The 20th ASSITEJ World Congress and International Festival scheduled for May 2020 in Tokyo, Japan is fast approaching with the theme BEGINNING THE JOURNEY.
For me, beginning a journey does not always imply starting a fresh movement. It can imply that the journey had been on, but a need arose that necessitated a pause. This ‘pause’, calls for reflection and stock taking that requires putting all aspects of the journey in proper perspective and coming up with ways to navigate through perceived and real obstacles. This makes acceleration faster and smoother.
I cite the example of the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF). NUTAF came into existence in 1981 when only six (6) Nigerian universities offered theatre arts. It went to nine (9) by the end of the 1980s, then to twelve (12), and as at 2019, there are fifty-five (55). Definitely with the growing numbers came issues of organization and logistics. It was therefore no surprise that there was a lull for 11 years after the 2005 edition. For eleven (11) years there was no inter-theatrical exchange in Nigerian Universities. Not comfortable with such a lacuna and recognizing the benefits of this theatrical exchange for the growth of the profession, a team of ExNUTASITES, led by Professor Emmanuel Dandaura and Mr. Greg Odutayo championed a movement for the rebirth of this vibrant annual festival leading to NUTAF being revived in 2017 culminating in the special NUTAF which was held in October 2019 at the National Theatre in Lagos hosted by the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) under the able leadership of our national President, Mr. Isreal Eboh.
As one of the Celebrity Ambassadors for the event, it was my duty to lead the carnival, and show the young students how this was done years ago, setting the pace and tone for all other activities of the festival. My last carnival as a student of theatre arts at the University of Ibadan was in 1987 at the NUTAF held at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.
There is a wave of TYA awareness in Nigeria. Festivals for young audiences are springing up; examples include, but are not limited to, Eko Theatre Carnival (ETC), Kininso Theatre Festival (KIFT), Abuja Children Theatre Festival (ACT-Fest) and other age-long ones like Nzeh Mada Festival being rebranded and waxing strong. In addition to its established children’s theatre programs, the National Troupe of Nigeria has also included nationwide Community Outreaches that cater to children and youth. There is also the grandmother of them all, the ASSITEJ Nigeria Theatre Festival (ANT Festival) with the next edition coming up in August 2020. The genre of theatre for children and young people is receiving the attention it deserves.
It is on this note I implore all African countries that have put a pause on their ASSITEJ journeys for one reason or the other, to rethink their decisions. I also appeal to all those African countries waiting on the sidelines to join the ASSITEJ train.
In Nigeria, as regards Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), we are keeping our expectations and hopes very high and we want to spread that same spirit all across Africa and beyond.
I urge us to take decisive steps to BEGIN THE JOURNEY come May 2020, in Tokyo, Japan.
Here is hoping to meet and greet as many of you as possible in Tokyo!!
Singing Nigeria’s National Anthem during the opening ceremony of NUTAF 2019. To my left, Prof. Emma Dandaura, and to my right, Mr. Greg Odutayo. (c) Emeke Egbune