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Geoffrey Axworthy et al. with Chris Nwamuo.
Calabar, Nigeria: Centaur Publishers, 1990. 76 pages.
In varying degrees, these three books examine the theatrical practices of peoples in Africa and African peoples in the Diaspora within specific cultural perspectives. Each author starts with Nigeria as the investigative springboard (no coincidence, all being Nigerians) and gradually expands into the international scene, focusing on the collective experience of black peoples. A similar progression is visible in the types of theaters examined, ranging from theaters in small communities and universities to national scenes, and from ritual to political and satiric genres. Each author brings to bear on the subject his specific expertise and experience, hence the quality of scholarship of each work varies accordingly. Ukpokodu is clearly an upcoming scholar, while Euba brings to bear on his work a wealth of both scholarly and professional experience in theater. Each according to his own capacity brings some knowledge that is essential to a better understanding of the specific aspects of black theater.
Even as each hook deals with the different types and forms of theater, one inevitable common conclusion is that culture makes a strong impact on a people's form of theater and drama. This concept has significant import for the development and the application of theories in general, but more specifically for the application of western-derived theories to African creative impulse. Ukpokodu and, in particular, Euba address this dilemma in their works by proposing, respectively, "The Drama of Therapy" and "The Drama of Epidemic." It speaks volumes about the subjectivity of theater to its environment that these two theoretical concepts see black drama as a recovery process to a healthful condition.
Although The Faces of Nigerian Theatre carries the names of Axworthy, Banham, and Etherton on the author's page, their authorial presence is minimal; except for the chapter contributed by Etherton, their roles as co-authors do not go beyond the interviews they granted Nwamuo. Of the seven chapters that make up this very slim book, three are interviews, one by Etherton who was also interviewed, and the remaining three are written by Nwamuo. There are, in addition, six appendices consisting of a list of participants, including the author, at the 1987-88 Commonwealth Institute, and personal letters to and references on behalf of the writer. Therefore, this review considers Nwamuo the effective and only author or, perhaps at best, an editor.
Faces falls into two parts, each dealing with a face of Nigerian theater identified by the author. The first part, Chapters One through Four including the interviews, is about theater studies at universities, while the second part examines the function of theater in societies generally rather than Nigeria specifically. Geoffrey Axworthy, interviewed in Chapter One, "The Beginnings of University theaters in Nigeria," talks about how the Theatre Arts Department at the University of Ibadan--the first in the country--was founded in 1962, as an offshoot of the English Department, with a Rockefeller Grant after five years of voluntary efforts from Nigerians and expatriates alike. In his interview in Chapter Two, "University Theater Programs," Martin Banham, whose appointment with Axworthy in 1956 was also designed to emphasized drama courses in the English Department, stresses that university theater programs should be relevant to their society, a principle they tried to follow. He points out, however, that, but for cooperation and enthusiasm of Nigerians--students and faculty alike--his and Axworthy's lack of expertise in Nigerian cultures could have seriously impeded their task and objectives. Michael Etherton, the last interviewed, discusses his work with the community at Ahmadu Bello University between 1975 and 1982 and, to round off this part, the author attempts a rather tired definition of theater, describing its benefits to students in Chapter Four, entitled "Theatre Arts in A University Curriculum: A Treatise in Cultural Saga."
The second part begins with "African Theatre and Political Action." In one of the better discussed chapters in the book, Etherton touches briefly on the vexing problem of the use of foreign languages by African writers and communication with their audience, most of whom do not understand the foreign languages in which the plays are written. Chapter Six is a report on the problems encountered in a British university while staging a Nigerian play, Squeeze. The author of the play is not mentioned. The concluding chapter, "Which Way Nigerian Theater," emphasizes the main thesis throughout, advocating that Nigerian theaters must be socially relevant and politically committed.
One achievement of Faces is to bring to the general public, the knowledge, the procedure, and the principles that went into the creation of the brat university theater program in Nigeria. Similar documentation by undergraduates in partial fulfillment of their degrees is locked up in …