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Costume and Cultural Identity, A Production of Zulu Sofola’s King Emene

Costume and Cultural Identity, A Production of Zulu Sofola’s King Emene

Background to the Study

Costume is a fundamental visual element of the theatre.  Theatre historians trace the origins of the theatre to the early men and the dramatic rituals they enacted, in a bid to survive. Costume is one of the vital elements that enhanced the successful performance of the early man’s dramatic rituals. Hence:

Wearing masks and costumes, they impersonated men, animals or supernatural beings and mimed the desired effect -success in hunt or battle, the coming of rain, the revival of sun-as an actor might. From such dramatic rituals, theatre is said to have emerge… (Brockett 66).

From the above, it could be said that art of costuming first appeared in the dramatic rituals of the early men. Thus, costume is one of the earliest and highly important arts that developed alongside the theatre. According to Cohen:

Costume has always been a major element in the theatrical experience. It is a vehicle for the “dressing up” that actors and audiences alike have always considered a requirement for the fullest degree of theatrical satisfaction (147).

Essentially, an actor or performer in the theatre wears costume (clothes and accessories) to portray a character before an audience. The primary aim of costume design is therefore, to transform an actor or performer into the character being portrayed and to aid the audience in understanding the performance. As a visual communication tool, costumes possess tremendous power to capture the attention of the audience, and in the process intensify moods and convey messages through non-verbal means. In other words, costumes “heighten the aesthetic value of the play, offering basic information and enhancing the play’s interpretation” (Duruaku 16).

The objectives of costume design are to set the tone and style, indicate time and place, characterize individuals and groups, underline personal relationships, create symbolic outfits when appropriate, meet the practical needs of performers, and coordinate the entire production (307).

Thus the role of costume in the theaters is crucial and cannot be overlooked. It is pertinent to note that costumes doe not exist in isolation; it is an integral part of the theatre.

Theatre is a collaborative art that involves the integration of different elements: playwriting, acting, directing, costume, make-up, lighting, scenery, sound design and management. From its early beginnings till date, the theatre has moved through different periods and stages of development. The different elements of the theatre, stated above, experienced considerable changes in each period, tradition or epoch of theatre development. Notably, one thing remains constant during stages of development; “the permanency of change” (Nwosu 45). Ododo, as cited by Adegbite         states that:

theatre is occasioned by the desire to change sameness, to grow like life itself and progress to something more different and perhaps more functional (19).

However, the desire for change in the theatre was largely suppressed for many years, by the rigid traditional conventions of the theatre. At a point, theatre practitioners could no longer contain this desire for change. Hence, they had to revolt against traditionalism that gripped the theatre.

            In modern times, the idea of revolt is what drives the 20th century theatre. This revolt cuts across various facets (elements) of the theatre. This revolt is equally characterized by experiments focused mainly against the traditional conventions of the theatre, which appear to have held the theatre in chains for years. To this effect, the theatre witnessed significant changes through various forms of experiments. According to Brockett and Hildy, with these theatrical revolt:

…the standards of production that have been accepted almost universally begun to seem outmoded…. It had been undermined by a host of experiments… (388).

Indeed, artists began to abandon the rigid conventions of the theatre, through the explorations of new ideas that will better suit the needs, tastes and aspirations of the modern man.

Consequently, costume design changed considerably, as costume designers began to explore the opportunities open to them and adopt new approaches to costume design. However, “such approaches have served primarily to enlarge our concepts of costuming rather than wholly to displace old ones” (Brockett 558). In essence, costume designers became free to fully exercise their creative ingenuity and explore different avenues open to the costumier through transposition, adaptation and eclecticism.

Obviously, one of the reasons for this “slow growth rate” is “experimentation deficiency” (Shuaib 15). In addition, Oga asserts that:

The art of writing plays would appear to have received lavish attention. Unfortunately, the domain of performance and production has received less critical inquiry, particularly at the Nigerian (African) landscape…(51)

Normally, when you do something unusual, you attract attention to yourself. The idea of experimentation in the theatre connotes “doing something unusual”. Hence, the above assertion implies that experimentation is deficient in the “domain of performance and production”, in the modern African theatre.  It is important to note that design is a vital element in this “domain of performance and production”.  In view of this, Adegbite states that:

…many contemporary scholars … have subscribed to the notion that design and technical aids in the African concept are both “static and less functional”… In spite of their subjective conclusions, the African concept of design is highly significant especially to the development of African theatre in the present age.  What we need now, therefore, is to make further exploration and commitment to what we believe in (20).

Despite such optimism, it must be recognized that design in contemporary African theatre still lags behind in theatrical development.  There are a lot of opportunities that are yet to be utilized.  Cultural identification deficiency in the area of costume design, in contemporary African theatre is so glaring and cannot be ignored.  Hence, the need for further research and cultural identity in contemporary African theatre design becomes critical.

Statement  of the Problems

            Culture has been defined as the totality of a people’s way of life.  It is therefore a cumulative store of the norms and values of the people.  Costume is a vibrant artistic medium of the theater as a cultural expression.  Apart from being the item  of clothing (dress) worn by performers to enhance a theatrical event, they form an important part of cultural aesthetics, artistic styles, and tradition.

Nigeria being the most populous black nation of the world is a very prominent country in the continent of Africa with a population of more than 150 million people “it has diverse ethnic groups each possessing its own language and cultureCostumes as an important element of theatre despict the socio – cultural, political and economic contexts of Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups.  This study is a performance analysis on aesthetics of costumes and cultural representation in Zulu Sofola’s King Emene.

Objectives of the Study

            This research has been chosen to highlight the role and effectiveness of the theatrical costumes as a metaphor of cultural space.  No doubt theatrical costumes represent cultural background, but also cultural values and behaviour. They also enhance, and preserve cultural identity and aesthetics and awaken the spirits of cultural consciousness among group of people selecting accurately those cultural unique items which can comfortably be incorporated in the dressing style of a people.

            In addition, the study aims to motivate confident experimental practitioners who will push the boundaries of costume design on the African continent beyond its traditional role.

            The study further aims to expose the unlimited possibilities in costume design, and thus encourage costume designer in Africa to utilize these opportunities in order to alternate the problems of inadequate identification in costume design.

            Apart from contributing to the existing body of knowledge in the areas of costume, this study shall also demonstrate the validity of the general belief that costume worn by a particular tribe is a reflection of the people’s artistic and aesthetic culture.

            Ultimately, the study aims to access the identification of cultural costume design in Unizik production of Zulu Sofila’s King Emene, to see whether the costume designer succeeded in interpreting the Issele-uku culture through costumes and suggest better ways for the improvement.

Significance of the Study

            This study is significant because it will emphasize the need for creative, accurate and meaningful choice of costumes in theatrical productions, as this factors will enhance cultural values and identification. By so doing, the study will tackle the issues of inadequate representation in costume design in Nigeria

            This study will serve to correct the misconception that cultural identity, such as the identification in costume design in the unizik production of Zulu Sofola’s King Emene are usually done as result of the unavailability of the required costumes.

            In educational theatres, such efforts should be recommended rather than condemned, so as to encourage further cultural identity.  This study will also add to the existing literature in the area of costume design and motivate further research studies in this area of study.

Scope of the Study

            This research is delimited to the study of cultural identify in costume design in the Unizik production of Zulu Sofola’s King  Emene.  Chapter One is the introduction, it will provide the background to the study and give a general idea on what the study is all about.

            Chapter two will review the related literature, is shall provide the theoretical frame work for this study.  The views of different scholars on the concept of cultural identity in the theater, costume as visual communication tools, and a historical overview of theatrical costumes shall be presented logically and evaluated.

            Chapter three shall therefore present and analysis the cultural identification approach in costume design in the Unizik production of Zulu Sofola’s King Emene.

While chapter four summarizes the findings and observations, recommendation and conclusive discussion on the study.

Research Methodology

            The methods relevant to this study are observation (participant observation) and content analysis.  This research will rely on data collected through participant observation in the play production used as case study.

            Additional data will be obtained through the analysis of the production  content, the units of analysis will include costume, props, theme, character, production content, visual design, setting and periodization of the play.  The analysis will be descriptive and interpretative focusing on the research problem.

            The materials from published books and journals were used while the interview methods helps the research with some knowledgeable person in the area as well as some people of the Issele-uku  community in Delta State Nigeria whose culture the play text of this research work mirrors.

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