Femi Osofisan studied in Ibadan, Dakar and Paris, and taught theatre and comparative literature at the University of Ibadan for 34 years, a post from which he recently retired. Osofisan’s professional experience is manifold—he is an award-winning poet, writer, actor, company director, journalist and scholar. But it is as playwright that he established his reputation, having written and produced over fifty plays, roughly half of which have been published. Among these are a series of plays which speak of Osofisan’s long-standing interest in reinterpreting European works in the context of African—specifically, Yoruba—traditions and customs. He approaches his continuous search for a viable modern written theatre that would still be authentically African not only in terms of shared thematic concerns but, more importantly, with a view to form and technique. He has worked on several canonical texts—including Shakespeare, Chekov, Gogol, Brecht, Feydeau, Frisch, and Sophocles—and discussed in his essays the consequences of this interweaving of cultures aimed at producing a new synthesis. What comes out of the commingling of Soyinka and Brecht or Grotowski, Clark and Ogunde with Barrault, Rotimi with Mnouchekine and so on, particularly against the backdrop of our traditional performance aesthetics? How can all these elements be pressed into the service of a ‘committed theatre’ in the age of globalized neo-colonialism and increasingly globalized terrorism on the one hand and of ‘Nollywood’ and proliferating Pentecostal movements on the other?
Performance in an/Other Space: Recreating the Genre of European Crime Fiction in an African Context
As a follow-up to my investigations into and experimentations with the use of popular forms of art for ideological mobilization—social, political, psychological, mental, etc.—I recently decided to turn to the genre of crime fiction for my next project. Previously, I had worked with popular theatre forms (including theatre-for-development strategies), mass media (newspapers, radio, and television), and performance poetry, to varying degrees of success. In the context of Nigeria, where illiteracy is wide-spread and on the rise, I have grown increasingly anxious in recent times with regard to our impact as writers on our audiences. It struck me that it might be possible to expand this impact by turning to the somewhat popular genre of crime fiction and following in the footsteps of writers like Dürrenmatt. I say “somewhat popular” because the genre of crime fiction so far has not enjoyed a wide appeal among Nigerian writers, and the few such books that exist are either overly sentimental or plainly imitative. The genre of crime fiction, thus, is still widely open for creative exploration. My aim during this fellowship is to study very closely the basic mechanisms of this Western literary genre (regarded by some as ‘inferior’) in order to grasp the various manoeuvres used by different masters, mainly by reading and analyzing as many titles as possible. The ultimate goal is to produce my own versions which will satisfy my ideological objectives by overcoming and reconciling the audience’s resistance to literacy and its contents, while still meeting their desire for entertainment.