Poor leadership killing National Theatre - Poet Oswald Okaitei

By: Gifty Owusu-Amoah
Oswald Okaitei says poor leadership is killing National Theatre
Poet and spoken word artiste, Oswald Okaitei

POET and spoken word artist, Oswald Okaitei, is accusing the management of the National Theatre of the lack of leadership which has led to poor conditions at the venue and is gradually killing the national monument.

In his view, the National Theatre, which was established 26 years ago, has lost its value over the years due to poor management, especially under the current administration of Madam Appiah Frimpong, who moved from Deputy Artistic Director to Executive Director of the theatre.

Pouring out his frustrations to Showbiz in a recent interview, Oswald Okaitei said he was saddened that a previously vibrant theatre was wasting away due to poor leadership and policies.

“When I was on internship with the National Theatre as a young artist, it could boast of many productions such as Fun World, Kiddafest, Concert Party that produced many showbiz personalities.

“I remember celebrities such as Martha Ankomah, Shatta Wale, 4X4 and Buk Bak honing their skills on various platforms of the National Theatre either through Fun World or Kiddafest.

“This was under Madam Korkor Amarteifio as the Artistic Director but today, the National Theatre cannot boast of that and so my question is, ‘as an institution established to promote theatre and unearth talents, what crop of creative personalities is the National Theatre churning out? They can’t boast of any because everything has failed,” he said.

According to Oswald, he didn’t understand why institutions such as Goethe Institute and Alliance Francaise were hosting successful events and the National Theatre couldn’t do same.

“If the likes of Alliance Francaise and Goethe Institute, equivalent to National Theatre’s Folk’s Place are attracting audiences for their shows, why can’t that happen at the National Theatre too?

“Times are evolving and definitely, the old ways of promoting events may be outmoded. What is a theatre without an audience? That is the fate of the National Theatre because there are no proper means to promote their productions.

“Over the past six years, what is there to talk about the National Theatre? What projects are they undertaking? It appears they introduce something only when you bash them, they don’t evaluate.”

He told Showbiz that his criticisms were not out of personal hatred against the current leadership but his heartfelt desire to see the National Theatre reclaim its glory.

“Presently, Uncle Ebo Whyte is the ‘saviour’ of the National Theatre and without him and his plays, the theatre would be dead by now. Now that there are rumours of him building his own edifice, what would become of the theatre?

“Today, a young playwright needs about GH¢50,000 to stage a play at the National Theatre and that for me is outrageous, especially when it comes with nothing except the auditorium,” he stated.

When Showbiz reached out to the Executive Director of the National Theatre, Madam Amy Frimpong, she described the allegations as unfortunate in her 40 years’ experience as an arts administrator and challenged the Graphic Showbiz to independently conduct its investigations.

“This should not be a verbal exchange between myself and anyone so I implore you to talk to the other directors and people to have a good representation of current happenings,” she said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Head of Communication and Public Relations at the National Theatre, Mr Anane Adjei, who also spoke to Showbiz said  while Oswald’s love for the arts may have compelled him to make the allegations, it was unfortunate he was not enlightened about current events.

He admitted that even though the likes of Kiddafest and Fun World don’t create huge buzz as it happened in the 90s, it still had a lot of goodwill among theatre lovers.

“Irrespective of Oswald’s opinion, we are all on the same platform that we want to see the National Theatre grow so his views are always welcome. But just like no one gets to see a beautiful smile in the dark, that is the story of the National Theatre.

“We are restrained to do publicity because money is involved but that doesn’t mean we are idle. We have revamped Concert Party and will be going on regional tours as well. We have a platform to unearth young talents and the likes of Scribe Productions and Nyansapo are partners of National Theatre on such productions.

“We have Friday live band sessions we started but admittedly, it will not be a success in a day, it is a process and gradually, we will get people interested.

"Again, we recently introduced the Theatre Performing Schools (TPS) and it is a means of building the interest of young people in theatre,” he said.

The Marketing Manager of the National Theatre, Mr Alfred Danso, challenged the media to follow up on activities of the theatre and not base their judgement on personal opinions.

“Apart from theatre, the National Theatre has undertaken various infrastructural projects including a borehole and others to keep the edifice functional. On the issue of spending about GH¢50,000 on a production at the National Theatre, that will obviously depend on the preferences of the production house,” he said.

Touching on the happenings at the National Theatre, an employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “The leadership is autocratic. Things are not what they used to be. I have worked here for many years and I have seen all the good times but now, I can only see and feel the theatre sinking.

“Events are held without evaluation and we continue to have low patronage for events with huge investments and yet we are told that it’s our mandate. It appears there’s no direction and so obviously, the staff will not be motivated,” one person stated.

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