Theatre in Times of Corona Virus

by Joshua Alabi

Did you ever imagine that Admiralty way, Fola osibo, Cubana, Hard Rock café, Awolowo way, Quilox, Ikeja, Freedom park, Muson Centre, Eko Hotel, Terra Kulture, Bars, Clubs, parks, would be shut down dead as this. Did it ever cross your mind? Like absolute quiet and decorum. Silence and quantum. Dead and scary as this? Wait, you expected me to mention the National Theatre as well? No, I won’t. No apologies. That one died decades before Covid-19.

Lagos is the centre of excellent theatre, music and nightlife in Nigeria. And as Wole Soyinka said in his song I love my country in the play Beatification of Area boys ‘when lagos belch the nation go swell and when the nation shit, na lagos dey smell, the river wey flow for markurdi market, you go find him deposit for lagos bucket’. What this simply reminds us is the lagos of old, now and forever that never falls. The city that never sleeps. You can read the questions from my starting lines again and imagine other parts of the world like Venice, Trafalgar and Times Square, Vatican city, Glacier National park, Miami beach, etc all in a halt? It feels like when the breath stops in the middle of a race. But while these happy places are isolated, our dear theatre also suffers bitterly, not leaving behind the creative minds that stay sleepless just to make you have zero traumas amidst all worries of life. The cancellation of live performances across Nigeria (and globally) has unprecedented economic consequences and affects an already precarious sector like ours – Theatre. While Berlin just launched a 500 Million Euro palliative fund for Artiste and Theatres, the European Theatre convention is working with the EU already for intervention funds for artistes, etc where should the Nigerian theatre makers look to? And yes, we know all sectors are affected by this pandemic but the art scene is particularly under pressure.

Well, lets come back to Theatre in times of Corona. This is interesting because as artistes of Kininso Koncepts, we have had the sad side of what this pandemic is doing to the entire human race. They say the artist is the person who is firstly in touch with himself, in touch with humanity and grooms the closest relationship with nature. Therefore, this is even a sadder moment for all art makers around the world as its shaking and tearing apart the humane, social and cultural fabric we have managed to sew and knit together after many years of war, violence, bigotry, separatism, terrorism, apartheid etc. With Nigeria, Several ironies are springing up especially from this part of the world. Some still do not believe that the Corona virus is real and some are very carefree and non-challant about it. The government at this period is in shame and its selfishness has been opened to the world because they have refused to give us proper health care system and all amenities in the past. They fly abroad for medical checkups but now that the virus is global and all borders are closed, the Nigerian politicians and government have no choice but to stay here and be attended to at local hospitals that they have refused to equip, attended to as ordinary people and like the local masses. Their dog has returned to lick its own sore and feed on its own faeces.

Times have been different. Some see it as a moment to rest, think and reflect while some see it as a moment to develop, regain and hibernate. Some are a little excited because it has brought families together while some family, unfortunately, may not be able to stay or be together again after this time. For them, it’s a bitter juice poured in a glass of honey. I have been taking care of my friend who lives with me and has been very sick for several days now. I have also been scared because his symptoms were close to the COVID-19 but he ran a test and was confirmed negative, it was only extreme Fever and cold. So i have been busy making sure he has medication and food at all times.

The situation in Nigeria has been quite bad. Theatres and parks are shut down, cinemas are closed, getting money is difficult. Many on the street are angry for being asked to stay at home because they have no job nor money to feed while some depend on the daily money they make out there to eat and feed their family. There is only a little support from small religious and Non-governmental groups. I belong to a WhatsApp group called ‘Culture people’ (consists theatre, film makers, culture curators and tourism consultants) and we raised a sum of 400,000 within ourselves on whatsapp and got food stuff for some families who have even more difficulty feeding at this time. Theatre is the art that gives its all. Though, as at now we have over 200 reported cases of COVID-19 and just like every other country around the world, the government has imposed a lock down. However, Nigeria like many African countries do not have enough facilities to handle the situation as the health care system is bad. Every day people come up with symptoms and presently there are not enough health workers and isolation centres. Although, people have been asked to stay at home, so many did not obey this instruction until recently when the police and military were put on the streets to stop people from going out.

Unfortunately, this has had a very negative effect on the arts scene in Lagos and Nigeria at large (same for all around the world). Rehearsals had to stop. We would have loved to continue our theatre work this time and essentially to sensitize the people and have some sort of engagement with them on topics of health, politics, community development and governance related matters but Lagos is presently on a lockdown (as there are still many unreported cases and there is the suspicion that thousands have the virus but there are no centres to test them thus the virus keeps spreading). We hope millions of people won’t be wiped out. Plus, our office is located in the centre of Lagos where the big banks and Government offices are situated so it is largely guarded. One day, we had decided to take a step in engaging with the public through short performances and then street interviews and disseminate same via video format on social media. The purpose of the interviews was to ask for people's opinion on the question- 'What can theatre and science do to curb this problem?' and to get materials which will be used in determining our mode and approach of exchange and presentation after the world is restored to normalcy. Unfortunately, offices and roads were declared closed on this same day. All social and public life stopped. It is painful but we had to obey. We tried but it is a difficult situation out there. In our little ways, we have started and supported other initiatives that have organised campaigns in different languages to sensitize people who do not speak or understand English language on the issue of Covid-19. Currently, all activities have stopped. All events are cancelled. Artists are helpless and funds are shut. No support system is available and we only have to sit, look, go hungry and scamper for safety. The world is dying and the soil is mourning. How the virus handicapped the Artists. Only the Artist knows. The Theatre is weeping of loneliness.

The Kininso Place.
Oregun Ikeja.
6 April, 2020

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