Theatre, which helps to reflect a people's style and way of life, is dying in Nigeria because most Nollywood stars are stage shy and also not sufficiently schooled in stagecraft, Lari Williams, a veteran actor, has said.
The University of Calabar Theatre Arts lecturer observed that, besides today's actors and actresses' inability to stand before an audience to perform, government at the federal and state levels have turned theatre halls to events hosting centres, a development that has further worsened the prospects of live stage acting.
"Most Nollywood stars cannot act on stage. They cannot stand before a crowd. Theatre is where we have to reconcile between stage and screen acting. Wole Soyinka got annoyed and walked out of the National Theatre in Lagos some years ago when one of the famous names in Nollywood could not recite the lines of his play," Williams said.
Also, most Nollywood actors and actresses are not schooled in Theatre Arts, as their only qualification for the screen is a beautiful face and good voice, unlike the trained professionals that can act on and off stage in accordance with the rules of the industry, adding that all Nollywood people do is to memorise their lines for six weeks and get recorded on video.
How to revive theatre
"Theatre in Nigeria is dying. It cannot raise its head anymore because of Nollywood. Nigerians now prefer to buy cheap video compact discs to watch films in the confines of their homes. The implication is that they no more go to cinema halls to watch plays. This, more than anything else, has killed drama in the country," he declared.
According to him, this is not helping the country as "theatre is a reflection of a people's life. We vibrate through theatre, playing back our good and bad sides. Despite the advent of technology and its advance in the Western world, people there still go to theatre halls to watch plays. Plays there are categorised and acted in the various cinema halls based on their rating."
The first president of Actors Guild of Nigeria argued that if the West, which is so advanced in everything, has not rejected stage acting, Nigeria that is still crawling in all spheres of development cannot afford to do otherwise. He solicited for the support of government, corporate bodies, and wealthy individuals to revive theatre projects in the country.
Williams, who is the Omenka 1 of Akumazi Kingdom, Delta State, and director of the Lari Williams Play House, particularly advised the Cross River State government to encourage theatre, rather than waiting for only December "to give our local musicians the voice to mime their records. Stage acting should be an all year round affair. If theatre is still going on in Britain and USA that produce all kinds of films, Nigeria should not be an exception."
Training is essential
He argued that, for theatre to regain its lost glory in the country, there is the need for basic training in the profession to be enforced. He further stressed that, until the Actors Guild of Nigeria which makes it compulsory for members to undergo the basic training in acting, films produced in the country will continue to be of low quality, without standing the test of time or competing favourably with others from the rest of the world.
The university teacher faulted the adoption of the name ‘Nollywood' for the indigenous movie industry, saying the lifting of the coinage from America's Hollywood without knowing its origin was wrong.
"Hoolywood came about in the US because of the trees grown in that part of California. Those trees are known as Hollywood, hence that part of Califorina is known as Hollywood City. Pinewood (Studios) in England came about by the pine trees found in that part of the country."
Williams believes that, instead of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry should have been known as Camwood, since camwood is found in abundance in the country, that is if the suffix ‘wood' must be used. Williams kicked against the indiscriminate use of ‘wood' after the different movie industries of countries around the world.
"The proliferation of home videos is good for actors and actresses, but the cradle of acting is the stage. We should not let it die. Yes, home videos are a reflection of our culture, but it is the arts that keep it alive. We must do everything humanly possible to preserve the arts since acting starts from the home through every day activities," Williams maintained.
What government can do
‘In order to revive theatre in the country, government should ban the use of theatre auditoriums for wedding ceremonies, political rallies, and church services. University authorities should stop hiring out their arts auditorium for non-acting use by members of the public," he further advised.
He urged government to ensure professionalism in the appointment of ministers and commissioners of culture, if results are to be achieved.
The veteran actor also called on federal government to raise a committee for the release, disbursement and use of the S200m US dollars promised to the Actors Guild of Nigeria by President Goodluck Jonathan.