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Nigeria hosts global confab on Theatre, Criticism and Politics

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Prof E.S. Dandaura, Ivan Medenica (IATC Director of Conferences), Margareta Sörenon (IATC President) (1)

The Executive Committee of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC), UNESCO’s statute B global partner in theatre criticism, holds its first ever-official event on the African continent during the Lagos Theatre festival from March 1-5th 2017. The special International Theatre Critics Conference will deliberate on the theme: “Theatre, Criticism and Politics – Where Are the Limits?”. African’s sole representative in the IATC international Executive Committee, Professor Emmanuel Dandaura confirmed this development via a Call For Papers issued by his office as President, IATC-Nigeria.

Justifying the theme of the conference, Professor Dandaura contends that we are now witnessing one of the biggest crises to confront the political paradigm of a globalized world anchored by free markets and representative democracy. This global crisis has local manifestations all around the world: right-wing movements, Brexit, the EU crisis, neoliberal slavery, the migration crisis, consequences of the so-called “Arab spring,” successive failures of incumbent presidents to maintain power in Africa, social injustice, and global terrorism.

Politics, theatre, and theatre criticism have long been interwoven and interdependent. In the highest peaks of its history, theatre and other performing arts have been a collective self-representation of society, its basic values, and beliefs, including mainstream political narratives. When contesting these narratives, theatre has been more ironic, subversive and blasphemous than openly confrontational—although direct theatrical conflicts with society are also well known. When theatre criticism appeared as a genre in Western media, in the 18th century, it fought the same battle as the (bourgeois) theatre itself. Theatre and criticism were important social platforms in the battle against conservative, aristocratic, and clerical states—even as they advocated a new and progressive bourgeois society.

In the last two and a half centuries, the relationship between these three “players”—politics, theatre, and theatre criticism—has been fluid. There were periods in which all were going in the same direction—for good or ill. In some historical periods, (dissident) theatre was courageous, provocative, and challenging. Criticism, however, strongly controlled by mainstream political power (as with much of the media), could not support it. In some constructs, media demanded that theatre be more politically daring.

The international Theatre Critics Conference, therefore, will interrogate how  global theatre and theatre criticism respond to current political events? Does theatre, internationally, address these challenging topics? Is there a new political theatre? Is there a growing trend toward the political or do individual cases arise on their own? How do critics react? Are we free (enough) to openly support theatre that dissents from accepted political and cultural norms? Is the social impact of this type of work more relevant than its artistry? How do we recognize a politically brave theatre in societies different from our own? If we recognize it, how do we communicate it to our readers?

A total of 76 national and international theatre critics are expected to participate as delegates in the event. These include Margareta Sorenson, the global President of IATC and Swedish renowned Journalist and Critic; Ivan Medenica, the Artistic Director of Belgrade International Theatre Festival; Professor Jeffery Erik Jenkins, Editor Best Plays Theater Yearbook, USA; Maria Shevtsova, Co-editor of New Theatre Quarterly Cambridge University; 2016 IATC Thalia Laureate, Professor Femi Osofisan of Nigeria, Professor Olu Obafemi, President National Academy of Letters, Halima Tahan, Journalist and Director Artes De Sul, Argentina; and Deepa Punjani, Editor, Mumbai Theatre Guide, India.