MY field trip to Stockholm, Sweden in 2013, as a journalist, gave birth to the invitation by ASSITEJ Sweden to the 2014 edition of SWEDSTAGE as an international delegate. It was there that I first contemplated the idea of an international theatre festival. However, not much was done about it at the time.
In 2015, I was again invited to another children’s festival, this time in Norway, known as the Sand Festival, reigniting my interest in an international festival. However, despite sharing the idea with among six or seven individuals, only two believed it was possible. I subsequently abandoned the dream, and instead, we initiated the Abuja Children Theatre Festival, hoping it would evolve into an international festival in the future.
Then in 2018, my late elder brother and Director of Productions at Arojah Royal Theatre, Adesewo Fayaman Bay, participated in the 2018 edition of the Swedish Biennial, alongside Oluwaseun Odukoya (Aunty Shine Shine) and Emeka Eziukwu, the Programme Manager of the Korean Cultural Centre Nigeria. Upon their return to Nigeria, Fayaman persistently encouraged me to start an international theatre festival the following year. “Abuja deserves an international theatre festival,” he would say repeatedly. However, considering the challenges, lack of social capital, and the funding required, I was hesitant.
Between my first trip abroad in 2013 and ten years later in 2023, I have had the privilege of attending over a dozen theatre festivals and conferences worldwide. This exposure ignited a spark, as conversations with fellow participants invariably revolved around festivals and theatre in their respective countries. It became clear that Nigeria was significantly underrepresented in international festivals. This realization, combined with Fayaman’s persistence, compelled me to act.
I returned to Nigeria and began outlining plans for the festival, initially scheduled for October 2020. However, several factors intervened, particularly the outbreak of COVID-19 that disrupted our plans as the world shifted its focus to health over arts and culture.
Founder, Abuja International Theatre Festival and Awards (ABITFA 2023), Om’Oba Jerry Adesewo
Fast forward to 2022, after participating in several international festivals, I observed the scarcity of African and Nigerian shows on these global stages. Most international festival organizers were unaware of any Nigerian festivals to attend or source performances from. The second issue was the cost of bringing Nigerian productions to international festivals due to their scale and production constraints. Notable exceptions like Joshua Alabi’s Kininso Concepts, Kevin Mary Ndukwe, and Segun Adefila’s Crown Troupe of Africa had made strides at festivals in Germany, but there was much work to be done.
Armed with this new insight, I concluded that the Abuja International Theatre Festival and Awards (ABITFA 2023) was a necessity, not a luxury. I convened a smaller team to reevaluate the project, given the unfortunate loss of my brother Fayaman Bay in October 2021, who had been the festival’s most ardent advocate.
We restructured our approach and set to work. In just a week from today, the inaugural edition of the Abuja International Theatre Festival and Awards (ABITFA 2023) is set to take place from October 31 to November 5, despite the huge challenge that we have had to face.
While primarily serving as a showcase for Nigerian theatre, it will also feature international performances from Romania, Jamaica, and Zimbabwe, with the theme ‘Performing Arts, Peacebuilding and the Society’. Our main venue is the Brazilian Embassy Theatre, but with a pocket of activities at the Cyprian Ekwensi Centre for Arts and Culture and the Korean Cultural Centre.
The road to ABITFA has been challenging and fraught with uncertainties, failures, and disappointments, both locally and internationally. Economic downturns and apathy towards artistic endeavours of this scale have posed additional hurdles. However, as the saying goes in theatre, “The show must go on!” Indeed, the show will go on. Already, seven Nigerian productions and three international guest performances will be featured at ABITFA 2023.
International theatre festivals play a vital role in national development and global peace. They serve as platforms for cultural exchange and diplomacy, fostering understanding among diverse cultures. These festivals promote unity and cooperation on a global scale, transcending boundaries and ideologies. Furthermore, they provide opportunities for artists to showcase their talents on an international stage, promoting their respective nations’ arts and culture. This exposure can lead to collaborations, increased tourism, and cultural diplomacy, all of which contribute to national development.
In an increasingly interconnected world, theatre festivals are a means of soft power, allowing nations to share their stories and values. By participating in international festivals, countries can promote peace, tolerance, and cross-cultural dialogue, contributing to a more harmonious world. These festivals are not merely celebrations of art but also platforms for building bridges between nations and fostering a sense of global community.
ABITFA, no doubt, despite its shaky start, will become a force in the world of performing art festivals, bringing to the city of Abuja theatre makers and theatre lovers from across the world, to the heart of Africa, Nigeria, and, of course, the city of Abuja. So, come join us at ABITFA 2023, starting on Tuesday at 6pm at the Mambaah Cafe, and every evening from 4pm to 7pm at the Brazilian Embassy. There are also workshops and panel discussions that you can benefit from. It’s going to be fun!
Some of the shows and workshops include seminar and panel sessions and workshops, Afrodervish, Ask the Almighty, And Vice Versa, I Confess, Nijinsky and Who Will Sing for Lena. Tickets can be obtained at the venue for all shows. Abujah International Theatre Festival and Awards opens October 31 and ends November 5, 2023.