This morning one of the first of the national hospitality houses for the London 2012 Olympic Games was officially opened. Until the middle of August the Theatre Royal Stratford East will have a new role, as ‘Nigeria House’, the cultural home of the Nigerian Olympic delegation and the ‘New World Nigeria‘ project throughout the Games.
The grand opening of ‘Nigeria House’ started with some traditional Nigerian drumming and dancing, led by a musician with a ‘talking drum’ – hour-glass shaped, it can be manipulated to mimic the tone and rhythm of a human voice and was used to communicate between villages in the past. There were then speeches from notable Nigerian figures – the head of the Nigerian Bank of Industry (who are backing the project), Evelyn Oputu, the President of the Nigerian Olympic Committee and even an address from the UK ambassador, High Commissioner Dalhatu Tafida. Most moving however, was were some words of wisdom to the aspiring thespians in the audience from veteran actor, writer and director Olu Jacobs.
The audience were then treated to some spoken word and musical performances by some of the artists representing ’30 Nigeria House’.’30 Nigeria House’ is the ongoing collaboration between New World Nigeria and the Theatre Royal Stratford East which is supporting 30 young artists, musicians and actors who are Nigerian or of Nigerian descent. Selected from an 150 initial applicants they will receive mentoring, advice and financial help in developing their careers, producing work that will be showcased at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and elsewhere during the London 2012 Olympic Games and beyond.
Today’s event also marks the start of three weeks which will showcase Nigerian culture and food at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. From now until 12 August the theatre’s entire programme will be given over to Nigerian theatre productions, poetry, music and art – you can find the full listings on the theatre’s website here. Performances that I’m quite keen to see are the ‘Nigerian Disaporama All Star Band’ on the evening of Wednesday 25 July and the traditional tale about royals and royalty, ‘The King Must Dance Naked’, on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 August. From this weekend there will also be Nigerian food and cultural stalls located outside the theatre – I understand that haggling is a must in Nigeria, so be prepared to let go of your British reserve and get down to some serious bargaining!
I got the impression from this morning’s speeches that the primary purpose of ‘New World Nigeria’ and ‘Nigeria House’ is to raise the profile of Nigeria on the world stage, and to dispel some of the stereotypes that people have about Nigerians. I’m sure that a visit to the Theatre Royal Stratford East during their tenure will furnish you with some new perspectives on Nigeria and on its culture. If you’re attending an event in the Olympic Park this is the nearest theatre, so can I suggest ending your visit to the area with an afternoon or evening in the company of the Nigerians – it’s got to be a better option than a visit to the biggest McDonalds in Europe, and a theatre ticket won’t cost you much more than a Big Mac either. I’m also heading over to Jamaica House on Friday 3 August so keep your eye out for my impressions of what the Caribbean has to offer…