The Jos Repertory Theatre was founded in 1997 in the ancient tin mining city of Jos, Plateau State in North Central Nigeria.
It began by taking drama to schools in and around the city, but in 2000, the group’s work was extended to include the creation of theatre-for-development sketches to communities in Jos and neighbouring states. Their sketches have included life-enhancing sketches on HIV and Aids related issues, health, agriculture, water and sanitation and civic education sketches ranging from good governance and accountability to election best practices.
The sketches for communities have provided information, education and entertainment and have existed side by side with formal theatre work of scripted plays from the Nigerian theatre repertory and the best plays from around the world.
The group’s relationship with IPAT dates back a few years when it was faced with the lack of financial support of troupe members who were were HIV positive. The dilemma was two fold – how to cater for them so they could continue on their drugs regimen and be able to feed well and adequately to withstand the rigours of the drugs.
IPAT assisted by providing a grant to the four actors so that every month they would have access to funds to enable them to feed properly and still be able to take their drugs while being able to continue to work.
An interview with the Jos Repertory Theatre
What difference has IPAT’s help made to your group, family and friends, and the wider community?
The fact that a group of artistes and the general public around the world really look out for others with substantial contributions and that they have not met them is not an issue. It is just enough that they are artistes. This has touched me deeply over the years. Our friends are amazed at the consistency of the IPAT support over the years. This has played a deep role in sustaining the families of the artistes that are being supported.
What does the ongoing help from IPAT mean to you?
As an organisation, those of us who do not enjoy robust and good health get the regular and consistent support from our peers and mentors means so much to us about the common humanity that we share.
What would have happened without IPAT’s support?
The health of the four actors would have taken a turn for the worse. The support ensures that whether we are working or not, the actors can feed well to enable them to take their regular medication. The support has also enabled them to engage in self-sustaining trades outside of acting to enable them further to get more and better care. The fact that they have remained healthy for the past six years when some of their colleagues have passed on is testament to the impact of the support on their lives.
Who has been helped by IPAT’s support and how?
There are four actors, TALATU JOSEPH, FRANKA BALLENKA nee MAFULUL, MONDAY TONGMAN & SAMSON ISAAC. IPAT makes available to them a quarter yearly grant which enables them to work and still be on their medication regularly.
What changes do you hope to see in your community and in your lives?
We believe that the arts can be used to support education and health. We have created sketches on health issues that seek to educate and enlighten people especially in the rural areas on cost effective ways to live healthy and productive lives. In the area of education, the arts can help students to pass their examinations, especially English and English literature through regular performances of plays in the school curriculum. Also, we have had situations where we collaborated with the local museum to take museum studies to schools. We had a pilot scheme with three local schools.
What is the role of drama/music/dance in your community?
Presently in Jos, the role of the theatre is tremendous. We are going through very challenging times and the theatre has tried to play a stabilising factor through creating situations that will encourage dialogue through the use of drama. We are presently in rehearsals for a 32 episode radio drama, which will start airing in October as well as preparations for the next Jos festival with the theme: The Theatre as a communal meeting point.
If you could change anything in your lives right now, with or without IPAT’s help, what would that be?
The greatest change that could happen in the lives of the company is to complete the building of the theatre. With or without IPAT’s help they will struggle to achieve this. It is their prime goal, and will alter everything for them: Their status as well as the quality of their work.
How long do you expect to need IPAT’s help?
We, on our part, are trying to make the four actors be self-sustaining through engaging in other trades outside of acting so that they can have access to other streams of income.
What are you doing to create income and keep the group together and working?
We have gone in the area of individual fund-raising and earned income through ticket sales as against seeking for the elusive foundation/corporate funding, which is most times never forthcoming. Also, we have been involved in consultancy services for schools on the use of theatre/the arts to teach. We have also tried our hands on consistent and regular season of plays to increase our earned income base as we also found out that most of our patrons are more likely to support us if they find that our work is regular and consistent.
If you could speak directly to the people who have donated money to support their project, what would you say?
A simple thank you! We are eternally grateful. Your help has, simply put, been unquantifiable! What changes do you hope to see in your community and in your own lives in the future? Hopefully, the actors will continue to work and live healthy lives to the benefit of our communities and families.