Magazine article New African

Celebrating Africans on the British Stage; Tiata Fahodzi, an African Theatre Company Based in the UK, Has Made Celebrating and Placing Africans at the Heart of British Theatre Its Primary Goal for over a Decade. Belinda Otas Spoke to Femi Elufowoju Jr. about the Company's Journey

Magazine article New African

Celebrating Africans on the British Stage; Tiata Fahodzi, an African Theatre Company Based in the UK, Has Made Celebrating and Placing Africans at the Heart of British Theatre Its Primary Goal for over a Decade. Belinda Otas Spoke to Femi Elufowoju Jr. about the Company's Journey

Article excerpt

TIATA FAHODZI, WHICH TRANSLATES as "theatre of the emancipated", is considered to be the leading British-African theatre company in the UK. Formed in 1997, under the artistic guidance of Femi Elufowoju jr., founder and artistic director for over a decade, the aim was to address the under-representation of African theatre in the UK in the mid-1990s.

Elufowoju Jr. says, "I had a small ambition to try and redress, in my own small way, the perspective of black theatre in Britain as it existed then. I had the opportunity as a theatre facilitator and storyteller to change that balance in a particular way and that's why I formed the company."

The company's 2009 production of Iya-Ile--The First Wife opened to critical acclaim with critics and audiences alike at the Soho Theatre, London.

Elufowoju Jr. describes the experience of running an African theatre company to an all-inclusive British audience over the last decade as a "huge learning curve. Running a theatre is like running a creche. It goes beyond actually producing a play. The whole experience has been extraordinary. I have brought the company through periods of giving birth which have exhilarated and enthralled our eclectic audiences."

He is adamant that the stories the company tells are a celebration of the African continent and must be told. Though the stories are specific to Africa, the themes are universal. "The themes of survival, economic strife, suppression, ostentatious living, and the themes of political influences over the common man. These stories are very close to home but they are worth sharing," says Elufowoju Jr.

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The challenge of telling the right stories that appeal to a cross-cultural audience has reared its head but Elufowoju says that is one of the things that excites him about producing work which has its roots in African theatre. He says it gives him the opportunity to "challenge and provoke the expected senses of what theatre should and could be within a British sensibility."

He admits there have been brief spells of uncertainty and doubt over the real potential impact of the company's artistic plan in manifesting a strong vision that articulates their relevance to non-Africans. "We have since been fortunate to attract the support of a network of artists and audiences that advocate our exploratory strides. Inevitably this yields affection, faith and popularity," he says.

If there is a mammoth hurdle to overcome, it is the financial challenge of running a theatre company that depends on others to take a chance and invest in a production.

"It is an economic thing dictated by market forces," says Elufowoju. "In most cases, producers are keen to invest in work which immediately appears financially viable. Everyone wants a commercial hit, be it Eastern European or a South African thriller. It is a pity that what really counts is the erratic sound of silver trickling into the box office coffers."

Regardless of the economic challenges, the company has produced over 14 major productions in the last 12, years. Its annual play-reading festival, Tiata Delights, which celebrates African playwrights, serves as a springboard for unknown African playwrights to jump-start their writing careers in an arena they otherwise may not have access to.

Michael Bhim, a playwright of Zimbabwean and Caribbean heritage, has benefitted from the work of Tiata Fahodzi. "It was this company that gave me my first public reading and opportunity. Without that opportunity, I would not be here. …

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