History : Department of Theatre Arts

History

 

The Department started modestly as a School of Drama in 1962. Prior to this, we must recall that, in the original plan for the university by the founding fathers, nothing at all had been envisaged for drama as a separate discipline. Even the construction of the Arts Theatre in 1955 was motivated only by the need to provide a venue for the holding of concerts and film shows.

But the arrival on campus in the med-50's of theatre enthusiasts among the teaching staff - of people like Martin Banham and Geoffrey Axworthy especially - helped to shape the new course of events. These members of staff began an active program of production at the Arts theatre - using mainly the University College Dramatic Society (comprising students) and the Arts theatre Production Group (a Staff group) - and, in addition, ran a series of theatre workshops for the departments of English and of Extra-Mural Studies, as well as the Institute of Education. So popular and so important were these activities indeed, that the 1961 Visitation Report recommended that theatre be not left any longer to "enthusiastic volunteers", but should be organized properly as an academic discipline. Thus, the following year, with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the School of Drama began, the first of its kind in Africa.

Regular courses started in the 1963/64 session in the Arts Faculty, offering Diplomas both for non-graduates, and also at the graduate level, with the late Kola Ogunmola becoming the first student in residence. This was to prove historic, when, through another grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ogunmola created the unforgettable stage adaptation of Tutuola's The Palmwine Drinkard.

In 1966, the Rockefeller Foundation funds ran out. But by then, the arguments for the School had been firmly established. The Nigerian Universities Council not only accepted to finance the School, but also to upgrade it into a full-fledged department. This dream could not be realized, however, for another four years, owing to the outbreak of the Biafran conflict. But happily, in the 1970-71 session, with the cessation of the war, the Department finally took off with Wole Soyinka as its inaugural helmsman.

Since then, the Department has grown tremendously and expanded its programmes. In the 36 years of its existence, it has turned out hundreds of graduates, and accumulated important achievements as the foremost theatre institution in black Africa. And nowadays, its products are to be found in prominent positions in virtually all the spheres of our national life.

Products of the Department are able to pursue careers in a wide variety of areas, including: film and video production, broadcasting, public relations, tourism/travel agencies, journalism, cultural ministries, arts councils, advertising, banking and financial institutions, religious establishments, administration, teaching etc.