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STAGE DESIGN

AND
TECHNICAL THEATRE FACILITIES
IN NIGERIA

COLLECTED ESSAYS
1

Adesina Adegbite

Adesina Adegbite, 2009


E-mail: sinabev@yahoo.com
08057205820, 08060983583
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in
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photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior
knowledge of the author.
Published by: The Department of the Performing Arts,
University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria.

ISBN 978-978-48747-3-1
Cover Photograph by: Adesina Adegbite
Design Concept: Sina Digital Studios: 080-57205820 /
08060983583
Printed & Bound by:
Folly Press,
100 Emir's Road / lrewolede Estate Area,
Ilorin, Kwara State.
08035631358

DEDICATION
This work is dedicated to
The God Almighty.., the Lord of hosts!!!
And my immediate constituency..
Bidemi, my wife,
Our precious gifts: Ayomide Evidence, Testimony
Adesewa, Ebunoluwa Daniella and especially to
Emmanuel O'feyidemilade, who arrived on the 26th day
of January, 2009; when this work was already in the
press.
Also to my father;
Solomon Ajeigbe Akanni Adegbite ...of the blessed
memory
And..
My mother, who, since February,1988 has been
weathering the storms. Abigail Ejide Adegbite, you
will fulfill your years!!!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Without you appearing at the right time to give meaning
to my calling in the Technical Theatre, vis-a-vis stage
designs and painting; this publication can not be a
reality!!! Dr. Sunnie Enessi Ododo, (now in Department
of Performing Arts, University of Maiduguri) you are
God sent. Thank you a million.
Professor Sam A.Adewoye..., sometimes in 2001, you
'picked' me up and worked together with Dr. Sunnie
Ododo.., so that I can continue from where you may
wish to stop in the academics, accept my gratitude!!!
If I forget to mention your input towards my scholarly
publications so far, posterity may hardly forgive me. I
mean, I am appreciative of your genuine interest in
young scholars - Professor R.O. Rom Kalilu, [Dept. of
Fine and Applied Arts, LAUTECH, Ogbomoso]. Thank
you. Professor Duro Oni, as a matter of fact, your
numerous publications have been instructive to
somebody like me. Thank God, we have somebody like
you still in the Technical Theatre/Design.
What of Drs. Oha Anthony of Ben Idahosa University,
Benin City and AbdulRasheed Abiodun Adeoye, of The
Department of the Performing Arts, University of Ilorin?
Both of you are wonderful!!
Mr. Austin Emielu, also of the Department of the
Performing Arts, University of Ilorin, I celebrate you,
because just a week to the end of the year 2008, your
brief comment on publication inspired me into this
project.

INTRODUCTION
esign, in the theatre is more than illusion, but a
careful ordering of all theatrical/technical
elements vis-a-vis set, sound, property,
costume, make-up, lighting, etc, that make a theatrical
experience a pleasing one. In the process of weaving
these elements together, some guiding canons are
observed, which further give credence to the final
design output. Perhaps, design in the theatre would
play a crucial role, if it is conceived in order to assist
these significant elements: the performance itself, cast
and the audience. But in a situation where the
expected assistance is being eroded by designers lack
of access to relevant facilities, or lack of adequate
fund, as well as inadequate technical facilities - which
are needed to facilitate wholesome aesthetics and
pleasant performance - then, urgent step must be
taken to curtail the menace. More importantly that it is
observed that the case of gross inadequacies of
technical theatre facilities, being witnessed in many
Nigerian University theatres had been with us for long.
Therefore, for our University theatre to perform her
roles effectively in the society, adequate provision of
needed equipment and technical facilities cannot be
jettisoned.
Although, these collected essays discuss
critically the utilization of set and lighting designs in
stage performances, a special searchlight is however
beamed on many factors that hitherto constitute a
major setback to experiencing tasteful performance in
the Nigerian theatre; while several ways of escapes are
proffered.

Adesina Adegbite,
Department of the Performing Arts,
University of Ilorin,
Ilorin, Nigeria.
January 2009

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Dedication ... .........................................................

iii

Acknowledgements . .............................................

iv

Introduction.................................................

CHAPTER ONE
Scenographic Conception in Mountain of Wealth:
Technical and Creative Interventions ...................... 1
CHAPTER TWO
Design and Inadequate Technical Facilities in the
Nigerian University Theatre: A Critical Review ...... 22
CHAPTER THREE
Design and Technical Concepts in Nigerian
Theatre Practice: A Postulation of Re-definitive
Approach towards a sustainable development....... 42
Summary and Conclusion.......................................... 63
Bibliography............................................................... 64

CHAPTER ONE
Scenographic Conception in Mountain of Wealth:
Technical and Creative Interventions.

n the Nigerian theatre, the damages which


inadequate technical facilities are capable of doing
to the artistry of designers and stage performance
as a whole cannot be under estimated. That explains
why in contending with the issue, it places a great
demand on the creative ingenuity of designers in the
theatre. Therefore, this chapter through a critical and
technical analysis of the use of set and lights in the
stage production of Ayo Akinwale's "Mountain of
Wealth"; seeks to re-affirm that captivating technical
effects are still attainable despite the inadequacies.
As we proceed, the entire discourse shall be
realised in three main headings: synopsis of the play,
technical contention and creative intervention and
summary/conclusion.
Synopsis
Mountain of Wealth1 is a ten-scene play which
thrives on total theatre2: form. It is a satire imbued with
traditional theatre aesthetics using the festival
performance mode. The play uses the concept of
diplomacy to make a strong statement for peaceful coexistence. The same concept is employed to preach
harmony by asking both the traditional religion
adherents and scientists to sheath their 'weapons' of
suspicion and acrimony. The play which is set in
fictional Okegbile, therefore calls for mutual
understanding. Here, a possible clash between Aboke
and the Government forces is averted which threatens
the indivisible existence of the entire people of
Okegbile. This crisis begins when a wealth creationproject is sited in their town. The arrival of the team of
7

geologists that is being led by Professor Fabiyi (a


son-of-the soil) ignites further the volatile bomb. It is
their attempt to extract mineral deposits from the
beneath of the rocks, where the spirits of Orisa-Oke
reside, that brings them in a head-on-collision with
Aboke, the Chief priest. In a nutshell, the crisis that
later ensues plunges the two warring sides into various
multifarious tension-soaked moments until a viable
means of conflict resolution was adopted.
Technical Contention and Creative Intervention
This section discusses in critical terms the
involvement of set and lighting designs in the
production process of Mountain of Wealth. It is a
careful examination of the constraints and creative
resolutions in harnessing those visual elements.
Therefore based on the available technical facilities,
set design will be considered under the following subheading:
(i)
Performance space and measurement
(ii)
Set design: colour and painting
Lighting design would also be considered
alongside a similar mode of investigation and
assessment. These will however be captured under the
following sub-headings:
i)
Lighting Equipment
ii)
Lighting design: intensity, colour and special
effects
However, our direct participation in the
production process of the play would serve as a
backdrop on which we eventually set our discussion in
this section.

The Performance Space / Stage Geograohy 3 and


Measurement
The stage we are considering is the proscenium
- like performance space of the Africa Hall4, University
of Ilorin. The production - "Mountain of Wealth", being
reviewed was the one directed by Ayo Akinwale, whose
technical and the Lighting aspects were directed by
Sunday Ododo. The play has been performed twice:
October, 2001 and August 2004 on the same stage.
Because of the "Mountain of Wealth's" inclination
towards realistic approach, which characterises a
typical African festival theatre, the play had a great
impact on the conception of scenic design. The Africa
Hall stage has the following measurement in length,
breadth (width) and height:
39ft (1189.5cm) lengthwise, with a width of 34ft
(1,067.5cm) and 11ft.6inch (343.8cm) high respectively.
The cyclorama axis separates the acting space
from the back stage. Thus we have:
39ft - 14ft = 25ft, with the analysis below:
Back Stage = 14ft x 34ft
Acting space = 25ft x 34ft in Length x Width
The calculation above shows the measurement
of the performance stage of the Africa Hall, University
of llorin (Mini Campus).
The Cyclorama has an opening that is normally
covered with 4(4ft x l0ft) flats. The place separates the
back of the stage from acting space. For the realisation
of this play, a 6(4ft x l0ft) flat surface was prepared to
occupy the cyclorama on which the landscape painting
of Okegbile was achieved. In order to ease the
movement of the actors on set, the background
landscape was framed from behind using the three
edges of the cyclorama.
The flats, numbering twenty-one (21) in all,
comprising plain, door and arch were built to occupy
9

the space. These flats in different dimensions of 2ft x


6ft, 1ft 5inch x 6ft , 3ft x 7ft, 4ft x l0ft and 6ft x l0ft were
transformed to provide the play with the desired
illusions. Thus the construction and design of these
flats constituted the palace, village square and the
Orisa-Oke shrine at Stage Right, Up Centre and Stage
Left respectively.
The analysis is further broken down as follows:
The plain flat Up Stage Left (USL), supported
the door flat that provided entrance for the three spirits
(witches) in the play, was a (6ft x l0ft). The door flat
was in 4ft x l0ft dimension. In front of these standing
flats, were two simplified 3-dimensional rocks pieces
that occupied Up Stage Left, (USL). At the Up Stage
Right (USR), the palace's setting made of 2 flats in (4ft
x l0ft) joined at the Centre Stage Right (CSR), towards
the Up Stage, while 3 (4ft x 10ft) flats made the door
and arch-doors respectively. All were assembled Up
Stage Right (USR) to provide entrance and exit for the
king and his retinue of wives.
The door flats were in different dimensions too,
the door at the Right and Left side were used by the
Oloris (King' wives). Each opening was done in 2ft x
6ft and 1ft 5inch x 6ft respectively the arch-door at the
Centre in 3ft x 7ft opening was exclusively reserved for
the king. Three mats were also used to cover the
openings from the inner side.
A riser was built in 4ft x 3ft x 1ft (Length,
breadth/width and Height) dimension respectively. On
this riser, was the throne with traditional cloth covering.
Between the door flats and the riser was a 2ft 5inch
space provided for easy passage in and out of the
palace by the king. The painting of a crown in 2dimensional form on top of the king's door enhanced
the authority of the monarchy further and just beside
the door, was painted a staff of authority also. Beside
10

the king's wives door (Left side) was a 3-dimensional


tree in the diameter of 1ft 5II x 1ft (base and top)
respectively with a height of 8ft. The other tree of 2ft x
1ft in diameter (base and top respectively) stood Up
Stage Left (USL). The height was also 8ft. A space of
3ft was also provided in between the back of the
palace door and the cyclorama for the actors to pass
through, (to and from back stage).
The above exposition discusses the acting
space, which measured 25ft x 34ft for the production of
"Mountain of Wealth, which was available for use by
the technical director in preparing enough space for the
actors.
Because of the nature of the play, a total theatre,
which thrives in the ambit of festival theatre, provision
of appropriate space facilitated its successful
execution. This perhaps explains why the .orchestra
and apron were adequately used and consequently
formed the extension of the stage. In this mode of total
theatre, the actors have enough space to realize their
roles at the apron, which was 10ft wide from the edge
of Down Stage to the first roll of the audience seats.
Some drummers at the Auditorium Left occupied the
seats on the first row, while the rest, sat on a riser of 4ft
x 3ft 5inch x 2ft dimension: Length, Breadth and Height
respectively. The three step units built for the actors'
exit and entrance were in 2ft 5inch x 2ft 8inch each.
They were placed at the edge of Down Stage Right,
Centre and Left (DSR, DSC and DSL).
From the analysis above, it was observed that,
the principles of proportion and balance, that facilitate
the smooth execution of any work of design, were
minimally employed. Despite the fact that the provision
of enough space is germane to stimulating desired
action on set, the solidity or mass that was however
achieved through the design of the shrine presented an
11

un-proportional balance. Thus, the composition of the


entire set design in outlook,' created the heaviness that
was more pronounced Up Stage Left (USL) where the
mountain was built. Perhaps this may be partly due to
the significance of the shrine (mountain) to the entire
human and non human objects in the play.
Nevertheless, the use of dominance or
emphasis for the design process lends credence to the
realisation of the set. This principle of design became
useful in the sense that more of the actions took place
on this setting. It was also noticed that, for several
minutes in the play, the attention of the audience was
drawn to the setting because from there, some special
events that elicited mixed- reactions from the audience,
also emanated (e.g. festival scene and Aboke versus
geological team scenes).
Because of the nature of this performance and
its large cast with a lot of captivating moments, it
placed a great demand collectively on the creative
ingenuity of both the artistic and technical directors.
Indeed, without the collaborative effort of both, a
performance of this form would suffer-a great setback.
But, it was equally observed that the creative prowess
of both directors was further incapacitated by some
militating factors. Ododo (2002:88), captures some of
these militating factors as technical requirements
imposed on a production by the playing area, the fund
available for such a performance and the purpose of
the performance. However, the available playing area
with limited acting space could have constituted a
threat to the staging of this play, but the dynamic
manipulation and conversion of the existing space for
maximum use, was the greatest strength of this
performance. That was why both the apron and the
orchestra of the proscenium stage were creatively
harnessed and related with to bring about a feeling of
12

intimacy by both the actors and the audience. Instance


of this creative usage of available/limited space were
most prominent in Scene Nine ("Mountain of Wealth"),
there the narrator prepared the audience for the
imminent war and the actual battle in the same scene.
Set Design: Colour Scheme and Painting
Colour
as
an
aesthetic
medium
of
communication, was used apart from lighting, to unify
all the elements. When this medium is suitably applied
in scenic design, the concept, style, genre and images
of such production are enlivened. We shall examine
how colour was able to relate with scenery in order to
facilitate the understanding of the message of the
production being analysed.
The colour scheme of Blue, Yellow, White,
Black, Green and Brown were used. Hence, they were
deployed to "create the different moods", which "they
are designed to create" (Atakpo, 1998:88), in this play.
These colours reflected on the painting of flats, throne,
rocks, trees and the landscape. The analysis is as
follows:
The flat surface, that occupied Down Stage
Right and stretched to Centre Stage Right (CSR) was
painted light blue. The same colour value was applied
on to the flat from Down Stage Left (DSL) to Centre
Stage Left (CSL). The lighter tone of blue was
employed to register the genre of the play (satire).
Cream (Yellowish-White) that was used to paint the
flats on Stage Right for the palace setting
complimented the light Blue colour on the riser.
Whereas, the tonal variation of Blue, Green and Black
facilitated the painting of the landscape on the
cyclorama, on one hand, while dark tan, which
dominated the 3-dimensional surface of the 'moving
trees' at Up Stage Left and Right respectively, suitably
13

enclosed the landscape of Okegbile on the other hand.


This approach was able to provide an illusion of depth.
Here, the function of cyclorama "to represent the sky,
to give the effect of infinite space, and allow the
maximum use of stage space" (Brockett, 1996:373)
was considered by the set designer.
The painting and drawings of crown and
kingship staff on the cream surface of the palace's door
flats were meant to project the authority of the
monarchy. This research is not of contrary opinion to
the significance of the set - props (shrine) that
occupied the stage left including the colour scheme
chosen. The dominance of this area (setting), was
more pronounced. Although a realistic set style was
attempted, one could easily see other styles overlapping. The setting of the palace underscores the fact
that simplified or suggestive realism was conceived to
suit the realistic style, otherwise employed to realise
the 3- dimensional trees and mountain.
Generally, the scenery has another area of
strength too. This we observed in the area of scene
shifting. The entire scenography became more
effective due to non-shifting method adopted. Brockett
(1996:382), observes why constant scenery shifting is
no longer fashionable in the modern scenic design
trend, because, "audiences become impatient with
lengthy scene shifts..." (which may create unnecessary
gap or delay), he posits that, "such delays may also
destroy the rhythm of a production."
Inspite of this, instances .of light checks, that is,
black-outs, were observed during the production.
However, none of these were able to hamper the
smooth running of the play, because, another element:
sound, saved the situation. Instead of witnessing a
case of distorted-rhythm in this production, bata and
dundun ensemble provided the flowing rhythm, which
14

served as effective replacement - as the audience


waited for the completion of scene changing.
In short, colour was maximally used to
harmonise the bright costumes of various tones worn
by the actors against the strong colour scheme of dark
tan, green, dark blue and blue, that dominated the
painting of the flats and other objects placed Stage
Left. Thus at the beginning of the play, the celebration
was greatly enhanced by the magnanimous use of
colour. The first appearance of celebrants: young
women and men of Okegbile, their adornment of
yellow buba (top) and Iro (wrapper) and buba (top)
and sokoto (trouser) of trado-modern clothing
materials, with caps and head ties (yellowish - green
and yellow combination), accentuated the pervading
mood and atmospheric situation of festivity. This was
when the people, who were in a happy mood, danced
towards and from the shrine.
Nevertheless, a great impact was eventually
achieved especially in the area of set through the
involvement of' stage magic'. This special effect of
commanding the trees in the play was achieved by
means of improvisation and ingenuity of the artistic
director - who in collaboration, with the designer
resolved to perform the feat, even without the
availability of ideal technical facilities or mechanism.
Thus without the use of needed equipment like
revolving stage machinery, strobe lanterns, or rotating
colour wheel, that is powered with electricity, the set
design was able to aid the performance and functioned
effectively to create the desired effects. How relevant
or truthful this assertion is in relation to the
performance , for instance in collaborating with other
technical elements, particularly lights, to make a strong
interpretational statement that was embedded in the
15

"Mountain of Wealth", shall receive our focus later in


the next section of this chapter.
Colour, Set Design Painting and Props
Gayety', in term of application: spread and
distribution permeates the set and lighting of the actors
to register and establish celebration, festivity, worship
and observances of rites in the play. This was more
pronounced in Scene one. Thus, colour is the binding
cord that further accentuated the diverse moods,'
feelings, action and situation through the set and
lighting concept that was adopted. As the play moved
from one scene to the other colour strove to pass its
main message across to the audience through the
functional deployment of lights on the set.
Thus the general and specific atmospheric
situations that signify festivity, celebration, worship
(including the moment of sacrifice/ritual) was enhanced
further through the background scenery: mountain,
forest, the village/landscape building and painting
respectively. Again, this unifying medium of expression
significantly revealed different emotions of the people
ranging from anxiety to expectation, joy to ecstasy and
tension to passion. The gels of the lights, scenery in
painting and design reflect these emotions via the
following colours: amber, red, red-purple, yellow, blue,
green to white.
Props were used in collaboration with set to
depict the palace setting. What further established the
setting were the set and actors hands props used that
were relevant to the play. One of the set props, which
was a movable one, was the throne, set on a riser Up
Stage Right (USR). With these props on set and other
icons depicted on the wall surface of the palace, the
authority of the monarchy was visually projected.
Freshnel and Profile Spot lanterns exchanged roles in
16

order to strengthen the illumination and emphasise a


specific actor, when necessary.
Moreso, colour greatly played a symbolic role,
which helped sustained the visual aesthetics of the
play and its understanding. That was why the Orisa
Oke shrine that was set at the stage left was designed
to provide a suitable abode for both the worshippers
and Orisa-Oke spirits. Also, special sound effects and
cross-fading of relevant coloured lights were creatively
manipulated. For instance, when Aboke in Scene
Three commanded the trees to move in order to terrify
the geologists, frighten and send away the 'intruders'
from the 'sacred place', the trees designed in 3dimensional form, moved around to chase the workers
away. The cross fading of green and amber lights gave
the situation the desired effects with effective
compliments from the throbbing of drums.
Lighting Equipment
This section takes a critical look at the way and
manner in which the available stage lanterns and
lighting equipment collaborated with the set design, to
facilitate the general understanding of the performance.
However, we would take another look at the other
available technical elements and facilities provided.
The following lighting equipment were utilised for
the production:
a.
Lanterns
(i)
Flood (traditional Pattern 49) 500 watts was
rigged on the iron baton Down Stage Centre (DSC)
with a permanently fixed green gel. The lantern
focused mainly Down Stage Centre. The other one on
Apron Right provided illumination for Down Stage Left.
(ii)
Freshnel (Pattern 128), 1,000 watts, on iron
baton Down Stage Right (DSR) was the one focused
17

on the palace setting Stage Right and Centre of the


Apron.
(iii)
Profile spot was hung on a T-square standing
iron bar held by hook clamp - from the Auditorium Right
(AR) to perform dual roles. While this lantern with 1000
watts provided more illumination from its position,
Auditorium Right (AR), the same was also used to
throw light from that position (AR), to change colours
for creating special mood and atmospheric condition.
(iv)
Halogen (500 watts each): Two of the lanterns
were rigged and concealed Down Stage Left (DSL)
behind the rocks Up Stage Left (USL), respectively.
That of the latter was conceived in order to achieve the
special back-light effect that was realised at the special
appearance of the three witches. The other one Down
Stage Left (DSL) was creatively manipulated to give
special illumination for actions on the apron, where the
celebration at the opening Scene was briefly set. This
was the same place where battle scene towards the
end of the play was equally performed.
In all, seven lanterns were deployed in the
production. They were:
Flood (2), Freshnel (2), Profile spot (1), Halogen
(2).
b.
Other Lighting Equipment
i)
Dimmer Boards: Two macro 8 II Dimmer
Boards. Each has 8 channels and it is manually
controlled. Both were engaged to feed not more than
four lanterns each as a result of malfunctioning of the
entire 16 channels that made the two dimmers. With
this mode of lantern arrangement, it is expedient to
emphasise here that because there are no enough
functioning lanterns on ground, in the Department, the
lanterns on the iron batons top of entire Stage Centre
to the Up Stage, including the cyclorama area were
18

insufficient. Hence, the rigging of the lanterns was


therefore restricted only to Down Stage Right (DSR),
Down Stage Left (DSL) Down Stage Centre (DSC),
Apron Centre (AC), Apron Right (AR), Auditorium Right
(AR) and Up Stage Left (USL), where a lantern was
concealed for effect.
ii)
Wiring and cable connection: Apart from the
lack of adequate lanterns, weak cables and broken
sockets constituted a nuisance to the lighting design of
the performance under discussion. Though the sockets
were placed nearer to the dimmers Stage Left, the
nakedness of some cables that were run from each of
the lanterns to the dimmers exemplifies this discovery
during the production. Thus, at interval, the lanterns
that were better fitted with 15 amp 3-round-pins which
could have been more suitable for the channel of the
dimmers, tripped off at will. This 'dangerous electrical
situation' was criticised strongly by Reid (2001: 15), as
he describes the situation as deadly practice by clumsy
designers, who changes 'plugs hastily', all "in a spirit of
the show" must go on". The permanent sockets that
were also provided at the Africa Hall had been broken.
This therefore engenders why consideration for
durable, but flexible sockets, that could be changed
easily, would go a long way in arresting the situation.
From only a point, both lighting equipment and the
sound/music equipment were connected. Although this
arrangement did not completely put a hold on the
distribution of electricity round the cables from dimmers
and electrical appliances that were used during the
production, the practice does not augur well for efficient
cable connection in the theatre. Technical equipment
are prone to damages under such wiring condition.
Lighting Design: Intensity, Colour and Special
Effects
19

Going by the unique involvement of lighting in


performance, Pilbrow (1997), is of the opinion that
"lighting is not a mechanical process; it is neither
simply a matter of illumination nor of making effects"
(Pilbrow in Oni, 2004:53). Rather, it should draw
inspiration from "idea based upon a play and upon a
concept decided upon by the design team". If this is
therefore the case, the creative manipulation of lights in
"Mountain of Wealth" could be seen as a conscious
attempt towards making the available lanterns to
perform such unique role. With the concept of
'diplomacy' that was chosen for the performance,
lighting was involved to project the production's image
of 'gayety'. To perform this role effectively, the available
lanterns were arranged to collaborate with the props,
costume and scenery that were used. Hence, provision
of adequate lanterns was expected to further enhance
the efficiency of the entire lighting design.
The depiction of 'gayety' was almost marred by
some instances of shadow casting and semi-darkness
during the production. These instances were most
pronounced in Scenes Two, Three, Eight and Nine
collectively, which reduced to a certain extent the
effects that the 'intended statement' of the lighting
could have made. Infact, the basic function of lighting
in terms of visibility was also challenged, as a result of
inadequate lanterns. For example, at the confrontation
between Aboke and Professor Fabiyi in Scene Nine,
whereby the former who moved more to Down Stage
Right, found himself in semi-darkness - until he moved
away from that stage area, was one of such instances
whereby actors acted in partial-darkness. This was as
a result of the focusing pattern of the freshnel that gave
illumination from Down Stage Right (DSR). The lantern
focused mainly the Centre and Up Stage Right
respectively. The beam of the lantern was unable to
20

cover the extreme end of the Down Stage Right. Thus,


some attempts made by the freshnel, that was hung
and whose light was thrown from the Auditorium Right
still had limitation in providing even-distribution of
illumination to strengthen the one Down Stage Right.
Instead, it was typified by shadow casting.
Nevertheless, at the opening of the crucial
meeting of the minister with the geological team, there
was a creative use of the available lanterns. Because
in this Scene, there were no stage props to actually set
the scene, the illumination from Halogen lantern Apron
Centre, with the assistance from Freshnel Down Stage
Right that also functioned as spotlight, established the
locale to depict the seriousness of their meeting.
It is believed that in scarcity inspiring creativity
and innovative ideas thrive. This is the situation
whereby some of the shadows later turned out to play
a significant role by suggesting emphasis on the
background scenery. In The Theory of the Modern
Stage Eric Bentley (Ed.); Appia argues in support of
shadow casting when he compared it with Chiaroscuro 6
approach of scene designer when painting. He
therefore declares "the light that is important in the.
theatre is the light that casts shadows" (Simonson,
1968:33). A similar case of shadow transformation
occurred during the production of Sam Ukala's Break a
boil in 2001. In a Scene, Ogun, a character, who had
freshnel thrown on him from Auditorium Right, also had
his shadow at the back, thus creating a special visual
message of emphasis.
Lighting was used as painting brush in the
performance at a time to overcome a particular barrier,
the function which adequate materials could have
performed naturally if available. This is what Nelms
(1964:161) describes as "artistic lighting." Through this
creative use of lighting, 'proper emotional and
21

psychological qualities of the play" were captured. This


was achieved through the creative ingenuity of the
lighting man to paint a special picture of two lovers,
Debisi and Folabi in Scene Four with additive colour
strategy. At the reconciliatory moment, Folabi from
Down Stage Right beckoned to Debisi, who moved to
meet her lover Down Stage Centre, a colour mixing
effect was achieved. Using light and shade approach,
with profile spot (blue gel), the profile of Debisi was
accentuated. Painting with this approach of light and
shade was, achieved mainly at her neck and head
region. The same special (love) effect that was created
through light completed this technical aesthetics that
was achieved in the Scene with full illumination on
Folabi, to reveal his complete joy in securing the
attention of his lover back. Whereas, if the ideal
technical facilities like electrified colour wheel were to
be deployed to channel the course of the technical
elements employed, the same effect could have been
achieved.
Again, towards the end of the whole performance, the
creative ingenuity of the lighting man was put to test in
this case. This was occasioned by the non-availability
of the required special lighting effect facilities. In this
Scene, there was a contrasting statement of Fabiyi
which could have exposed the incapability of the
technical and lighting facilities that were available. In a
bid to blast the rocks (mountain), Professor Fabiyi
assured the inquisitive people of Okegbile that:
This mountain must fall today. And our own
scientific instrument would do the blasting of the
rock (Akinwale, 2001:15).

But the apparent constraint of the technical director to


achieve this blasting effect was transmitted into another
innovative technical aesthetics. Thus to achieve this,
22

song, music and movement of the actors were


creatively harmonised to replace the desired effect.
The lyric therefore establishes:
Let's work on this mountain we will
work...,
Let's bring down this mountain we will
work...,
To get the good things of life o .
we will work. .. (Akinwale, 2001: 15)
This aural design combined with percussive
instrumentation achieved the 'blasting effect'. The
audience was then carried along to the point of singing
along with the actors. In this enjoyment, they did not
bother to ask for more effect any longer. The artistic
director corroborates this as he reflects on some of the
short comings:
In the first Scene, I wanted the chief priest (Aboke)
to come out of the rock with smoke. All I planned to
do was to put gun powder in a can; and have it
connected to electricity. The negative wire will be at
the base of the gun powder, while the positive would
be placed at the tip of the can. As soon as these
devices are plugged on, there would be a smoke
effect from a bang! The effect would come out
within the smoke and fire (Akinwale, 2004)7.

However, in the alternative as Aboke appeared through


the crash-door the effect was realised, with the
collaboration of bata ensemble in high pitch,
accompanied with song and fast tempo dance
movement and relevant colour effect (amber, orange,
green and white) from the lights. Whereas, there are
sophisticated lighting equipment that could achieve the
same effect easily. These capital-intensive technical
facilities include: 'Fibre optics', 'Smoke and Mist',
'Bangs and flashes' could be combined (Reid,
2001:189, 190). The lighting director in his own
23

contribution alludes to the fact that on the


improvisational hold on which the lighting design of this
performance was put, he observed that:
Because "Mountain of Wealth" was a festival
theatre, there were so much music, songs and
dances. I would have loved to play with colours to
bring out beautiful moments in the play. But we had
limited lanterns to light the entire production, thus
could not gel all the lights as I desired. Despite this,
I was able to manipulate these lights to achieve our
result (Ododo, 2004)8.

Summary and Conclusion


While agreeing with the above views and
experiences of both the artistic and technical directors,
colour mixing was creatively achieved, inspite of
insufficient and lack of suitable technical facilities for
creative drive. That was why colours permeated the
performance and were manipulated effectively, in
collaboration with available lanterns like Freshnel and
follow-spot, on which gels were manually fixed. This
attempt eventually created special effects on the
scenery in many occasions. For instance, the
manipulation of green gel coming from Freshnel at the
Apron Centre focusing the Down Stage Centre, while
mixed toned red dominated traditional cloth of Aboke
in Scene Nine, projected visually his anger to the
audience. The colour mixing resulted into a brokencolour (deep brown) that symbolized discordance in
emotional feeling. Yet, the same element was
employed to accentuate the reformatory cum
restoration - mission of Orunmila Priest (Fadele) in
Scene Nine, where green gel created the effect of
peace to reinforce the sanctity/purity on his white
costume.
24

This and several other instances were made


possible by the working relationship between the
lighting man and the technical assistants who
responded well to specific Instruction given by the
former crew. In this case, in the absence of ideal colour
wheel, different coloured - filters (gels) have been
cued, and were changed at the instruction of the
technical director, who also was the lighting man.
Therefore, instead of putting gels permanently on some
lanterns that may not be used for long in the
production, the method of direct changing was
adopted. By this, the lanterns were maximally utilised,
as they eventually performed several roles.
So far, this chapter had discussed in critical
terms the utilisation of the limited technical facilities
during the production of Ayo Akinwale's Mountain of
Wealth", at the. University Ilorin, Thus, in the same
chapter how some captivating effects were achieved
inspite of several inadequacies, received major
attention. Not withstanding, few areas of set backs
were also mentioned.
Notes
1.
Ayo Akinwale's "Mountain of Wealth" was premiered at the
Africa Hall in October, 2001, University of Ilorin for the
International Conference on Religion and Science.
The Ten-scene play has the following in the crew list:
Playwright/Artistic Director: Ayo Akinwale,
Technical/Lighting Director: Sunday Ododo,
Set Construction: Tosho Awogbami,
Set Assistants: Fidelis Emeribe and Paul Lohlum;
Lighting assistants: Abimbola Bolatito;
Costume and Make-up: Tolu Temidara & Bola Adeniji;
Stage Manager: Phemmy Adetula;
Props Manager: Gbenga Onifade and Dayo Adekeye;
Sound and Music Assistants: Austin Emielu and
Kayode Omosa;
Choreographers: Felix Emoruwa and Jeleel Ojuade,
Business Manager: Rasheed Musa (now AbdulRasheed Adeoye)

25

Stage Photographer: Adesina Adegbite


** Also, the play was prepared for the 22nd Convocation
ceremony of the University of llorin in 2004.
2.

Total theatre form - a form of performance in the theatre


world that is regarded as a complete experience. It
encompasses all the, theatrical elements and thereby
unifies the three major aspects of the Theatre Arts:
Drama, Dance and Music - into a single aesthetic fold.

3.

Basically, stage may be perceived in two parts, Up Stage


and Down Stage, with two axes; transverse (Horizontal)
and Direct axis. Or in four different parts: Stage Right,
Stage Left, Upstage and Downstage, (Nelms, 1970:11).
To facilitate better understanding of our descriptive
analysis, for instance the stage (proscenium) that was
used 'for the productions being considered, has more than
four parts. The stage is divided into nine parts.
These are Up Stage Right (USR), Up Stage Centre (US
C), Up Stage Left (USL), Centre Stage Right (CSR),
Stage Centre (SC), Centre Stage Left (CSL), Down Stage
Right (DSR), Down Stage Centre (DSC) and Down Stage
Left (DSL); showing the nine parts that the stage being
considered where lies equally its strength and
weaknesses. The tonal quality of each of the stage areas
further influences the placement and movement of actors
on set, as well as the placement of scenic pieces.

4.

Africa Hall is located at the Mini Campus of the University


of Ilorin. This proscenium-like stage has hosted a lot of
theatrical performances by the Department of the
Performing Arts. The Department , which has been moved
to the Permanent Site of the Institution, since 2006 now
has an ultra-modern theatre, recently completed by the
University authority.

5.

Theatre properties are categorised into two: "Set props'


and 'Hand props' (Brockett, 1990: 241). Example" of Set
props are set of chairs or sofa, table, 3-dimensional
objects as rocks, trees, tree trunks, throne, etc. Hand
props include sword, knife, hand fan, gun, walking stick,
smoking pipe and cigarette, to mention just few. While set
props are basically heavy and atimes stationary, hand

26

props are held by actors on and off the stage during the
course of performance.
6.

In painting, 'Chiaroscuro' is a terminology used to


describe the distribution of light and shade. Since light
and shade in the hand of scene painter is seen as
"expressive medium" that could be controlled to "reveal
essential or significant form" of scenic composition on
stage, Appia is of the view that the same function is being
performed, by theatrical lights that casts shadows.

7.

Dr. Ayo Akinwale (now Professor) shared this view with us


concerning the limitation of the technical facilities used for
'Mountain of Wealth' (2001), which he directed artistically.
The interview was granted at his office, Department of
Performing Arts University of Ilorin, July 17, 2004.

8.

On the 16th of the July, 2004 Dr. Sunday Enessi Ododo,


granted this writer an interview, which he used to reflect
on some of the challenges faced when he directed the
technical and lighting aspect of 'Mountain of Wealth',
(2001) and in preparation for another performance in
August 2004, at the Africa Hall, University of Ilorin, Ilorin.

27

CHAPTER TWO
Design and Inadequate Technical Facilities in the
Nigerian University Theatre: A Critical Review

esign in this chapter is being conceived as the


way, or means of ordering of visual and
emotional experience to give harmony. This
ordering helps to reflect the aesthetics of stage
production. It therefore follows that both the visual and
audio elements must be carefully chosen and arranged
to allow the audience understand more the meaning of
any stage presentation, be it opera, play, or dance.
This means, since design elements are in more contact
with the written script, a new pleasant theatrical
experience is provided in harmony. Therefore, the
concepts of design and adequate technical facilities are
to reflect the vision of the playwright. In view of this, the
theatre designer or technical director, in the university
theatre is expected to compose well the design
elements in order not to obstruct the view, or distract
the attention of the audience.
Furthermore it is imperative at this juncture to
briefly discuss the concepts that are embedded in the
entire work. Thus, the following, design in the theatre,
theatre, University theatre and technical facilities: set,
lights, lighting design or theatrical lights that are crucial
to the progression of this discourse are carefully
selected. Also, it is pertinent to note that some of the
terms are interchangeably used in this essay. These
include theatre - to mean either 'the stage' or 'building'
or 'the theatre' as a whole: Others are Design in the
Theatre 'theatrical design' or 'design' or 'stage design';
The Stage
'performance space', 'acting area' or
'platform'; Set design 'scenery', 'scenic design', or
'scenography' or 'set'.
28

Design in the Theatre


Kernodle and Kernodle (1985), posit that in the
process of designing for the theatre, there is a
dimension to it. This is illusion, because, "theatrical
design is a creation of illusion". Thus, for instance,
lights could be modulated to provide an appropriate
environment for the action of the play. In the case of
set, canvas can also be used to cover flat for
simulating physical and tangible environment. Design
in the theatre therefore is illusion, which: "often
includes specific details of a period or locale, mood and
atmosphere, spaces for moving actors and the visual
progression of an idea" (Kernodle and Kernodle, 1985:
366). This may further be conceived using the
elements of costume; make-up, props, sound, etc.
Taking cognisance of the fundamental elements
of design, which are line, form, shape, dimension,
mass, texture and colour and the principles of design
like rhythm, unity, variety, harmony, emphasis,
repetition,
contrast,
balance,
proportion
and
movement, careful utilisation of some or all of these
projects the artistry of the designer. Though the preoccupation of the designer would not be to impress the
audience with a flurry of spectacles, his ability to
operate within the scope of relevant guide to point out
the significant essence of performance is imperative.
Economy therefore, in term of financial implication
remains a crucial factor which could either mar or
sustain his artistry. This perhaps explains why the lack
or inadequacy of technical facilities as an impediment that is borne out of financial constraint - should be
curtailed by all and sundry in the theatre.
Theatre
In the contemporary world, the word 'theatre'
connotes basically two things: the performance, and
29

the theatre building (auditorium or stage). Thus, as a


performance, it is described as "an art form in which a
series of events, usually a written play, is acted out by
performers who impersonate the characters" (Brockett,
1990:232). Also, as a structure or theatre building or
auditorium, Akinwale (2004:4), sees it as "a place
where certain actions are carried out simply to achieve
a purpose. Brockett (1990:232) actually defines
theatre as:
perhaps the most complex of the arts because it
requires so many kinds of artists for its creation.
These specialists include the playwright,
performers, director, scene designer, costumer
and lighting designer.

Atimes, the services of other experts may be


required, depending on the form or style of production.
These are: musician and a choreographer or dance
composer. We find this definition more useful,
considering the focus of this study - University theatre.
Theatre is again referred to as a 'mixed art' that
"combines the script of the playwright, the scenic
background of the architect and painter and the speech
and movement of the actors and actresses (Brockett,
1990:232).
On the other hand, theatre as a 'stage' is the
actors space, his environment and his world, (Fosudo,
2002:87). It is within this 'world,' that he realises his
role; by relating appropriately with other material and
human elements provided. That is why Brockett
(1996:365), describes stage as the place of the action
that continues into the wings as far as the audience
can see. The term 'the stage' is interchangeably used
in this chapter as 'Theatre stage', 'performance space',
or 'acting space'., to mean an 'enabling platform',
where human aspirations are articulated (Bodunde,
2000:72 and 2001: 32). Therefore as an enabling
30

space, both the actors (performers) act freely and the


audience under the same atmosphere responds
appropriately. Both are brought together in a unique
experience. The interconnectivity further prompts the
theatre artists and designers to give major
consideration to the type of stage they work and design
for. However, in describing types of the stage as
immaterial, Wilson (1997:301), reiterates that:
Whether the theatre space is indoors or outdoors,
whether it is large or small, the shape of the stage
and it's relationship to the audience help
determine the nature of the theater experience.

However, there are limitations that are identified


with the stage, in 'sizes' and 'shape', 'type and depth',
Parker and Wolf (1990) and Asomba (2000). Both the
three theatre designers and scholars hold the belief
that it takes the versatility of designer in the theatre to
contend favourably well with the changing nature of the
stage. Hence, the designer needs to know the actual
shape and physical make-up of the performance area,
while embarking on his work (Parker and Wolf, 1990:
17).
From the above clarifications the idea of theatre
as being all encompassing also spells out clearly the
involvement and functions of various specialists in the
theatre as a whole. With the multifarious functions of
this art (theatre), especially in modern times, theatre in
the Nigerian University is able to perform its crucial role
alongside others that operate in the public and private
professional companies and Arts Councils.
University theatre
According to Encyclopedia of World Drama
(1984:30), the initial thrust of the modern African
theatre (for instance) came from educational
31

establishments: church, school and university. That is


why in a bid to adjust to the changing reality of our
time, the university theatre is now assuming a special
position in order to elicit the desired changes in the
society; Hagher, (1990:9), stresses. If that is the case,
this kind of theatre can therefore be regarded as a
place, as well as a discipline that offers to many
interested students the needed knowledge and skills in
different areas of specialisation. These areas are
summarized as: arts and crafts of directing, acting,
designing, stagecraft and management (Oshionebo,
1999: 126). With these various specialities, the
students in the university theatre are further exposed to
rudimentary of theatre theories, criticisms and
techniques.
Since the channels through which such
'technical elements' as: set, light, costume, make-up,
colour, props, sound, music and lighting effects operate
effectively can hardly be neglected, therefore technical
facilities should be adequately provided. By this, we
mean the theatre, stage, lighting equipment: dimmer
board and rack, special effects machine, stage
lanterns, colour wheel, cables and electrical appliances
and electronics, make-up kit, technical tools and
materials. Knowing fully well that the collaboration of
these facilities often result in aesthetically pleasing
performance; inadequacy of any sort is like a 'forbacky
dance' idiom1.
Set Design
The creation of physical environment for actor which serves as scenery or background for him - in two
or three-dimensional form, describes briefly what a set
is. Hence, the set designer in an attempt to compose
his work, so as to assist the actor realises his role
convincingly on stage, "through flats, drapes, platforms,
32

or other means, he delineates the areas that will be


used for such dramatic action" (Brockett, 1996:365).
Thus, Nwadigwe (2002:94), himself a designer,
describes set as a design for theatrical production. It is
not a mere 'embellishment' but should seek to provide
living, useful, and suitable environment for the
characters. If set is conceived in this way, it would
"enhance the actor's performance, and help the
audience to understand the play" better.
Furthermore, in the process of designing a set
for theatre performance, Enna (2000:56), expresses
that set' "is compelled by the form, content of the play
and the directorial principle, concept and approach.
Apart from those, other determining factors include
genre of the production, directorial images, style of
set/production, available space (stage), fund and tools.
These factors determine how far a set designer could
go in the discharge of his duty. More importantly, since
the scenic style is often dependent upon the production
style and budget, it will therefore take the ingenuity of
the designer in collaboration with the director to make
headway (Ododo, 2002:91). Therefore, in the
construction or building of set, some media ranging
from cloth (baft/muslin), paint, woods, adhesive) etc,
are used.
Lights and lighting design
Theatrical lights are used to illuminate the actors
and other design elements such as set, costume,
make-up and props. With suitable lighting equipment
and facilities, lights could serve as: The visual
interpretation of the script and playwrights ideas in
terms of space, atmosphere and visual symbols.
(Enna, 2000:56)
Reilly and Phillips (1998:138), view the
possibility of "startling theatrical effects" in performance
33

via the availability of the modern changing nature of


lighting
design
with
modern
technological
advancement. Though, the procurement of these
modern equipment is capital intensive, if eventually
acquired by designer, they would enhance greatly the
quality of stage production and increase further
potentialities" (Reilly and Phillips, 1998:138).
Also, lighting, according to Asomba (1990:33),
can be described as an expressive theatrical medium.
However, when it provides only mere illumination or
simple visibility", its expressive tendency deteriorates.
Pilbrow, (cited Oni, 2004:53), corroborates the view by
maintaining that lighting is not a mechanical process, it
neither simply a matter of illumination nor of making
effects. It could perform its role effectively in the
theatre when "it becomes art where and when it is
expressive of the inner circumstances of the action"
(Asomba, 1990:36).
Lighting has numerous functions to perform in
the theatre. Both Reid (1992) and Gillette (1997)
capture these to include 'dimensionality', 'selectivity',
'selective focus 'atmosphere', 'interaction', 'fluidity',
'style', 'visibility', 'modelling', and 'mood', (cited Oni,
2004:63,64). In order to achieve and perform effectively
the above role; stage/theatre lanterns are designed for
specific purposes. This is the more reason why lighting
designers have to be familiar with them in order to find
these equipment useful when the need arises.
Because the style of theatre performance often
changes and poses problem to the artistry of lighting
designer, his knowledge of human emotions, the
specific needs of the performance script, the flexibility
and limitations of his instruments, it takes his creative
ingenuity to contend with these problems; especially in
the face of gross inadequacies.
34

Technical Facilities In The Nigerian Theatre


As a nation, Nigeria cannot be said to have fully
utilised its artistic potential since independence, more
than forty-eight years ago. One of the reasons for the
under-utilisation of artistic potentials, apart from misdirection, has to do with mis-management of both
human and material resources. In keeping abreast with
this view, we shall perceive in this part, the arts of the
theatre also as a viable mechanism "for tracing the
past, beholding the present and inviting the future",
Musa (2003 :21). Moreover, we are more interested in
examining the state of such "mechanisms" and in this
case, the state of technical facilities in the Nigerian
theatre shall be critically considered.
Different appellations have been used to
describe the theatre as a place where human
aspirations are captured. Some of these are'
"University Theatre', 'Indigenous theatre', 'Amateurs/
Semi-professional theatre' and 'Professional theatre'
(Oni, 2000). In all of these appellations, the need to
reflect African concept is of focal interest. In the
process scholars have continuously clamoured for the
deliverance of African theatre from the Western spell,
because it portends more artistic doom than the faceboard benefit being canvassed in certain quarters.
Nzewi, (1981:437) for instance, asserts that "the
modern physical stage in Nigeria is an unimaginative
transfer of the Euro-American stage". Perhaps, this
contention is borne out of the uncritical adoption of the
proscenium stage in most theatre houses in Nigeria,
which is inimical to African performance concept in
design and execution. Besides, the state of this theatre
in terms of inadequate modern facilities is also an issue
of concern.
Undoubtedly,
the
performance
of
the
Proscenium stage in the Nigerian theatre has since
35

taken its toll on performance and designs. There have


been in existence the Proscenium theatres in Nigeria
that are richly endowed with necessary facilities. This
has been made possible through the contact of the
Nigerian theatre with that of Europeans: which is
typified by their coming into the country and other
foreigners that have special interest in the arts of the
theatre. Consequently some Universities were able to
benefit from this contact. Hence, the provision of good
facilities that offer stage production pleasant 'additive'
in the theatre received adequate attention. Among
those lucky few are the Arts Theatre, University of
Ibadan and University of Calabar Theatre.
Oni (2000) examines how venue and facilities
affect the art and practice of theatre. Focusing basically
on design and technology in set design, with some
mentions made of costumes, lighting, stage
management and technical direction", an in-depth
examination of the state of different theatres in Nigeria
was carried out. For instance, the Arts Theatre of the
University of Ibadan, which was initially completed as a
lecture Theatre in 1955, was later remodelled as a
theatre in 1958. Also, University of Lagos has; 2000
seat Auditorium and a 600 seat Arts Theatre", while
Obafemi Awolowo University have "Oduduwa Hall that
seats 1200 audience". University of Calabar Theatre
and University of Nigeria at Nsukka that houses "a
small 300 seat Arts Theatre and Princes Alexandra
auditorium with seating capacity of 500", respectively
are other theatres in the Nigerian University. According
to Ododo (2004:79), these major theatre buildings that,
came "at the wake of independence parade the
Proscenium theatre stage: a theatre stage that was in
vogue in Europe at the time.
Further analysis of the performance venues and
technical facilities available reveals that:
36

Of all the University theatres mentioned, the University


of Lagos Auditorium has perhaps the best of technical
facilities and equipment (Oni in Asomba, 2000: 179).
Oni, expatiates further:
Its 2000 seats are made up of 1300 seats at the
ground level and 700 seats at the balcony. It has
motorised revolving stage and orchestra lift coupled
with a 20 way counter weight flying system - four of
which are motorised. Some of the equipment
installed in the Auditorium include a 120 Channel
Rank Strand pre-set dimmer board, sound mixer
and a P. A. system, 2 x 35mm and 1 x 16mm film
projectors (Oni in Asomba, 2000:179).

However, a brief look at the state of the facilities


in the Arts Theatre of the University of Ibadan, even
reveals a wide gap between the two. The Arts Theatre
Ibadan, according to Oni (2000), only stocks facilities
which include:
a stage house..., mini II packs and a 30 channel
control, 22' T Spots, 14 Pattern 223/743, 4 follow
spots and strip lights. The auditorium, which was
initially designed for 304 is currently seating only
228. Other facilities in this theatre are timber and
plywood floor finish, a manual flying system, cinema
screen/cyclorama, orchestra pit and apron.., and
worn out stage curtain (Oni in Asomba, 2000: 176,
177).

Other theatres also abound in Nigeria, with their


uniqueness. Perhaps some of these are designed not
only to checkmate dominance of the proscenium
theatre, but they seek to reflect in truth what the
concept of African Theatre entails especially in staging.
Ododo, (1998) records some of these as:
37

The ABU studio Theatre which was designed by a


young American architect, Steve Erlich, with the
outstanding involvement of Michael Etherton, Jos
Open Air Theatre, the Pit Theatre of the Obafemi
Awolowo University and the Crab Theatre of the
University of Port-Harcourt (Ododo, 1998:75),

He stresses further that each of these theatres


"offers a new staging condition as different from the
prevailing European proscenium theatre houses/halls"
(Ododo, 1998:75).
The roles played by these types of theatre
stages in influencing the scenographic conception of
performance are stressed in the work. The suggestions
finally offered are aimed at re-positioning the
uniqueness of these theatres to reflect even some of
the "orthodox features of the proscenium stage", just as
he further uses his Thesis to make case for "a true
African theatre idiom" (Ododo, 2004:82). But one
wonders if the theatre stages: (Jos Open Air Theatre
and ABU Studio Theatre) are entirely free from being
under-utilised (Oti in Ododo, 1998:78).
In the public places, governmental, nongovernmental and individually-facilitated theatres also
exist side by side. Some of these are, the National
Theatre, Iganmu, the ( J. K, Randle Hall and Glover
Memorial Hall, all in Lagos, Demas Nwoko's New
Culture Studios at Ibadan and States' Councils for Arts
and Culture. Prominent among those that have in
stock, to a large extent, adequate and functioning
technical facilities, perhaps through Immense
government support or one form of loan or the others,
are the theatres of Colonel U, K, Bello Centre for Arts
and Culture, Minna, the Cross River State Cultural
Centre, Calabar and that of Oyo State Cultural Centre,
Ibadan" (Ododo, 1996). With the building and
equipping of many of these theatres, stage
38

performance in the recent past attracted so much


audiences into the theatre. And in terms of adequate
provision of technical facilities and performance
venues, this research is not in contradiction with Oni's
(2000) submission that the University of Lagos remains
the best for now.
Many great productions have been performed in
this theatre with successfully technical execution. In the
repertoire of such productions is Wale Ogunyemi's
Langbodo, sponsored by the then Nigeria International
Bank (N.I.B) in 1994. Sunday Ododo, an actor and set
assistant in the production recalls that: the lighting
designs as conceived by Duro Oni, gave coherence to
the visual and oral aspects of the theatre in a
meaningful hold. Because, "for a play that transcends
domestic frontier in terms of plot and artistic vision,
sophisticated lighting effects become somewhat
inevitable" (Ododo, 1996: 118).
Giving a background note on South Africans'
Sikulu, Oni (2004: 149) explains how the production
was greatly enriched with technical facilities in the
same theatre venue. The production that was
conceived as "a musical and dance theatre... blended
traditional modern music with an exciting parade of rich
costumes and dance sequences, fits into this stage
because the available technical facilities greatly
accommodate such.
From the discussions so far in this part, the
importance of modern theatre staging and facilities
cannot be over-emphasised in the Nigerian theatre.
However, the economic downturn and socio-political
strongholds of the country have since taken their toll on
the once vibrant theatres in Nigeria. Infact, the National
Theatre of Nigeria, which in the early 90's had
sophisticated lighting equipment and standard stages
for drama and other stage productions has since been
39

hit by this unpalatable economic crunch. According to


Atte, the theatre housed the "best and most modern
lighting equipment," worth 390, 666 US dollars (cf
Asomba, 2000:153). Although the story is different now,
because it is pathetic to discover that in the same
National edifice, some of these technical facilities are
now grounded. But under the current leadership of a
great theatre icon, Ahmed Yerima, the place is taking a
new shape at present.
In the next part, the University theatre would be
used as the background for our review of set and
lighting designs utilisation in Nigeria. However, two
elements would permeate the entire discussion: the
theatre and inadequate use of these technical facilities.
Set And Lighting In The Nigerian Theatre
In an attempt to fulfil a purpose in theatrical production,
set and lighting designs often harness relevant
technical facilities. These aesthetic media provide them
with a ample opportunity to make significant
statements through design. This is achievable only if
certain conditions are equally met. This is because
For any aids and decorations we invent, there is
one essential, condition: they must point and be
pointed by the significant action of the drama itself
and must lend themselves to human and
naturalistic touches in the acting. The setting must
be interwoven with the performance. It is not
enough to devise an elaborate background,
however suitable, running all the time a parallel
and rival appeal to the eye (Knight, "1968: 126).

Therefore, all 'additions', in term of set and lighting


must interlock to assist both the actors and audience.
On the long run, the hidden message of such theatrical
performance becomes known. Although set or lighting
designer needs to collaborate and relate well with other
40

designers and artistic director in the theatre, in order to


realise better his dream; the smooth ordering or
otherwise of his tools and equipment depends largely
on the availability of needed sufficient material and
human resources. Thus it is saddening to still note in
the Nigerian theatre that the utilisation of set and lights
for theatrical performance, especially on stage is being
hampered daily because of the inadequacies of
technical facilities.
Moreover, the strive to contend with the above
situation has since placed a great demand on many
Nigerian designers and even more on the creativity of
playwrights who have to conceptualize scenography
along the existing theatre stages, particularly in the
midst of the modern technological advancement.
Therefore, as we progress in the section, a special
search light is being beamed on some of these
impediments, while some of the scholarly contributions
in this regards shall be reviewed.
Writing on Technical Aids in Yoruba popular
Travelling Theatre", Ododo (2000b:41) traces the
"development and aesthetic deployment of set design,
lighting, music and sound effect, props, costume and
make-up in the stage performances... of the Alarinjo
theatre practitioners". He challenges scenic designers
to creatively harness the aesthetic values of the
minimal set and lighting facilities of yester-years to
address the technical demands of modern theatrical
productions. Ododo (1994: 154), however, believes
that "imaginative scenographic representation of
performances, could transform the destiny of such
performances, if properly composed.
Knowing fully well that "every play requires' a
different arrangement" (Nelms, 1970:7), set designer is
further stimulated as he prepares to create a design
suitable for such. Focusing his attention on effective
41

manipulation of available facilities should not be


compromised, through which his work evolves to create
and reinforce the atmosphere and moods of
performance. Nwadigwe (2002), also re-affirms that:
the ultimate aim of scene design is to assist the
performer interpret his part in a suitable environment
and enhance the understanding and enjoyment of
the production by the audience (2002:95, 96).

This explains why in his own view; Nelms (1964:


159) submits that despite inadequacies that may be
attributed to set, the latter still needs to relate
harmoniously with lighting:
it is necessary that the lights and scenery work in
complete harmony, for one is most dependant on
the other in the total in effect and both are there only
to help the actor tell the story.

In the Nigerian theatre, the cumbersome and


static nature of set, coupled with inadequate fund for
realising most of the design/production concepts are
making this art less attractive. Although in the Theatre
Arts Departments, set design is still receiving
considerable attention unlike lighting design. Dauda
Enna, who is also a theatre scholar from experience,
appraises the situation in his essay "Design in the
Nigerian theatre". He observes that: "the practice of
theatre design in Nigeria is still far cry from what it
should be" (Enna, 2000:70).
Also attesting to the inadequacy and its inherent
short comings is Ododo (2000a:94). He maintains that:
"to train and practice with obsolete equipment will
surely not engender professional advancement". It is
therefore a serious matter that should not be
underrated by all well-meaning Nigerians, who envision
better future for the theatre as a whole. Hence the
42

inadequacy has since short-changed the teaching and


learning process of Design and Technical Theatre
Courses in the Nigerian University. Ododo (2000a),
then takes a deep thrust into the numerous challenges
being faced by the young designer in the Nigerian
theatre. In the article titled "The Challenges of the
Young Designer in the Nigerian Theatre", he describes
as regrettable their desire to grow and practice in the
Nigerian theatre which is:
being incapacitated because professional stage is
lacking in a number of design facilities that can
widen his imaginative horizon and enhance his
practice (Ododo, 2000a:94).

From the foregoing, it is noted that without


adequate tools, materials and other technical
equipment to work with, the designer in the Nigerian
theatre faces more challenges. That is why a visit to
some of these Theatre Arts Departments would confirm
even the sorry state in which the scene docks, most of
which hardly house functional tools and useful
materials, are.
In an attempt to creatively resolve these
technical inadequacies, some interesting positions
have emerged on how to handle some technical
elements in productions. Asomba (2000:XX) believes
that set design should benefit from various
environmental nuances of African concept of theatre. It
is a view that suggests:
no return to an archaic Elizabethanism,' (which is
capable of) robbing the theatre of its usual appeals
and putting nothing in their place. I urge something
positive which if well done should be exciting
(Knight, 1968:125). (Emphasis mine).

43

However, Oni (2004) seeks to eliminate set


design in place of lighting. He contends that effective
stage lighting can create appropriate environment for
any stage action. The cost and energy invested in
building set would thus be minimised. Much earlier,
Parker and Wolf (1996) observe that light has begun
"to be a scenic element the moment a light source is
visible to the audience". This is prevalent now in
"concert lighting with beams of moving light revealed in
-the air is one of the most recent manifestations of light
as scenery" (Oni, 2004:54). Pilbrow, Edmond Jones,
Gordon Craig and Josef Svoboda, equally share this
view. However, as Oni (2004) canvasses for stage
lighting as scenic element, he also recognises some
limitations bothering on the absence of standard
theatres with lighting equipment (Oni, 2004: 169). This
admittance therefore weakens his above proposal of
light as a credible alternative to set design.
He is not alone in identifying this predicament,
Ododo (1996) in Stage lighting in the Contemporary
Nigerian theatre" also laments the present state of
lighting in the University theatres due to the absence of
necessary facilities. He therefore bemoans how
technological advancement resulting in new inventions
of lighting equipment has rendered most of the early
ones obsolete and archaic. More elaborate about the
deplorable state of technical facilities in the country is
the observation of a renowned theatre scholar,
Gbilekaa (2006):
In Nigeria as indeed in most African nations, the
practice of technical theatre which involves sets,
costumes, make-up, sound and lighting is in a poor
state of development. In other words, the designer in
Nigerian theatre practice operates in an environment
that is not technically friendly.

44

This indeed is occasioned by "dearth of


technical facilities for training, lack of modern design
tools and instruments ..., no standard make-up
studios ..." (Gbilekaa forwarded in Oni & Ododo,
2006:6).
Nevertheless, in "Technical Aids in the Nigerian
Theatre: Past, Present and Future" (1994), Ododo,
extensively fashions out various ways of escape. Many
of them are practically possible if vigorously pursued by
designers and other stakeholders in the Nigerian
theatre. All considered, 'adequacy' of technical facilities
is a necessity in the theatre. Dapo Adelugba, another
Nigerian theatre scholar posits that: "the better the
technical aids in the production the bigger the chances
of making it real and concrete for the audience" (cf
Ododo, 1988:108 and 2001:142). The word 'better' is
perhaps engendered by the need to give adequate
provision; procurement and utilisation of technical
facilities a deeper thought. At the University of lbadan,
Ododo (1988:108), also acknowledges the adequacy of
technical facilities and its effect on production as
witnessed in Sotimirin' s "Godchild" on the 18th of July,
1988. He then reiterates that for an acceptable
production, adequate technical facilities should be
used.
Geoffrey Axworthy, in the late 50's, for instance
recalls a situation, when the late Kola Ogunmola was
contacted to "prepare a sketch for a dramatisation of
Amos Tutuola's novel, The Palmwine Drinkard for
stage. He observed that what Late Ogunmola actually
presented "was a libretto of Wagnerian proportions,
raising technical problems far beyond the means of our
University stage" (Axworthy in Ogunmola, 1972:IX).
Nothing was actually wrong with the adoption of the
concept in question. But the lack of appropriate and
adequate lighting and technical equipment to realise
45

the idea put forward by Ogunmola prompted the


School of Drama of the then University College,
Ibadan, to consider another possible way of achieving
the same result. In fact, the adaptation of the novel to
stage performance has to be on hold, until five years
later; because "the school of drama was of course
operating within the limit of a meagre financial budget"
(Oti, 1978:27). During the period, the creative ingenuity
via improvisational approach of a great theatre
designer, Demas Nwoko by his brilliant, economical
and practical design, later gave the dramatisation a
boost. Apart from the patronage of the Rockfeller
Foundation in terms of financial assistance, relevant
technical equipment and available facilities within their
reach, were equally used. The above further attest to
the fact that the menace of inadequate technical
facilities has been with us for long and can be
controlled, if one is determined. This further
underscores our concern for the need to harness the
available human and material resources together in
Nigeria so as to enliven the "ailing soul" of technical
facilities for achieving maximum technical aesthetic
success in productions.
Furthermore, in contending with the deplorable
situation of technical facilities in the Nigerian theatre,
Eghagha (2002:71) also observes that: "in modern
times, directors have responded with great creativity to
the demands of the times". Femi Osofisan is one such
playwright - directors. Akinwale (2001:19) observes for
instance that Osofisan's plays are mainly written for
performance in a situation akin to "a poor theatre".
However, he explains that what is regarded as 'poverty'
here is not just "ideas or content but of a considerable
management and usage of materials within the scarce
resources available to him". Sunday Ododo who has
consistently made a case for symbolic staging in theory
46

and practice, believes that from 'a creative pedestal',


the issue of inadequate technical facilities especially
set and lighting can be addressed. For him:
Pitching tent with symbolic production styles for
instance could save us a lot of headache in the use
of technical aids. There should be a drastic
reduction in stage realism. The Nigerian theatre
audience today has grown so much that every
staging details need not be spelt out for it. (Ododo,
1994:161).

However, this writer would prefer seeing


designers in our theatre take up challenges and
advantages of the modern hi-technology and thereby
keep-up with their usage. This becomes necessary as
a result of the current trends in modern designs, which
often demand details that may further lead to depicting
realism in theatrical performance.
Notes
1. Professor Sola Adeyeye who was a member of
the Nigerian House of Representatives in Abuja
explains this concept further in an article titled
Foundational
Principles
for
Nigerian
Renaissance". He describes "forbacky dance" to
be 'a dance repertoire that comprises of a step
forward and one or more steps backwards in an
exercise of inexorable nullity and retrogression
The Guardian, Saturday November 6, 2003,
p.65.

47

CHAPTER THREE
Design and Technical Concepts in Nigerian
Theatre Practice: A Postulation of Re-definitive
Approach towards a sustainable development
Design and technical concepts spice up
theatrical performance, especially when require to
contribute significantly to the overall success of
performance, whether on stage, television or in video
and celluloid. Therefore, any theatrical activity or
dramatic enactment without the synthesis of these
audio-visual elements is more or less a pseudo-theatre
meant for the glorification of animals in human skin - so
to say. In the African theatre environment; the
involvement of mostly visual elements normally adds
value to theatrical experience. Bodunde (2000:72 and
2001:32) captures theatre vividly as a concept that
provides an enabling platform for the articulation of
human aspirations. This implies that inasmuch as
there would be enactment of dramatic action whereby
informative; educative and entertaining nuances are
packaged, theatre also as a structure/place/location,
should be provided, without which the dramatics
become a mere gathering of people in an organised
discussion.
Since the concept of theatre is all-embracing,
further clarification is necessary. That is why Bodunde
(2000:72) again identifies other functionalities of
theatre: it functions as a reliable index of the
tendencies and movement of culture". Here, the
concept of design which is being collocated in technical
theatre usually ensures the' smooth transition/
transmission of peoples' cultural tendencies. This is
derived from one culture to another when their totality
is revealed via performances. In the process, this
48

movement may possibly come in contact with more


advanced (improved) cultural tendencies, which could
be easily imbibed or adopted. This has since been
experienced in the Nigerian theatre via early contact
with the European theatre conventions - with their
attendant effects in all the arts of the theatre.
Further, Adegbite (2005:49, 50), also adds that,
theatre "thrives in an environment that is conducive...
Thus, its continuous existence (or relevance) depends
largely on the involvement (acceptability) of the equally
active/responsive audience." This third element,
audience, - in the theatre parlance, is often neglected;
however not in the case of African theatre. The latter
agglutinates all human and functional relevant material
objects for its total enjoyment" Therefore, it
underscores a case being made, which this chapter
strongly proposes, for design and technical concepts to
be suitably and carefully applied along the same
direction. Rather than allowing the 'new culture'
(western concepts) to dominate or dictate the tune; a
sort of careful relationship between them is being
considered. Thus, various attempts by some Nigerian
scholars on this issue are made against the backdrop
of provision of enviable and enabling environment.
Proper understanding and adoption of Nigerian as well
as Western concepts to aid the development of African
theatre as a whole, shall also receive attention. The
Nigerian scholars include Ododo (1998), Sofola (2001),
Nwoko, Nzewi and Soyinka (1981). Using mainly the
Nigerian theatre environment, and what they
envisioned could 'oil' the wheel of progress (positively,
subjectively and objectively though), are the unending
issues of design and technical involvement which
further heighten the questions of 'reality', 'truthfulness'
and 'authenticity' in the African theatre.
49

Perhaps in their own way of contributing to


knowledge,
some
European/American
theatre
practitioners and scholars also got attracted to the
issue at stake: validity of the African theatre. Hence,
"an' average (of these) Western patrons of the African
artistic and creative milieu... used European and
European cultural artistic history asparadigm for
determining and judging, (for instance) Nigeria's artistic
trends' (Nzewi 1981:438). The Nigerian/African
scholars rising stoutly in defence of this Western
idiosyncrasy
notwithstanding,
the
development
interestingly has brought about changes in the attitude
of the African theatre scholars. The pre-occupation of
this essay is not to duplicate the ideas so far
expressed, particularly in making a case for the
relevance of design' and technical concepts-with
African theatre representing our cyclorama; on which
the scenery of Nigerian theatre practice is being
painted. However, the tendency to always observe the
'aping culture' is rearing its ugly head again in the
Nigerian design and technical concepts. Let us now
examine some of the militating factors that are against
design and technical concepts in Nigerian theatre
practice.
African Theatre: A Glimpse
The African theatre is perhaps linked with several
communal interactive activities. Some of these are
found especially to have emanated among the
traditional African societies where story telling, song,
and dance are (as aesthetic ingredients) relating
together. All these are "fundamental media for the
transmission of most cultures (that) were closely
integrated with a rich inheritance in the visual arts and
also in crafts (Encyclopedia of World Drama, 1984:22).
The concepts of communalism, totality and
50

interrelatedness in the African cosmology are also


replete with theatricals. This idea later developed into
the ever-active relationship between the African theatre
- in practice - with the performers and their audience,
who:
behave not as consumers (entertained patrons) but
also as a contingent, even if structurally peripheral,
factors needed for the unfolding of the drama at both
the ideational and enaction levels, (Nzewi
1981:449).

The audience here is both elastic and mobile.


The African theatre is a living theatre, whose audience
are also engrossed and, most times, transformed into
performances. This is the view that Nzewi reviews
above through the Ikaki-the tortoise masquerade
performance among the Kalabaris of the Niger-Delta
area of Nigeria. Nzewi concludes that drama, music,
dance and mime (are) structurally unified in the
ideational and the characteristics of a theatre
presentation (Nzewi, 1981:448-9). All these theatrical
and other visual elements exist in the lkaki-the tortoise
masquerade.
The nature of African theatre is illustrated further
through Late Zulu Sofola's Wedlock of the Gods (1972)
and her article The Theatre in Search of African
Authenticity" (2001). Thus, she succinctly describes
theatres as a medium of artistic expression where all
aspects of human experience are mirrored in a
dynamic living form". What she also portrays in the
characters of Ogwoma - the young widow that commits
adultery in the play above, is intended to mirror a
particular societal norm. This again finds relevance in
Clay and Krempel's (1967:25) concept of theatre which
"reflects the total cosmic, moral, and metaphysical
order of the life of the people". She further underscores
51

that fact (from the African perspective) by saying that


theatre
is an arena where human beings are presented in
cosmic totality, acting and reacting to forces around
them and within them, perceiving and being
perceived by those interacting with them and by
those in the audience who experience with them the
enigma that is the common lot of humanity (Sofola,
2001:1).

Furthermore, there are general expressions


from scholars that the African concepts of theatre is/are
said to have manifested (as a mirror that is 'mirrored')
through acrobatics, puppetry, myths, rituals, legends,
initiation ceremonies, festive dances and celebration,
masquerading, circus drama of carnival, ancestral
worship, and so on. This among others, substantiates
the reason why theatre is purposely created for
'playing' or entertainment. However, Sofola (2001:1),
regarding theatre as a mirror of human existence and
reality, expatiates:
If we are 'holding up the mirror', we must hold it up
for somebody to see something in himself and in the
nature around him which is his environment, his
cosmos, his society.

Neither in isolation nor in a haphazard manner is


the above expression made; rather, the relevant design
and technical concepts- still following the nature of
African theatre aesthetics -should be religiously
followed. In support, Uka (2002:41), posits that "not
randomly, but by deliberate design, created icons.
Therefore, as a complex art, the nature of theatre,
which is more pronounced in indigenous African
theatres, demands the integration of various art forms,
such as poetry., music, dance, dialogue, spectacle,
52

painting, sculpture and architecture, (Asomba, 2000:xi


and 1990:72).
This essay therefore believes in the views
expressed above as the true nature of African
theatre which revolves around those existing in such
environments. Along the same direction, everything
works for the overall success of theatrical activities,
which places also a useful/functional demand on
available mask (sculpture) costume, make-up, painting,
architecture and natural or improvised lighting devices.
In this context, the assertion that theatre is "a house of
phantom struggles" (Osofisan 1982:79), is detrimental.
This expression, by Osofisan, it is believed, is a
calculated attempt at glorifying or satisfying the
imperialists' alienation theory1 that is struggling hard to
survive in the African / Nigerian theatre environment.
The above statement also exemplifies the
nature of modern/contemporary theatre: a proscenium
that restricts artistes' movement and places them on an
equally regimented or doctored locale. Perhaps this is
a pointer to some of the influences, on the African
theatre, which are also prone to changes. Bodunde
(2001:33), offers a clue, which seeks to validate "the
core of Obafemi's aesthetic theory" - in that..., the
contemporary Nigerian theatre is (usually) made up of
oppositional constituents each posing a counter
aesthetic mode....
Suffice also to note that adequate use of
(design and) technical aids can better... the lots of
theatre performance. In the case of modern Nigerian
theatre practice, the playwright, director and the actors
have necessary involvement if the visual essence of
their arts is to be enhanced," Ododo (1988:109). Again,
Ododo (1998), captures Nzewi's (1981) extensive
discourse, in that African theatre design/technical
concepts should try and relate both physically and
53

functionally to those aspects that project the true


African cultural and artistic endeavours. Thus, the
relationship between the theatre/performances (in the
African context and content), performers (actors) and
the people (active audience), underscores various
analyses which showcase the concepts' totality and
interrelatedness. Therefore, design and technical
concept are no exemption.
African theatre has come of age. Having passed
through numerous stages, its developments is
evidenced in its many forms and styles. In other words,
the indigenous African theatre, along with its design
and technical concepts, has been transformed. It
changes easily to reflect situations and circumstances.
Frequent contact with it by people affects them. This
presupposes that the design and technical concepts
that accommodate the frequent changes could be also
affected by the changes in forms and styles.
Design Concepts
Creative arrangement of visuals and emotional
experience, which give harmony (cohesion), and
thereby reflecting the aesthetics of objects of contact;
points briefly to what design should be in the theatre.
Thus, as an integral tool, as well as communicative
medium, the designer uses design and technical
concepts in the theatre to project the playwright's and
director's artistic expressions and all types of
structuring and arrangement. In doing this, however,
his design should take cognizance of the fundamental
elements and the principles of design. These are
meant to enhance the aesthetics of theatre
performance through careful composition of relevant
symbols, icons and indexes. In modern design trends,
these elements are subsumed under the roles and
54

functions of costume, make-up, props, scenery, lighting


and sound in theatre performance.
In the indigenous theatre form, the inclusion of
these technical aids is also possible; but, with their
cumbersome and crude nature, some modern
designers thought it wise to give them a modern touch.
The visual elements that must be properly arranged
and manipulated are line, form, tone, colour, texture,
light and space. And, to achieve a holistic stage picture
which accentuates the general aesthetic appeal, the
human element (actors) must be considered too. This
buttresses the fact that design and technical concepts
should not be allowed to impede the movement of the
human elements on stage. In the popular African
theatre practice, all these matters are duly considered.
Thus, in spite of the fact that the masquerade like an
actor is adorned flamboyantly with heavy costume and
props, it is also designed in such a way as to allow for
free or graceful movement.2
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol.17), captures
design in its entirety as embodying other technical aids
as:
the total concrete shape of a dramatic event: It
embraces the arrangement of words, performers,
dance, music, setting, costume, make-up, lighting,
and properties for maximum theatrical effectiveness,
(p.529).

In typical African traditional theatre environment,


the concept of theatre design (stage/scenery) is
dynamic. Performing arts presentations are both
unique and flexible in content and mode. Thus making
them suitable for arena stage. The changing nature of
African design concepts also does not give room for
restriction particularly in terms of movement,
adornment and decoration. These visual aesthetic
55

devices must be carefully considered because in the


earliest phases of indigenous theatre, African theatre
designers were versed in the use of incorporating
masks, costumes, and properties in design and
theatrical performances without hindrance.
The use of these technical elements may not be
confined to a place. For example, most African theatres
that developed from story telling, or festival
celebrations, cannot afford to be performed on a spot.
Although the ritual aspects of performances could be
done on a sacred 'stage' (shrine), but since they (the
performers) are always moving from one village to
another; the scope of their design/decor, costume,
make-up, properties and masks is usually minimized.
They take along only those that are portable. Examples
of these are seen in the Efua T. Sutherland storytelling
travelling theatre, the Yoruba 'Alarinjo' travelling
theatre, the Hubert Ogunde travelling theatre. A recent
example is the Ayanagalu International Dance Troupe.
The latter, made use of the nuances of Yoruba
traditional technical aids. These include; elaborate
costume, miniature or caricature props and
exaggerated masks. One thing is clear, the troupe
makes no attempt at 'fooling' the audience; for in
stance instead of using a living baby (child); a doll with
pink colour was used.3
The costuming process in the African theatre is
described above as being elaborate. Owing to its
inclination towards realism, some props are also real,
while some are miniatures of the real objects being
represented. Hence, it is possible to find in an
indigenous African theatre performance the use of
walking sticks, caps, beads, charms, baby dolls, and
other accessories like shoes, and dane guns. The use
of the latter as a prop in the production of Ogunyemi's
Langbodo in 1994, in Lagos, exemplifies the live effect
56

of the technical aid on the audience at the


performance. This is unlike the simulated effect of the
modern theatre, which the modern audience is already
familiar with.
Hubert Ogunde's theatre and design aesthetics
were exemplified by his extensive use of realistic
costumes of historical significance. But what could be
deduced from his use of realistic scenery (batik
clothing as a backdrop) and later, modern stage
lighting is unconnected with his commitment to
projecting African aesthetics and his exposure to the
western world. His flair for stage decor and aesthetics
prompted him into spending all he could on such
designs and technical aids - as far back as 1947.
Despite the foreign influence, he did not fail to
constantly, inject the indigenous flavour in his design
and technical concepts.
Militating Factors
As stated earlier, there are some factors
militating against the total adoption of modern design
and technical concepts in the Nigerian theatre. Though
the effectiveness and positive influences of modern
technology (via westernized concepts) is germane to
the enhancement of our design in the Nigerian theatre
the need for cautious embrace is necessary. Indeed,
creativity thrives on meaningful contact with external
influences and experiences. Nevertheless, this should
not be to the detriment of one's cherished ideas and
principles. Nwoko's (1981:475) view here is instructive:
African culture can effectively make use of modem
technology for its realization and dissemination on the
scale demanded by the world today, without
dehumanizing is values." Comparing this with Nzewi's
(1981) view, there is something to worry about. For
instance, Nzewi (1981:437) observes:
57

The modern physical stage (wherein other


visual/design and technical elements are being
incorporated) in Nigeria is an unimaginative transfer
of the Euro-American stage, but devoid of the
facilities and sophistication of the latter.

Nothing is wrong however with the attempt or,


rather, in making a strong case for the adoption of
sophisticated technical equipment and devices to
enhance theatre performance in Nigeria. However,
such expectation in the midst of inadequacy of
necessary facilities to enhance sophistication amounts
to ridicule. What usually puts the Nigerian concept at a
disadvantage is, among other things, the needed
shortage of sophisticated equipment.
Only very few design and technical theatre
outfits (companies) across the country, really have
some of the needed modern equipment. Indeed, the
universities that should ideally be role models are also
suffering from lack of vital equipment. But the question
has always been... must we stop 'action' (theatre)
because the needed technical materials are not within
the reach or are inadequate? Definitely not! 'The
theatre must go on'. It only calls for a sober reflection
and an assessment of the available means. Knowing
full well that, for a meaningful theatre experience to
take place, the nitty-gritty of the environment that
produces it, or where it takes place, is crucial to its
understanding and enjoyment.
Nothing is actually wrong with the indigenous
concepts except that they are obsolete while the
available materials/facilities and equipment are being
manipulated by the very few designers around. The era
of imposition of foreign concepts or, rather, the idea of
designing to satisfy the taste/quest of imperialists ought
to have gone to oblivion by now. Ododo (1994 and
58

1998) offers useful suggestions on how to maximize


our local materials/technical aids for maximum results
in theatrical production.
On the other hand, lack of the required or
adequate knowledge and skill in design and technical
concepts hamper the growth of Nigerian theatre
practice. This is another poser to the training outlets
(formal and informal) located all over the country. Lack
of enough manpower in this specialized area of theatre
performance and lack of proper maintenance of the few
available equipment have constituted an impediment.
Our culture of maintenance is several points below
average. This attitude must change, if we intend to
keep pace with technology. Although-many theatres in
Nigeria parade mainly obsolete; under-utilized or overutilized technical and lighting equipment, careless
handling of some of these equipment contributes
significantly to their damage.
Theatre practitioners need to be fully acquainted
with the nature of theatre in Nigeria. For instance,
those who are very young in the technical theatre may
not understand why the submission and conclusions of
the likes of Asomba (2000) and Nwoko (1986) should
serve as catalysts for the usefulness and relevance of
our indigenous concepts, if vigorously pursued. As one
of these scholars puts it, in reference to the situation
and circumstances antecedent to design in the African
theatre (Nigeria as a case study):
With these circumstances or African theatre at the
back of the mind of a designer working on an African
theatre, he is expected to reflect in his creations an
environment that is truly informed by such
circumstances, (Asomba 2000:xxiv).

He warns (which we also strongly embrace) that,


in spite of the 'mad rush' to showcase the current
59

trends, imposition of 'westernized environment pieces'


should be restricted.
Another factor is lack of focus. This has
prompted our designers to yield (consciously or
unconsciously) to the whims and caprices of
Europeans/ Americans on design concepts. Some
designers in this category preoccupy themselves with
beautifying of the performance with a flurry of modern
technical aesthetics than the message. This attempt is
described as "a culture of apemanship" by Wa Thiong'o
(1986:3). The factor is working in consonance with
other impediments to create a great setback to the
upliftment of the African concepts; thereby making the
development of design and technical concepts a
seemingly difficult terrain especially in Nigeria.
The Way Forward
Before the concepts of design and technical aids
impact meaningfully on the development of the
Nigerian theatre, even though some of these theatrical
elements are also 'problematic' towards the attempt;
we need to consider the following factors:
(1) The methods of staging the drama of indigenous
Nigerian (African) theatre artistes are not embedded in
the written scripts; rather, the histrionics usually revolve
around mime, dancing, singing, re-enactment,
storytelling, festival, ritual, etc., while the re-visitation of
performances is based on strong oral account. In this
regard, the use of technical aids and designs,
especially when the artistes are expected to tour
several places with the performances, would be
minimal. In modern times, this typifies the efforts of
some theatre scholars. Among whom are: Oteh PatrickJuate's Theatre for Community Development
(Awopetu 2002), Lanre Bamidele's Theatre for the
Farmers" (2004:33-3-1), Steve Abah's Popular
60

Theatre outfit, and Chuck Mike's "Performing Arts


Studio" for community development; and others (cf.
Obafemi 1999:4).
These recently modified attempts are now making a
positive impact as theatre and the Nigerian concepts of
designs become more prominence. The theatre as a
whole is also moving nearer its audience (Nigerian)
where they are, and discussing their issues. The
designers are now being trained as the practices
expose them to new challenges and innovation. Thus,
they are now advantaged by the modern technology
but definitely for this form of theatre, the domination of
the Western world that favours the proscenium stage,
could not have been humbled.
(2) The issue of space and time has been taken care of
with the above explanation; but not so far action; which
"may start from a compound and then move from
compound to compound, and may end at a village
square where there are spectators" (Osofisan
2002:41). To this end, the concepts of design are also
affected and become influenced. In fact, in addition to
the availability of the natural sceneries at the
background of their performance area (compound/open
space/market square), which usually enhances the
artistry of the designer; the participating audience are
easily disposed to supplying further needed technical
aids/design materials in their localities; most especially
those considered relevant to the performance at a
given time. Thus, the designer may not burden himself
with parking and moving much equipment around.
(3) Also, the audience factor is still in focus. Since they
are not stationary, there may not be any need to collect
gate fees from them in the typical setting. However, any
meaningful involvement of design and technical aids,
firmly rooted in the African concepts, would not go
unappreciated. Hence, the audiences, in appreciation
61

of what the performers are doing with those design


elements/materials to advance the course of a
performance, are moved to paste money on their
foreheads. This was the case when students and
University community members of Ilorin sprayed the
Ayanagalu travelling group with money during their
performance in 2003. This means, there is no limit to
the forms of appreciation, unlike the attitude of some
unruly audience, members of the contemporary theatre
who would feel 'unmoved' - because, afterall, they have
paid for the show!
(4) Further, the captivating effect of the use of natural
or live technical and design media is another area in
which the African theatre excels. Though in terms of
illumination of performance, such devices as gas
lantern, kerosine lantern, hurricane and carbidepowered lighting earlier paraded may be crude, the
enjoyment that the audience derive (with these crude
lights) make them forget what special effects lighting
equipment could generate. However, this does not
vitiate the potency and the advantage, which the
modern lighting facilities have over the former.
The application of some of the crude lightings
are found mostly in the Southern-Western parts of
Nigeria. Take for instance, 'Egungun Ode' (the hunters'
masquerade), which is being celebrated annually at
Ogbomoso. The masquerade is billed to perform round
the town for seven consecutive days. In the nights, in
between, carbide-lighting and gas lamps are mostly
used. These devices are still very relevant even in the
present age. All we need to do is to improve on them to
suit our immediate need and purpose; especially when
and where theatre is to take place without a means of
generating electricity. Ododo (2000:41 - 52)'s inspiring
discourse in this regard cannot be overlooked.
62

Having realized that there are also limitations to


the above suggestions; further innovative steps would
open a new vista of opportunity in advancing this
approach. Bearing in mind that the current economic
recession may stall the provision of many needed
special effects (as desired); sourcing locally for the
alternative media is so crucial to sustain this effort. For
example, let us ponder a while on the application of
indigenous make-up.
Perhaps the use of make-up kits packaged by
the West is probably hazardous to the body. Take for
instance, the case of an African performer (using
mainly western make-ups) who may act in only short
knickers, or adorn his/her body. She stands the risk of
skin infection, if the foreign chemicals are not
adaptable to the black skin.
A once versatile indigenous popular artiste in the
Nigerian arts theatre circle, Ayox Arisekola, said to
have been rendered immobile by a skin disease,
provides a useful example in this case.4 This reveals
that most of the westernized design and technical
concepts may not favour us on the long run. But, rather
than discard them altogether, we may further explore
our own local materials like 'osun' (camwood)
'mokore'/aro (dye) for make-up, etc. These are
innocuous to the black skin. Thus, in Adebayo Faleti's
Basorun Gaa's play script, the technical instruction
provided is relevant to us, in the way the local dye/paint
materials ('efun' - white chalk and 'osun' - canwood) are
applied to the body parts of a condemned king, one of
the victims of the tyrannical Basorun, (Faleti, 1972:1),
in order to generate some meanings. Whereas in the
video compact disc versions of the same play (Basorun
Gaa, 2004), this aesthetic element (though rustic) is
missing. This emphasizes the symbolic nature of
unadulterated African concepts of design, which can be
63

revisited and infused into the modern theatrical


performance.
Imagine this visual effect in another perspective
of using African (Nigerian) technical concepts to project
an indepth meaning of a happening in James
Henshaw's This is Our Chance (1956:31), when the
wife (Ansa) of the king (Damba) died; in the evening of
the same day, Ansa's chair is removed." Without the
use of modern technical/lighting effects, tragedy or loss
of a person is established here. This therefore calls for
a concerted effort by the designers to be grounded in
the African conception of these visual aids in the
theatre. The rustic (aesthetic) effects often experienced
in the African theatre which (as observed by Asomba
2000:xxi) are:
intimately and functionally linked to the sociopolitical and religious realities of the African society
in concept; and it goes beyond aesthetic reflection of
reality - that is often associated with most western
theatres (even in their other art works).

Rather, designer should be concerned with how


well modern lighting devices could reflect, the reality of:
such objects as painting (it may be body painting),
statues and masks, that are mostly employed in the
performance of African people - which are not mere
contemplative objects but are intended to produce
aesthetic satisfaction as well as perform other social
functions (Asomba 2000:xxi).

Hence, design and technical concepts in the


modern (contemporary) still have a long way to go in
blending with the African concepts of design. Instead of
assuming a pretentious disposition towards the
understanding of this alien design art, the African
64

designers should fashion out a new course for creating


our own unique theatre design. For example, when
Asomba (2000) made a strong case for acquisition of
necessary skill and knowledge in the African way of
designing for theatre performance, he found support in
Abiodun Abe's set design of Oduduwa videos (1 & 2,
2002). Using mainly African media (mixed), several
real-live-like settings were achieved. This is prominent
in the Mecca scene.
We believe that, if other practitioners join hands
with the likes of Demas Nwoko (though aging) of
Nigeria, perhaps by now, the African concept of design
could have been fully comprehended. This explains
why the training and re-training of Nigeria's promising
and established designers in the theatre is a sine qua
non.
Conclusion
Our preoccupation so far is to make African
theatre practice all- embracing. What we believe could
ensure this clamour is enshrined mainly in the revisitation of relevant design and technical aids that are
firmly rooted in the ideas of African indigenous theatre.
Nzewi (1979:16) captures the same view by
highlighting the nitty-gritty of indigenous African theatre
practice that:
it performs concrete social, political and religious
functions in the community, without major restriction
placed upon it by physical limitations or time
barriers as in contemporary African theatre.

What mainly attracts attention is again prompted


by the need to enhance and subsequently sustain in
our theatre, the spirit of inter-relationship, which is
65

expected to exist between actor and actor, actor and


audience, and actor-manager and audience.
In spite of Ododo's (1998) clamours for a
balanced approach to the handling of design in the
western context, to blend it with the content of African
theatre, and Mazinga-Kalyankolo's (1986) extensive
work (though objective/instructive) towards the positive
influences of modern technology on the African 'artistic
traditions', this chapter still believes in a more radical
(but diplomatic) approach. That is, a more pragmatic
step should be taken to project our own traditional
African aesthetics in theatre and through our own ideas
of design and technical aids. In order to reflect more on
the glorious past, all the technical elements that are
embedded in the African theatre should be revisited,
and made (though) to answer to the ever-changing
design trend in the modern environment, yet still
retaining the African 'aroma' and 'taste'. Take, for
instance, the use of traditional drums that could be
manipulated to punctuate the actions of actors on set,
in place of what the electrical appliances could provide;
Ayo Akinwale's "Mountain of Wealth" (2001), a typical
total theatre in the form of festival theatre staged at the
University of Ilorin, is a good example of where
traditional drums were used to prompt both the actors'
speeches and their actions.
Since theatre is occasioned by the desire to
change sameness, to grow like life itself and progress
to something more different and perhaps more
functional (culturally relevant too)" (Ododo 1988:59),
the design concept of some popular African traditional
theatres which by tradition favours mobile scenery
(scenic pieces) should be re-worked to contain the
flavour which the modern design is capable of
providing. A good example of this was the experience
66

in the early 90s of the Ayota mobile theatre


performances and Felix Okolo's 'Aruku Shanka.
Although many contemporary scholars may
have subscribed to the notion that design and technical
aids in the African concept are both static and less
functional" (Ododo 2000:44); which also forms the bulk
of discourse in Oni (2004)'s Stage Lighting: The
Nigerian Perspective, this essay would not. Thus, we
hold the belief that, in spite of their subjective
conclusion, the African concept of design is highly
significant, especially to the development of African
theatre in the present age. What we need now,
therefore, is to make further exploration and
commitment to what we believe in. In the process, the
modern audience would be attracted in moving closer
to what theatre wants to offer them. While the training
of the prospective designers should not be left in the
hands of the formal institutions alone, the informal
method; and experimental learning are again
canvassed for. Our maintenance culture, which is
nothing to write home about, should be improved upon.
If some of the inherited technical equipment and design
facilities that some theatre institutions had in the past
had been well maintained, perhaps the life span of
some that have been 'short changed' could be
prolonged, and made available now.
Until above are taken care of, the involvement of
design and technical aids (ingredients) with African
'flavour' that would serve as the much-awaited elixir to
enhance the growth of theatre, in or outside the
country, may be a wishful thinking (Nasiru 1990:44) or
a charade after all. Hear what Ododo (2000:44), again
affirms of the African trado-concept of scenography in
theatre performance:

67

it performed other vital roles as defining the acting


area and backstage which was as effective as any
modern backstage.

In other words, if we (the modern Africans) have


not yet experienced the truly African technical/design
delicacies in our theatre performance - it means we are
still running away from the truth; (like Odewale in Ola
Rotimi's The Gods are not to Blame).
Notes:
1. The theory has recently caught the fancy of a young director Rasheed Musa (now Dr. Abdul Rasheed Adeoye who
experimented with it on three different occasions. Firstly with
his "Smart Game (now published), performances at the
Drama Studio of the Department of Performing Arts,
University of Ilorin in 2002; secondly to the mixed-audience:
(students and educated others) of G.R.A. at Alliance
Francaise, Ilorin, later in the same year. Also, Soyinka's Lion
and the Jewel exposed the academic audience (students and
staffs) in March 2004, to the mysteries (which make the
theatre), at the Africa Hall, University of Ilorin. Definitely, the
concept was alien to them, hence the mixed reactions from
the audience during and after each of the performances.
2. This is evident in the Igunnuko performance by the AyanAgalu International Dance Troupe, based at Ifon-Osun, in
Osun State, Nigeria. Their performance at the two campuses
of the University of Ilorin was highly commended. The
theatrical representation of rich Yoruba culture via the use of
technical aids could not be over-emphasized. The
performance ran for two days (5th and 6th June, 2003).
3. A doll representing a baby was used Ayanagalu Dance troupe
in an episode in Ijo Olomo -a reflection of traditional child
rearing practice.
4. Ayox Arisekola - an indigenous Yoruba popular theatre artist is
based in South- Western Nigeria. In the 80s, he took the role
of Iku (Death) in Baba Sala's film Orun Mooru. The make-up
used on him has since rendered him immobile, owing to skin
infection.

68

5. The Ayota Mobile Youth theatre outfit made use of mobile set
designs during their performance at the University of Ilorin in
January, 1993. we believe, that the various mobile scenic
concepts being witnessed in Nigeria now are an improvement
on this set. Many production companies, in promoting of their
products, have now adopted the concepts. Hence, our
clamour for the sustenance of these concepts to enhancing
the aesthetics of African design and technical aids in theatre
performance is further established.
6. The same explorative concept of scenography with African
design aesthetics was noticed in 'Aruku Shanka', a production
at the drama courtyard of the Department of Performing Arts,
University of Ilorin. The production,'as written and directed by
Felix Okolo on February 15, 1996.

Summary and Conclusion


So far, it has been observed in this book that the
state of technical facilities in the Nigerian theatre is
deplorable having undergone a gradual process of
decay. This situation has consequently affected the
technical theatre discipline in the Nigerian University
theatre. Hence, stage productions in the university
theatres suffer a lot. As a matter of fact, many theatre
scholars in the country had frowned at this menace.
Inspite of the harrowing experiences being
passed through by the designers, some theatre
practitioners, designers, as well as playwrights and
theatre directors equally respond in contending
favourably with the situation. This is why many of them
result to improvisational techniques; which to us is
retrogressive - for this trend would further extinct the
significance of technical input in the theatre.

69

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