One of the many handicaps we have in this country is the limited forms for relaxation and entertainment. If you are with tin ears, and are thus immune to loud, brisk songs, then you may not have such challenges especially during the holiday season when our cities are awash with musical shows. We have also had consistent comedy shows for a number of years – which is a very good thing. Roverman Productions recently celebrated six years of consistently showing a total of 24 plays with one new play per quarter since 2008.
I was at the National Theatre over the weekend to watch a 3-cast stage play titled “Thank God for Idiots”. It was a different experience considering the fact that I am used to seeing Uncle Ebo Whyte and his Roverman Productions’ plays, plus student productions from my days at the University of Ghana.
My experience though is that, people generally crave for stage plays as a matured, different, alternative form of entertainment instead of gulping down beers and whiskeys in noisy pubs. Luckily for us, we do have some venues especially in Accra that were designed with stage plays in mind.
As a student at the University of Ghana, Legon, I recall spending a lot of evenings at the Efua Sutherland Drama Studio to watch student productions. They were worthwhile experiences and the talents that I saw grace the stage were just awesome. Indeed some of these lads and girls grew up to take up roles in mainstream film.
The National Theatre’s proscenium stage set up is obviously designed for stage plays and remains the best we have. Again at Legon, specifically behind the Commonwealth Hall Library is a Roman-inspired amphitheater which is sometimes used by the School of Performing Arts when a particular play’s set up is best suited for that sort of set up.
The Accra International Conference Centre is designed in much the same way as the National Theatre. Apart from these major venues, there are several others with frontal rises that can easily be turned into stages for plays with the requisite set designs that bring the plays ‘home’ and make them real. So there are really no lack of venues for staging plays.
So do we have enough stage plays in Ghana?
I am afraid we may not have enough of these, especially when one travels away from Accra. Let’s remember Accra is not Ghana. Uncle Ebo is doing his bit to ensure that once in every quarter, there’s a new play at the National Theatre. Other young and aspiring writers and entertainment entrepreneurs like Latif Abubakar, Nii Commey and Oswald Mensah do put up plays as well though they have yet to attain the professional status and numbers that Roverman Productions continues to draw.
The students of the School of Performing Arts at Legon also put together plays on a regular basis during the academic year. These plays may be designed for the purposes of obtaining academic grading but their quality and entertainment output are not in doubt at all.
But again, these are all Accra-based stage plays; thus leaving the rest of Ghana with noting else but pubs, pirated CDS and videos, night clubs, funerals and weddings as the main entertainment channels available to them.
What are the challenges Stage Plays face?
I am not going to pretend to be an expert. However I have been to enough of these to hazard a few educated guesses. The challenges they face range from the high costs of production through to the limited number of people who are prepared to pay to watch quality productions.
Roverman Productions has over the years attracted corporate and media sponsorship for its plays. Added to this, they have also focused on relevant and family-oriented entertainment, which has resulted in huge patronage. Other smaller production houses have had difficulties in attracting similar sponsorship and no doubt this affects the quality of production.
The play I went to see over the weekend, for example, it was quite obvious certain aspects of the production could have been improved. For example there was no point in placing sound equipment on the floor just next to the stage where the audience could see it.
Corporate sponsors tend to look at what benefits they can derive from their sponsorships before deciding to do so. Except for NGOs which may have other motivations, the corporate and business sponsors will always look out for return on their investments and that is what may be stopping some of them from getting involved with other smaller production houses.
Then there is the matter of quality of productions. Love for a job doesn’t necessarily mean one will be good at it. There are a lot of great writers in this country. One needs the business acumen to pull it off but key to the success of this is the quality of work exhibited on stage and its relevance to the audience.
Getting Stage Plays right and the way forward
I am thrilled at the numbers that turn up for stage plays in Accra. Yes the smaller companies are having difficulties in securing the huge deals and numbers as Roverman does but the outlook is positive. For me, the fact that interest among the public is high and growing, and young writers and entrepreneurs are positioning themselves for the industry is a great sign. It is certainly an exciting future for stage plays and for those of us who love to see it.