Monday, February 1, 2010

The Line... drama collaboration across border By Lasunkanmi Bolarinwa

The Line... drama collaboration across border
By Lasunkanmi Bolarinwa
as published by the Guardian of Friday, January 22, 2010
AT the end of 2009, words went round the theatre circuits of Nigeria and Ghana that there would be an audition for a play that would draw its cast and crew from Ghana, Nigeria and Benin Republic. That it would also be a collaborative production involving the National Theatres of Nigeria, Ghana and the Benin Republic drama school, Atelier Nomade, under the artistic direction of Alougbine Dine.

The play in question is Israel Horovitz's The Line, which in this case would be coming alive as an African adaptation. It requires only five characters: four males and one female. They are Flemming, Stephen, Dolan, Molly and Arnall. The implication of this, therefore, was that between Ghana and Nigeria, there were just five slots.

In Nigeria, over 60 people auditioned at the Cinema Hall II of National Theatre, though about 33 officially put down their names, while in Ghana, about 21 showed up for the audition. 

Perhaps the number would have been higher in the two countries, but for the condition that rehearsals would be at a location in Benin, which many felt was not favourable. 

As a matter of fact, quite a number of people left the Lagos venue of the auditions when they discovered it would be difficult to cope considering their other schedules.

Those who stayed behind took turns to do the usual singing, dancing and reading as the groups were gradually pruned to the last five in each country. 

Part of what the director said he was looking for were rich voice texture, added to it was original body movement anchored on strong professional discipline. 

In Ghana, Emmanuel Abankwa, Dotse Mawuli Charles, Ekon Morrison, veteran Solomon Sampah and Bernice Abena Ampafo, the only woman in the team, made it. The Nigerian audition, however, threw up two female possibilities in the persons of Virginia Okereku and Inna Erazia. The three males who made the Nigerian list were Oladele Akinseye, Williams Benson and Ropo Ewenla.

To add another twist to the selection tale, Alougbine Dine, the director insisted on a workshop that would bring all 10 together in Cotonou where the final five would be picked. 

So, on December 26, 2009, the two teams met at the Atelier Nomade Centre, Benin, for three days of gruelling sessions of acting and improvisation, dancing, singing and a sprinkle of sightseeing.

At the end, Dine chose two from Ghana (Sampah and Abankwa) and three from Nigeria (Erizia, Benson and Ewenla). 

Consequently, preparations are expected to have commenced at the Atelier Nomade especially since the premiere is slated for Ghana on February 18, at the National Theatre of Ghana. 

This would be followed by eight other performances in other parts of the former gold coast country. 

Thereafter, the show goes back to Benin in the American Centre, Cotonou for four performances before its final berth in Nigeria for a series of nine shows.

Apart from the initial fund provided by the Prince Claus Foundation, Dine is optimistic that other prospective sponsors that his Centre had approached for additional support would respond in good time before the show begins. 

There is also another sense of optimism he holds in the promised attendance of the playwright, Horovitz, at the Accra premiere. 

If all other things work well, this might also signify that the play would be making a run of some theatres in the United States of America. 

What gives credence to this is the fact that Horovitz is marking his 70th birthday this year and there is already a grand plan to have a global celebration of the playwright by friends and associates. An African interpretation of one of his works therefore might just be one of the strands of argument to support the claim that his work has a universal appeal.

The Line is one of Horovitz's plays with the longest theatre runs, with its over 30 years consecutive off-Broadway showing. 

Dine, on his own, has had 79 performances of the French adaptation, First, in a number of African countries including Nigeria and South Africa sometimes in 1999.

The original play classifies well into the absurd genre. It uses the contest for priority of five characters on a line to reflect on the manipulations we all employ to be the first and not necessarily the best in all things even at the most ridiculously obscene level. 

What or whom the characters are waiting for on the line, is not known. But it is most important to them that they do anything and everything to be first in line and maintain such without compromise. 

As the characters manipulate and trick themselves in and out of first position on the line, the playwright dwells on sexual and gender relations in handling the character of Molly against others.

Speaking about the choice of The Line for a collaborative nature as this, Dine says that there is a lot to do in the task of reintegrating West Africans culturally especially with the lingering effect of colonisation and a divide and rule mentality that took no cognisance of the traditional cultural affinities of people across the Berlin conference imposed boundaries. 

He expects the playwright to be slightly shocked and pleased on seeing his interpretation because he intends to entirely domesticate the theme of the play within an African worldview. 

Dine, who is a Yoruba from the Ajase extraction, is already drawing a correlation between Orunmila, his corpus of wisdom, and Horovitz's European perception of human strife.

While he is working out how to mediate in the tango of the African and European world, there is also a need for some mediation in the course of his rehearsals which would be interesting to follow. 

He speaks French but for a dash of English; he is adapting an English text, though with a French translation, yet, the copy being used is English; his cast speaks only English but for a smattering of French. Perhaps somebody in the audience would speak none of these languages and yet understand the actions without ambiguity.

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