Abuja residents were treated to brilliant performances by popular screen favourites, including Francis Duru, Osas Ighodaro and Cynthia Nwadiora (CeeC) in a drive-in theatre performance of Tony Wants to Marry at the parking lot of Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, on Easter Sunday. The performancein Abuja is one of the two shows of the play sponsored by the MTN Foundation.
Explaining the MTN Foundation’s motive for supporting the telling of the story, Pamela Emodi, Manager, Education Portfolio, MTN Foundation stated, “As part of our focus for supporting theatre, one key area that ties with Tony Wants to Marry is the narration of positive Nigerian stories towards promoting the acceptance of cultural differences and knowledge of the different cultures in the country.”
She went on to speak on the specific challenges of the theatre industry in the pandemic and the Foundation’s commitment towards supporting innovative drives in order to ensure its survival, “MTN has been supporting theatre for five years now and since the advent of the pandemic, several industries including the theatre industry have been affected. Innovating to ensure the survival of the industry has become very important. We congratulate Agozie Ugwu and the production team for putting this brilliant performance together and being able to think outside the box to ensure that it is safe for people to watch.”
Residents arrived at the event in their cars to experience theatre in an unconventional, yet safe way which was described by the Director, Agozie Ugwu, as an effort to “reinvent theatre in the midst of the pandemic”. The atmosphere was heavy with anticipation and excitement as the play was introduced by the cheery voice of the narrator and a colourful cultural dance performance by some members of the cast.
Speaking on her experience working on the project and performing on stage, actress, Osas Ighodaro described performing on stage as instantly gratifying, “When you’re on stage, the audience will let you know if you’re doing well or not doing well and if they’re connecting to what you are saying or doing. That’s something I will always love about theatre – that instant gratification and feedback. The cast and crew were also like family so I can’t wait to do it again in Lagos.”
Also expressing her excitement on being a part of the production, reality TV star and actress, CeeC stated, “When I saw the entire production played out, I wished I were a part of the audience. It’s an interesting story and I like that it addresses an issue we see in Nigerian families of men in search of their Princess Charming.”
The adoption of drive-in theatre was also well received by the audience and cast who described the move by the Director as innovative and a viable solution to the struggles of the theatre industry in the midst of the pandemic. According to CeeC, “I think drive-in theatre is something other theatre producers should adopt in order to give people the full experience of theatre. And this is one of the things I respect about AgozieUgwu, the producer – his ability to think outside the box and find a system that could work because we can’t say goodbye to entertainment because of the pandemic. The fact that he found the best way to entertain people and do what he loves while limiting social interaction and complying with COVID-19 guidelines is deserving of accolades.”
Also lauding the initiative of the Director and the MTN Foundation’s support for the production, Osas highlighted the unique struggles of creatives in the pandemic, “Creatives just want to create. It’s so stifling when you can’t continue to do what you’re used to doing. You have to find new and innovative ways to create and put out your art and craft. Drive-in theatre is just another way of doing what we all love to do and that’s supporting the arts. That’s what MTN is doing and I totally applaud. There is always a way – even if there are obstacles, there is always a way.”
Making a case for the support of theatre by the private sector while expressing gratitude to the MTN Foundation, AgozieUgwu said, “I say thank you to MTN Foundation for what they are doing. I don’t know how else to express myself. It’s overwhelming and amazing how they supported Tony Wants to Marry. There is an avalanche of opportunities in the arts and culture industry and I urge stakeholders in the private sector to support the industry. For example, this project engaged over 80 young people over the past few months. We need them to ensure that their impact is felt among young creatives.”
Weighing in on the same issue, veteran actor, Francis Duru stated, “I think getting support from private sector stakeholders like the MTN Foundation is the only way we can revive theatre in Nigeria because film, music and comedy have become the most prominent forms of entertainment. The private sector remains the only hope because the government isn’t sufficiently invested in reviving the sector. So the support from MTN is a plus.”
Similarly, Kelvinmary Ndukwe, who plays Tony, recounted his experience on other theatre productions sponsored by the MTN Foundation and urged other organisations in the private sector to follow suit, “I have worked on several projects sponsored by MTN, including Legends the Musical and OMG the Musical. Theatre is expensive to produce and we still don’t have a theatre culture that is vibrant enough. Private partnership and corporate sponsorship has helped to subsidise access by audiences to theatre productions because more is spent on producing them than can be recovered through the sale of tickets. Support from organisations like the MTN Foundation helps to sustain theatre.”