park etc. We had hang out sessions, conversations and workshops on Zoom. One thing I can say is I look forward to a time when we can be together again and have the beautiful noise of humans gathering.
Which of the plays shown at the festival do you think resonated with people more?
The great thing about LTF is that it gives a level playing field to all productions, therefore the different Plays found their audience. I would say all shows resonated with different people as they touched on societal issues such as politics, governance, women’s rights, men’s challenges etc.
Can you elaborate more on why the theme this year was called Reckless Art?
The artistic director, Lydia Idakula-Sobogun, myself and the rest of the team of the festival decided on this follow up to last year’s theme “Going Out of Bounds” which signifies breaking free and pushing boundaries, leading to Reckless Art, where you are free to create art without boundaries and art that truly inspires. For us, with the global pandemic we wanted a theme to truly inspire.
What is the state of local theatre productions compared to foreign theatre?
Nigerian theatre has always been delivered at the highest standard. Our major issues have been funding and lack of infrastructure. LTF creates a level playing field for all producers and I can say that productions from Nigeria and abroad were presented at par in terms of quality in production and performance. We are currently experiencing a renaissance and I am very happy to be a part of it.
Has there been growth and if yes, what areas exactly?
Yes, significant growth. We now have more production companies and players in the industry. More collaboration across borders and in building the capacity of players in the industry. Public interest has increased significantly and we can see theatre’s repositioning in our society and I will say Lagos Theatre Festival has been instrumental in making this possible.
What exactly was the Lagos Theatre Festival Foundation established to do and how has it fared?
LTF Foundation was established to reawaken Nigerian theatre through the unconventional format and also be a rallying point for growth in the industry. It has done tremendously well in achieving this.
In your own words, what is the future of Nigerian theatre?
The future of Nigerian theatre is bright. I’m hopeful for what we will achieve and the stories we will tell. Thespians are now more innovative than ever before to showcase their work and the use of technology to enhance the industry growth. With more funding and structure the Nigerian Theatre industry can be valuable to adding resources to our economy.
How important is for Lagos Theatre Festival to keep running?
It is very important to keep the Festival running, because it is a hub for upcoming and established thespians to meet and showcase their work. It is also a rallying point for important industry discussions for development and sustainability in performing arts in Nigeria.