By ONAOLATOMIRIN FALADE
It is truly queer to see a masquerade dancing in the market square without its attendant fanfare, praise-singers, and worshippers. To do so would seem to belittle the importance of the masquerade itself. In the same vein, theatre would cease to be theatre without the attending spectacle of an audience and the excellent performers.
The Crown Troupe of Africa, like a growing child, has never had a better yesterday. Like a child attaining maturity, the troupe has gone through the gangly years of growth with such expertise that one would wonder if the troupe had existed as such in a former life.
Led by the brilliant actor, dancer, writer, poet and art aficionado, Segun Adefila, Crown Troupe is known for always being at the top of their game, repeatedly making the impossible a possibility on stage. While Adefila’s apparent success will not come as a surprise to many, his fascination with redefining the laws of stage shock the unwary and flatter the controversial.
In this year 2016, coinciding with Lagos at 50, Crown Troupe clocked 20 –20 years of creative outbursts and performing excellence. To mark the celebration, Crown Troupe put together a week long carnival troupe entitled “The Eko Theatre Carnival” –commemorating the celebration of Crown Troupe of Africa’s 20th anniversary that truly expressed their joy and happiness at the coming of age of the troupe.
The stage-refined practitioners put together the mother of all shows, ensuring that no theatrical stones were left unturned. This was after the troupe had just completed its tour of some Nigerian universities (Lagos State University, University of Calabar and University of Abuja) with Love at War, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Two Noble Kinsmen from February till April.
Between the months of May and June, Crown Troupe also produced As E Dey Go, an adaptation of Bertolt Bretch’s The Exception and the Rule. The anniversary celebration came to an end with a befitting Theatre Carnival in the first week in August.
Not one to hoard all the accolades, the Segun Adefila-led Troupe was amply supported by a good number of theatre troupes, theatre personas, veterans and denizens who participated actively in the week long exercise.
The carnival kicked off on Monday the 1st of August, 2016 at Freedom Park (Old Prison Ground) with a lecture by the renowned scholar, mother, teacher and panafrican, Professor Sophie Oluwole. The pedagogue spoke on “Performance Practices in Africa and the Question of Development” at 2pm at Kongi’s Harvest Hall.
Professor Oluwole’s lecture, like all her teachings, was both illuminating and thought-provoking, especially when she continuously asked, “What do you put on stage? What is the content of your performance practice, what do you know of your culture?” The eye-opening lecture was followed by a carnival procession at 4pm, while the day was rounded-off with the screening of maestro film producer, Tunde Kelani’s YÉÉPÀ! at 7pm at the amphitheater.
Day two of the carnival began at 9 am with performance workshops: Acting by the indefatigable duo of Najite Dede and veteran actor Toyin Oshinaike. Music class was led by traditional music maestro and former president of GOND Isioma Williams who took the music workshop participants on a journey of the drums. The dance workshop was handled by the fleet-footed dance merchant, Abel Utuedor.
The vibrant workshop was followed by an interactive lecture on Nigerian Theatre: “Legacies from the Past and Visions for a New Age” by Ben Tomoloju, dramatist, critic, teacher, journalist and writer. He took the audience on a theatre odyssey, challenging the new generation theatre practitioners to take up the task of ensuring that theatre retains and renews its role and relevance in the society in spite of odds.
The moving lecture was followed by a fringe performance by the Masque Troupe from OAU, Ife –an eclectic youth dance theatre group that thrilled the audience to drums ensemble and dance drama. At 7pm, poets and poetry lovers gathered for a Poetry Slam curated by Osigwe Benjamin spiced with music dished out by Gbadun Squad. The poets gave jaw dropping renditions of their art and the vibrant band serenaded the audience with pulsating soul lifting music.
Day three of the carnival opened at 12 noon at the Oba of Bariga’s palace with The Ilumo Cultural Group from Ile Ife, Osun State, performing the Yoruba classic Gbékúdè”.
The carnival procession returned to Freedom Park (Kongi’s Harvest Hall) at 2pm for the exhibition opening of the works of Ibrahim ‘SirGai’ Ganiyu, Jimga Concepts, Ore Apparel; phenomenal artist, designer cum politician, and Crown Troupe of Africa.
At 7 pm, many in attendance understood why Toyin Oshinaike is today revered as he is. The audience was treated to Toyin Oshinaike’s all time thought-provoking, hilarious play “Wat’s Dis All About” by One Six Productions at the Food Court of Freedom Park. The performance left many in stitches with the alluring delivery of Toyin Oshinaike’s brand of comedic expression.
Day five of the carnival dawned fresh and full of new expectations. Theatre prodigy, Joshua Ademola Alabi, took the stage with Jungle Justice, a play by Femi Branch with his Kininso Koncepts group at the amphitheatre at 7pm. Rib-crackingly hilarious, the actors put up a display that let many forget worries and concentrate on starting the weekend on a relaxing note.
Immediately after the play, the audience moved to the Food Court where the “old brigade’ of the Crown Troupe presented a skit from the repertoire entitled “Monkey Post”. Those who knew Crown Troupe from back in the day were thrilled to again see many of their favorites on stage again. The lead masquerade himself was not missing from the line-up as Segun Adefila leading by example was at the fore of the performance, rekindling in his lovers the fresh fire of an unending performer.
There were performances on Day six and seven of the carnival, including Oxzygen Koncepts’ classic, jaw dropping, rib cracking interpretation of Ola Rotimi’s Grip Am and the all-time classic, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, as interpreted by Crown Troupe of Africa. The play was staged at 7PM at the Main Stage of Freedom Park.
While members of the Crown Troupe of Africa have a uniquely attuned understanding of what works on stage, they were able to go beyond, crossing into the bounds of mysticism that brings such works to life. Deeply emotional, the play reminded many of the nuances of a performance that holds its ground even in the face of shifting possibilities and opinions. Their interpretation made real the words of Soyinka breathing new life to a classic work that has remained relevant even today. Needless to say that Crown Troupe of Africa nailed it and their performance was indeed the crowning glory of the carnival.
The theatre is a spiritual and social x-ray of its time. It is the only institution that has been dying for a long time but has never succumbed due to the doggedness of maestros like Adefila who constantly keep the spirit of the theatre alive in Nigeria. It goes without saying that if one is to judge from the turnout at the carnival, the theatre remains alive in Nigeria.
The Eko Theatre Carnival, formerly known as the Bariga Open Air Theatre (B.O.A.T) Festival is a performance based carnival that celebrates Artistic excellence and our collective belief in the Art as a viable tool for social engineering and empowerment.