`We must research to recreate lost history`
By Godwin Okondo
ON Monday, November 2, 2021, the University of Ibadan, in partnership with the University of Reading, U.K., held a virtual event to mine the creative impulse behind Prof. Femi Osofisan`s latest historical play, Medaye. The conversation was livestreamed on YouTube and it featured speakers from both institutions engaging Osofisan in a series of conversation about the process that informs his work ethics generaly. The speakers included University of Ibadan’s Theatre Director, Tunde Awosanmi, Kunbi Olasope, Benson Eluma of University of Ibadan and Barbra Goff of University of Reading.Speaking on rehearsed reading as a means to reach the audience, as well as the extent of audience contribution during rehearsal exercises, Osofisan said, “Reharsal format comes from many points of view. For instance, I’m trying to recreate African traditional format; so, I’m trying to reconstruct that.“Getting the audience to have exchange with me, I think, is a beautiful thing, because then the audience contributes.
You can get the audience to bring in their own perspective, and that expands the play, and you see that as we went on doing these readings from point to point, the play became richer because of the kind of exchange with the audience, and the actors as well, who bring in something, and all of us are learning. That’s the best format I can think of particularly in our context.“We don’t have many resources to build elaborate theatres or buy costumes and all kinds of spectacular things for ourselves; so, we have to operate within that improvisationary format. And each time the play builds up and develops to that context, because there are no hard and fast rules, and so on. For me, that’s in fact what makes for a good play. I think I would like to continue this. It has always been my thing.”Osofisan also said he uses plays to rework familiar events and restituate historical figures, Medaye not being an exception. On his metadrama and disruption of both history and texts on which his plays are based, the Nigerian poet and playwright said,
“The rehearsal format with a professional approach allows us to deconstruct things, particularly the Greek tragic theatre that we’re working with. We recreate and reconstruct it in terms of history, for us particularly by separating the historical context, and trying to also teach us what our history is. But what our history is, is also not settled, so we have to question it. I also want to look at history from the lower side, the losing side, to see how they would interpret it. “It’s a difficult thing, because I’m trying to teach us that, first of all, we have a history and for people to look at that area of our lives; but at the same time, we should not just accept what is being told; we have to question it — we have to look at it from our own perspective, perhaps that will help us explain where we are today.“The fact that the audience gets more involved now, I can show you that I myself have begun to question that approach a bit. I’m trying to see how I can develop this, make further changes without going to the other side of recreating the orthodox stuff. I’m beginning to seek a richer way of doing this, which doesn’t just become a mechanical way of performance.”`But did he insert the `Uje Ijapa`, `play within a play` in Medaye, a counterpoint to the Medaye affair?`, he was asked.“Yes, maybe not counter, but parallel to the idea,” he affirmed.
”The two stories have to run parallel because I thought the Buje story we inherited comes from our traditional folklore, not my own making, but it’s just a usual story of the proud girl who wants to be herself, and is defeated by the forces of tradition, and finally succumbs and is tricked into surrendering. But again, what does that tell us about our traditional perspectives? So, the narrator questions this, brings it to a new narrative, what happens to the woman when she was supposed to have given in? Does she just surrender? What can she do about this love that is forced on her? So I bring in the other story in the end.”The same thing when you look at Medaye, who revolts because she feels she’s been betrayed. We begin to have incidents of mother’s killing their children and so on, and I was beginning to think maybe this is a new persepctive that comes from our encounter with the West, how traditional practices, polygamy, access to many women in the household have their own vices and virtues, but we now come to monogamy where the women are claiming sole right to have their husbands to themselves. Of course, there’s an economic side to this, but I was looking at the emotional side of it.
What happens, and how does it now collide with our own traditional beliefs? I think, maybe, some of the audience saw that. We haven’t really gotten a solution but it’s good to look at that atension in our society.”Also the concept of war as a test of validity abd valour for human relationships in the play, Osofisan submitted, “War intensifies everything. I haven’t been in one before and I don’t intend to be, but from all the records, you can even think for yourself what war does to society, families, individuals — particularly the women and the children. So, that context of war seems to bring all these things into certain focus, and then maybe through that, we can see ourselves and know how we and our society are affected by the situation of war. I think war is something that intensifies all the collisions of our society, our passion, and the conflicts we have.”Also, some of Osofisan`s plays are based on war and he was taken to task on why war is a recurrent motiff in his work. He responded by saying, “The play before this wasn’t about war. It seems I was trying to experiment with form and audience participation.
This just seems to be a certain motiff that gives feeling to drama. I use it, but I wouldn’t say all my works are based on it – on war.”He also spoke on how he manages translating drama into Yoruba, saying, “Well for me, it’s also research, and trying to find out cultural traditions, because, unfortunately, colonialism has destroyed so many things here, and we are still dealing with these things. So one of the questions I ask myself is: how did our people use to do this? So, I’m researching all the time and it’s an exciting process for me, and by that I want the audience also to learn.”Like the diligent scholar that he is, Osofisan gives premium to questioning what seems universal given in any society, saying the old ways of doing things may not be the only or best ways of doing them in modern times, as doing so would necessarily lead to stagnation and lack of innovation or critical thinking, factors that are largely responsible for Africa`s inability to develop. ”Just because something has its own process of getting it done doesn’t mean we must continue to do it that way.
Our people had their own logic and ways of doing things; we were not complete zero until the colonials came and taught us that we had no history, that we had no culture at all, until our encountered with the white people. No; that`s not true; but that was what we were taught, that Africa had no history until the white man came, but we disagree. And unfortunately, we’ve lost many of these cultures. But then how do we research these lost cultures and use them on stage, so that we can see the history. It’s an exciting part of my own process when I’m working on stage.”
*(David, pls crop out the other elements in the flyer & use only the man`s image. Thanks)