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Theatre Education as a Transformative Tool in Southwestern Nigeria

Theatre education in secondary schools (which includes seventh grade through twelfth grade students) is still a new phenomenon in Nigeria due to people's lack of knowledge on its benefits. It’s an uncommon form of theatre in Nigeria, both in theory and practice—largely because it is underfunded which has resulted in the lack of theatre educators in the country. Because of this, my team and I organized the Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) Foundation’s Theatre for Schools competition in collaboration with the Concord School in Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State, Nigeria. Through this program, we hoped to increase theatre education and visibility as an art form in Nigeria.

For three weeks, I worked with the students at the Concord School in Ibadan. The program was particularly impactful for the children I worked with, but I admit it was also a life-changing experience for me as a theatre student at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. The program was created by the MTN Foundation in Nigeria, and my teammates—Emeto Nonso and Fakile Kayode—and I were selected out of a pool of several students based on our academic excellence and advanced experience with theatre in Nigeria. The play we worked on, The Adventures of LangaLanga, was written by the foundation. The show centers on the educational life and performance of the protagonist named Langa, a young schoolboy who was sent to secondary school for his studies but instead engages in unruly acts and indiscipline in school. This behavior later led to failure in academic performance, which led to his expulsion from the school. Our job was to prepare the students for a performance of this piece.

Most of the Concord students had no prior experience with professional theatre performance, where performers are given scripts and undergo scores of rehearsals to put on a production. Their only theatrical experience came from the cultural programs organized by their school as extracurricular activities, which only involved dance, music, and improvised playlets. Therefore, this experience was their first time experiencing theatre as it is. My objective was to make the pupils discover the various forms of theatre, including musical theatre, pantomime, and the large field of performance, which includes playback theatre. I also lead various activities with them such as dance, music, and design as a way of showing that theatre is a practice-based art form that relies on collaborative performance.

Naturally, the process seemed tedious at first because they didn’t have an idea of what was required of them, but they were open to exploration. Their quick integration and adaptability made it so that within a week, they were already immersed in theatre. They were not passive but instead very active and interested in exploring the script and everything we taught them, including how to move onstage, how to project their voices, how to do simple dance movements, and relevant music related to the performance. (Some songs came from the script, while my team and I also taught them new songs.)

Five actors on stage staring up at a spotlight.

Picture of the students at the Concord School in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria performing The Adventures of LangaLanga, written by the MTN Foundation.

During my time with the students, I noticed that despite a lack of formal theatre education, they were eager to act and perform the roles we assigned to them. They had no idea how to enact some of the blocking, but they were intrigued by the art form because of its collaborative nature and the influx of music and dance. Something I noticed during those weeks is the extent to which training like this influences the lives and development of children. Their teachers noted they were always eager to attend our rehearsals and concentrated more in literature and English language classes. This was exciting, especially for Nigerian children who haven’t had the opportunity to explore theatre in an academic setting.

Based on my experience, I observed that theatre education was beneficial to children by:

  1. Helping the creative developmental process of a child: Through this program, children learned a variety of creative skills such as improvisation, speaking confidently in public, and communicating their ideas effectively. The games we played—which included storyteller, tongue twister, and charades—were helpful skill-building tools. Storyteller, which is a game where someone starts an unknown story and another person continues it, really improved the students’ improvisation skills. Tongue twister improved the students’ pronunciation by helping them identify multiple sounds and doing facial muscle stretches. Charades helped them in developing their imagination, improvising movements, and creative thinking. These games and other exercises cultivated students’ creativity that could then be applied in other areas of their lives, such as playing or working on a team in school, reading books for academic classes, and engaging in various recreational activities.
  2. Building a child’s confidence: Acting rehearsals and other forms of games played during the rehearsal process enabled the students to be more assertive and learn how to express their emotions in a communicative and logical way.
  3. Teaching children the art of community building: Programs like this teach children the value of togetherness and community empowerment—which are both crucial to building community. During our program, we made it known to the students that it was essential for everyone to be united because theatre is a collaborative art form; we wouldn’t be able to achieve our objective if everyone was divided. For example, we made a rule that we would not start rehearsal unless everyone was present. Latecomers had to apologize to everyone and explain the reason for their lateness. Additionally, we made sure everyone was involved in the discussions, which usually occurred after each script reading to share ideas with one another and discuss the script.

It is important to note that there are more benefits these programs have to offer in the lives of children, but these are the major ones from what I observed with my work at the Concord School. The more the students engaged with the program and worked with my team and one another, the more they liked theatre and wanted to continue experiencing it even after the program. Furthermore, programs like this one can be very effective in influencing students to consider theatre as a legitimate career option. Since Nigeria is a country that is in dire need of a revitalization and empowerment of the arts sector, I think this is a great way of encouraging children to develop an interest in the theatre.

Students posing for a picture.

Picture of the students at the Concord School in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.

Nevertheless, it is quite disheartening to know that theatre education is not well-developed in Nigeria. It’s really an underfunded sector, which discourages the few theatre educators in Nigeria from working in the field. Through various private and some government productions, some professional theatre artists still find a way to create theatre (mostly for entertainment purposes) because it is still lucrative in a way. In those cases, they can always be sure of revenue, which will be gotten from ticket sales and sponsorships from the private sector. However, this is not the case for theatre educators because the procedure of theatre education in secondary schools might be very difficult if there is not enough funding—especially because theatre education’s primary objective is to teach, not to entertain. Therefore, in the absence of fundings, theatre educators go back to professional theatre to work for money.

Therefore, I desire a world where theatre education will finally have its rightful position as a recognized and important art form and career. This mindset will hopefully lead to more theatre education being included in Nigerian secondary school curriculum. Receiving funding for programs like the one I participated in can be very challenging, but in the MTN Foundation saw the importance of art in children’s educational curriculum and decided to fund theatre programs like that in collaboration with several secondary schools in Nigeria every year, starting in 2021. But the theatre education sector in Nigeria needs additional funding and organizations’ support in order to encourage theatre in the country.

If only people knew the extent to which programs like this benefit the life of an average Nigerian child, they would understand the importance of arts education. After being a part of this program and examining the difference between when the kids started and when they ended, I can boldly tell you that theatre education works wonders in the lives of children, as it did for the students I worked with. I hope more people realize this and I hope organizations and theatre artists in Nigeria continue to develop programs like this for students.

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This is really great. I love how you use theatre to educate the young adults in out society. This piece really portrayed the role theatre plays in the modern society. Well-done, Kofoworola.

Really happy to have my work published on Howlround journal, I hope the theatre education process in this article will guide and motivate other theatre educators around the world.