- America’s Sellars delivers 60th WTD message, says ‘Theater is the artform of experience’
By Ozoro Opute
WORLD Theatre Day 2022, organised by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), will hold its main celebration on March 27, 2022 through online events. It is organized by Centres and the General Secretariat of ITI in Paris, France and Shanghai, China. As part of the celebration, 40 emerging theatre artists have been selected from across the world as the next generation of thespians who will shape the field’s future. Two of them are Nigerians.
A statement from ITI said, ”This year, World Theatre Day celebration will focus on the young, the next generation, the emerging artists, who have been a strong special focus of ITI in the recent past. Through this 60-year-old ITI flagship event, ITI wishes to offer the next generation of artists and art professionals a platform to exchange ideas and present themselves to the world.”
Nigeria’s Ibukun-Oluwa Fasunhan and Abel Alechenu will join other 38 young theatre artists from across the world who will be presented or make presentations during the virtual ceremony. Fasunhan, currently studying in Canada, expressed excitement at being chosen, thanks to his mentor Prof. Taiwo Afolabi, who nominated him, and enthused on his Facebook wall, ‘Such good news to have been selected as one of the emerging theatre artists of the world”. Fasunhan has worked behind the scenes in many major theatre productions including Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, Wakaa, Death and the King’s Horseman, among others. Fasunhan is currently a Doctoral Candidate at University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Alechenu is a Director of Communication at Theatre Emissary International (TEMi), and produces AlechenuTV on YouTube.
”After being celebrated for 59 years, World Theatre Day will mark its 60th anniversary in 2022,” the ITI statement continued. ”From 1962 to today, 60 significant theatre figures contributed their thoughts on theatre, culture, and peace through World Theatre Day Messages. As a result, World Theatre Day is celebrated globally to remind the people of the great power that theatre can bring about.”
The goals of World Theatre Day include ”promoting theatre in all its forms across the world, making people aware of the value of theatre in all its forms, enabling theatre communities to promote their work on a broad scale so that governments and opinion leaders are aware of the value and importance of dance in all its forms and support it, enjoying theatre in all its forms for its own sake, and sharing the joy for theatre with others.”
To mark WTD, the International Theatre Institute has invited ”40 emerging artists from different continents to participate and present themselves during this online celebration. The presentations by the emerging artist can be in video or live performance in front of the camera. There will also be an open session for the participants to freely exchange after the presentations by the emerging artists.”
The tradition of inviting an “outstanding figure in theatre or a person outstanding in heart and spirit from another field to share his or her reflections on theatre and international harmony” is being retained, according to the ITI statement, explaining that ”What is known as the International Message is translated into more than 50 languages, read for tens of thousands of spectators before performances in theatres throughout the world, and printed in hundreds of daily newspapers. Colleagues in the audio-visual field lend a fraternal hand, with more than a hundred radio and television stations transmitting the Message to listeners in all corners of the five continents.”
Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, delivered his WTD Message in 1986, the year he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, where he called for a ‘Year of World Theatre Against Apartheid” in the then prevailing ceaseless campaign against repressive minority Apartheid regime in South Africa that excluded black Africans in their millions from political participation. This year, America’s Peter Sellars, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), will deliver the message. Sellars is a founding director of the Boethius Institute at UCLA, a resident curator of the Telluride Film Festival, and was a Mentor for the Rolex Arts Initiative. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the Erasmus Prize for contributions to European culture, the Gish Prize, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been awarded the prestigious Polar Music Prize and been named Artist of the Year by Musical America.
As the world hangs by the hour and by the minute on a daily drip feed of news reportage, may I invite all of us, as creators, to enter our proper scope and sphere and perspective of epic time, epic change, epic awareness, epic reflection, and epic vision? We are living in an epic period in human history and the deep and consequential changes we are experiencing in human beings’ relations to themselves, to each other, and to nonhuman worlds are nearly beyond our abilities to grasp, to articulate, to speak of, and to express.
We are not living in the 24-hour news cycle, we are living at the edge of time. Newspapers and media are completely unequipped and unable to deal with what we are experiencing. Where is the language, what are the moves, and what are the images that might allow us to comprehend the deep shifts and ruptures that we are experiencing? And how can we convey the content of our lives right now not as reportage but experience? Theater is the artform of experience.
In a world overwhelmed by vast press campaigns, simulated experiences, ghastly prognostications, how can we reach beyond the endless repeating of numbers to experience the sanctity and infinity of a single life, a single ecosystem, a friendship, or the quality of light in a strange sky? Two years of COVID-19 have dimmed people’s senses, narrowed people’s lives, broken connections, and put us at a strange ground zero of human habitation. What seeds need to be planted and replanted in these years, and what are the overgrown, invasive species that need to be fully and finally removed? So many people are on edge. So much violence is flaring, irrationally or unexpectedly. So many established systems have been revealed as structures of ongoing cruelty.
Where are our ceremonies of remembrance? What do we need to remember? What are the rituals that allow us at last to reimagine and begin to rehearse steps that we have never taken before? The theater of epic vision, purpose, recovery, repair, and care needs new rituals. We don’t need to be entertained. We need to gather. We need to share space, and we need to cultivate shared space. We need protected spaces of deep listening and equality. Theater is the creation on earth of the space of equality between humans, gods, plants, animals, raindrops, tears, and regeneration. The space of equality and deep listening is illuminated by hidden beauty, kept alive in a deep interaction of danger, equanimity, wisdom, action, and patience.
In ‘The Flower Ornament Sutra,’ Buddha lists ten kinds of great patience in human life. One of the most powerful is called Patience in Perceiving All as Mirages. Theater has always presented the life of this world as resembling a mirage, enabling us to see through human illusion, delusion, blindness, and denial with liberating clarity and force. We are so certain of what we are looking at and the way we are looking at it that we are unable to see and feel alternative realities, new possibilities, different approaches, invisible relationships, and timeless connections.
This is a time for deep refreshment of our minds, of our senses, of our imaginations, of our histories, and of our futures. This work cannot be done by isolated people working alone. This is work that we need to do together. Theater is the invitation to do this work together.
Thank you deeply for your work.