The Cultural Heritage: Living Culture and Performing Arts


The Cultural Heritage: Living Culture and Performing Arts

We discussed the use of history in cultural tourism as well as the significance of Nigeria rich monumental heritage in promoting cultural tourism. Here we are providing you details on two more essentials ingredients of cultural tourism viz, the living culture and the performing arts of Nigeria. 

You will understand and appreciate how Nigeria vast and fabled heritage has survived in the form of living arts practiced in all parts of Nigeria both in the countryside as well as in the urban areas.

The article starts with defining living culture and goes on to mention its various constituents. 

It also explains what is meant by performing arts along with their relevance in promotion of cultural tourism.


What is Living Culture?

A customary presentation of Nigeria culture relates it mainly to a study of arts within the tradition bound parameters of styles, chronology or schools. In consequence the creativity inherent in the culture and the throb of life as its central metaphor tend to get into background. The living culture is essentially this creativity, this throb. It manifests itself in myriad patterns - all related to a tradition that lives on.


Cultural Life in Nigeria

Collective vitality subsisting on a rich repertoire of myth, symbol, and song is an important identifying feature of Nigeria cultural life. It has strong local and regional flavours. Yet its rituals and reticence possess an underlying commonality. 

Viewed in its totality, the Nigerian culture is bewilderingly diverse. But these varied traditions have profoundly influenced each other. Sometimes they merge.

Sometime they mingle inseparably. And in what has come to us as the living culture of Nigeria, the rural and tribal vernacular traditions have interacted quite meaningfully with the classical traditions. Even under an incessant pressure of modernity and, economically speaking, the compulsions of employment, the culture of Nigeria has lived on.

It must be stressed here that much of the living culture has survived outside of the academia and is in the form of art that is practiced by its people. For this reason, as also for its eternal value, tourism has an interest in the living culture though serious attempts to understand and document it have so far been lacking.


Nigerian handicrafts represent perhaps the oldest tradition of living culture. The continuity of the traditional crafts still offers creative expression to the great mass of our people. The Nigerian craftsman uses his medium for rendering creative expression of his inner self. 

The main mediums in which the crafts are practiced are calabash, clay, wood and metal. Almost all clusters of villages have their own craftsmen who work on these mediums. The diversity of Nigerian culture tradition is aptly reflected in the tradition of handicrafts.


The textiles tradition of Nigeria goes back, beyond doubt to several decades ago. The textual references to cotton appear in the post-Vedic period, though references to weaving also abound in Vedic literature. The introduction of machine weaving, fortunately, did not result in the death of the very old tradition. 

The textiles tradition in the form of a craft has lived down to our own period and certainly maintains continuity from its remote past. Prominent examples are the Oyo, Iseyin, Ibadan etc in Oyo State and also in Niger state of Nigeria.


Performing Arts - Visual Arts in performing Arts and its documentation

The Cultural Heritage: Living Culture and Performing Arts

Identity of Art 

We stated earlier that what we consider as arts are what are usually regarded as products of deliberate human activity which are communicable to other men by the skill of the artist working in some medium that could be perceived by the senses of other men - the eye, the ear, the nose.

In short, it has that double element in its conception and parturition. Many artists and philosophers have urged against this position of Eric Newton, and have propounded their own theories as to what they believe art should be. It is true that when we observe a woman whom we consider to be beautiful and admire the proportion of her body.

We would have observed a phenomenon, which is neither man-made nor man-designed. She must have been the result of design by nature working through its own laws, which as John Mbiti explains, give senses of certainty, security and predictability to the universe, in its various details. This is why it is not surprising to find movement of SURREALISTS arguing, through Raymond Firth, that materials for art are everywhere in Nature as well as in things made by man. 

Firth gives the examples of 'coherent forms in snow crystals, the song of birds, and the delicate shades of bare soil in a ploughed field', which he calls 'incipient art'.

Although he readily admits that this 'incipient art' occurs naturally, he concedes that it can only be conceived to art by human recognition. While Raymond Firth is defending this 'incipient art' - theory and Armand Reid is modifying his (Firth's) position by declaring that art is within life and derives from life, philosophers like Benedetto Croce and R.G. Collinwood, hold on to a rather extreme argument that a work of art does not have to be in any concrete form.

In fact Croce asserts his work as an artist is completed when a melody is made, or a poem and he has seen or imagine, in the expression of every detail a landscape. As far as Collinwood is concerned, art cannot be craft as art has no technique.

This idealist position has not solved the problem of identity or will solve it because art is a personal thing; and the final are cognition of what could be considered a work of art whether it is from Nature or it is manmade, rest with the individual who has his own preferences.

The position of a painting, a sculpture or a piece of architecture, to an observer, is quite different from that of the performing arts, although a performing art is as visible as any visual at art, its appeal to the audience is different.


The Performing Art as Art Forms

The performing arts come as dance, music and drama; and sometimes as musical or opera, which fuses all the other art forms to make its own. Of all the forms in the performing arts, drama is the most common and easily understood, so we will dwell more on drama as a representative of the other forms. 

Drama is different from many other art forms because it is temporal in nature. It is very transient as it 'lives' only for a little while. Each performance is an event, which is unique in all its ramifications and is a work of art, which can never be matched, repeated or recreated in any future productions.

Although elements of the decor remain constant and unchanged throughout the entire factors may affect the performance. The only other art form that comes close to drama in its temporal nature is music, which also varies from performance to performance, and can have high and low levels of performance.

Drama and music differ from painting, sculpture and architecture as they (painting etc) enjoy a degree of performance once they are completed, whether they are viewed or not. Another 'advantage' is that they can be viewed in isolation, studied in the privacy of a room or appreciated at one's leisure as long as one wants.

On the other hand, drama in performing cannot be studied at leisure because the performance is not forced by the allowing time for reflection. The spectator is forced by the temporal nature of the piece to proceed from the perception of the parts to the comprehension of the whole, building his impression piecemeal with the details as given him, unaware of the full impact of the design until at conclusion of the performance its total character stands revealed.

Drama in performance is not like reading a storybook where you can stop and flip back pages to correct an option or to review a cloudy situation. In performance, once you miss a detail, you have missed it until you may have another opportunity to watch another performance of the same production.

Drama in performance manages either to provoke thought or to arouse and emotion as it gradually evolves.

As it grows step- by-step, it also calls forth a perceptible response from its audience, a response which becomes increasingly definite as the play progress. But the impression which the play makes on the mind and emotions of the beholders is not complete until the performance is over.


The Audience and the work of Art

As the audience is relevant to a performance, so also it is relevant to other forms, for the 'cycle' to be complete according to Roman Ingardon, every work of art of whatever kind has distinguishing features that is not the sort of thing which is completely determined in every respect by the primary level varieties of its quantities.

In other words, it contains within itself characteristics lacunae in definition, areas of indeterminate: it is a schematic creation. Furthermore, not all its determinants components or qualities are in a state of actuality, but some of them are potential only. 

In consequence of this, a work of art requires an agent outside itself that is an observer in order to render it concrete.

But the influence of the audience on a performance may be 'pleasant' or 'unpleasant' as a play can achieve an inspired and brilliant performance on one night and another night, a rather below-par and disappointing failure. This type of result could be said to be possible with the type of audience that influences the performance.

One audience may be sensitive and sharp to inspire a brilliant performance while another may be dull and unresponsive and thereby help to affect a drab performance. 

Simply put, theatre is at its best when its performance is supported by a responsive audience, and for any theatre presentation to be evaluated, it is necessary to accept that the 'ultimate' test of its quality is it effect on performance. But the formation of an audience varies from place to place from situation to situation.

It is very likely that certain productions attract only a certain category of people who have the same cultural background or educational standing and possibly the same social 'polish' and 'finishing' that equip them for the reception and appreciation of the same type of presentation. 

It may therefore become very difficult for a lowly and uneducated serf, brought up only in the 'rowdy' atmosphere of Fuji music-tradition (a local popular music in the Yoruba West of Nigeria) to appreciate the 'fineness' of a symphony piece, or for him to appreciate the flow of language in a production of Wole Soyinka's The Road. Should any such 'serf' find himself in a production that he finds difficult to comprehend; he should accept Susan Bennett's prescription of 'either walking out of the performance or by falling asleep'. 

The Recommendation here is very simple.Do not attempt to reach beyond your level. Although, it is not a crime to attempt at self-improvement, it is no doubt a crime to bite more than one can chew.

A painting, as a composition, according to Seurat is an arrangement of colour and form within the rectangle of the canvas. This arrangement must have a certain order, which is of the utmost importance to the painting. 

It is this order that is relevance to us, because it is the essence of all art. Albright says that order gives meaning to impressions, which were otherwise chaotic and confusing.

In visual arts this order is the consequence of selection and arrangement, the selection of lines and colours and the arrangement of them into coherent wholes. A paining exists in space and thrives on line, form and colour; music on the other hand is on the temporal plane and gives infinite pleasure for its entire duration, if it is well composed and orderly. 

A dramatic piece embraces 'both static and temporal positions in its design, as it exists in both. Any composition in space, whether it is a, painting, a sculpture, a work of architecture, or a theatrical design, represents according to Albright, a combination of three visual properties: line, light and shade, and colour.


The production organization: Its effects on performance

A performance therefore relies on the script, or story line to 'live'. A performance breathes life into the 'dead' words of the script for the duration of the performances. As a performance is a work of art on its own, a critic of the production can only talk about a particular performance, which he wanted and not other one that he did not watch. He is not allowed to review two nights as one and is not permitted to review by conjectural analysis.

He may only talk about what he saw and nothing else. A play in rehearsals is exploring the full potentials of the work, through the 'vision' of the Director as the leader of a group of collaborators sourcing ability and expertise and working on the same script. The director is responsible for the interpretation of the play and for the choice of style in presentation. The script constitutes the stimulus for the action of very many people who make up the production organization.

This organization is rather complex as it contain artists, technicians and businessmen. The artists are the designers who produce compositions in space. Any composition in space, whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a work of architecture, or a theatrical design, represents a combination of three visual properties, line, light and shade and colour.

These designs which help to sustain the interest of the audience in the production fall within the triangle of what is popularly known as the 'visual trinity'. This trinity is inclusive of scene design, lighting design and costume design. They fall within the very visible aspects of the production, after the actors, or in fact with the actors, because they exist together on stage at the same time.

The scene designer provides the sketches for all the settings require by the production. His sketches are translated to working drawings for the purpose of construction. He uses the three visual properties of line, light and shade, and colour to the advantage of his design to enhance its value in relation to the rest of the design; lighting and costume.

The scenic designer has several assistants who shall only be mentioned, as space shall not permit the breakdown of their responsibilities. It is enough to the production. These assistants are the technician; the draughts men, the building carpenter; the building crew, the stage carpenter, stage crew, paint boss and paint crew.

All of the above come together to build the scenic design for the production. The Lighting designer, is the specialist who collaborates closely with both the director and the designer in planning the plot, determination of the types of instrument to be used, where to rig them and the setting up to the control board and cue sheet. He is assisted by a chief electrician, who is highly skilled in the practice of safe writing.

The chief electrician is assisted by a light crew which include board operator, the floor, the bridge and the beam crews who assist with shifting and refocusing where necessary during performances. The costume designer, submits sketches for all costume used in the play. Sometimes the costume are borrowed or rented, but most times they are made in the theatre.

The designer is responsible for the selection of colours that will be in harmony with the colours already selected by the scenic and the lighting designers. The costumier has a crew of technician - the pattern cutters, dyers, head seamstress (tailors) construction crew, wardrobe master, and wardrobe crew. Properties Master selects properties that have been approved by the director. These are purchased, borrowed or rented, or built by the props crew, under the supervision of the technician. He has a crew who looks after and shift all hand, trim and floor props.

We have not treated this organization in order of significance of positions, otherwise we should have mentioned the stage manager immediately after the director, who himself succeeds the playwright, the author of the scripts.

The stage manager is usually regarded as the director's right-hand'. He has authority over all departments of the production, including the cast and crew. He has information about every department of the production and in fact over the entire responsibility of the production during the run. He usually has an assistant or two, depending on the largeness of the production.

The Business Manager is the accountant of the production as he keeps the books and the accounts of the company in order. He is responsible for all estimates submitted by department heads and works within the approved budget. He attempts to sell the production to the public through advertisements, news-clips in the newspapers, general publicity (banners, posters and handbills) after getting an approval from the director. He is assisted by staff, which includes the House Manager, tickets sellers, ticket takers, ushers and cloakroom attendants.

There is no doubt that within an organization as large and complicated as a theatre organization, a lot of co-operation will become very necessary, especially between the various heads of department. Any misunderstanding between departments should be quickly resolved so as to have a production that is not balanced through the misplacement of some elements of production.

A well-balanced artists production can result only when all department heads and their assistants have a complete understanding of the objective of their collaboration. The actors need no introduction to us as their role is clear within the production organization. Every contribution made by any department is for the enhancement of the actor's role.

The actor is who we see and who 'tells' us the story, we do not see anybody else - we only deserve their contributions through the actor's role. Some actors are suited to tragedy, while others have ability only in comedy. This category of actors find it difficult to play serious roles and so are perpetually found only in light drama and the lower comedy such as farce and slapstick comedy.

Let us briefly explain what these plays are. Tragedy is s form drama so often and so variously defined that perhaps all which may safely be said of it is that it ends unhappily and usually with the provoking comedy; light in its emotional demands, as it appeals only to the intellect.

The treatment of material in this type of play, is humorous. It has a happy ending. Farce is a lower version of activity. Satire is reputed to be highest form of comedy which presents plausible situations and characters that are easily recognizable. Here, the playwright laughs at the absurdities of his characters and encourages his audience to identify with them. Any production, in whichever genre, can only come' alive in a performance and not in a library. There are ways and means of sustaining the interest of the audience in a production, without harming the production itself.

Colour plays a significant role in the unification of the production, as the colour of the scenery must harmonize with that of costume and blended by those of lights. But, no matter how careful the selection of colour may be, care must be taken not to inundate the audience with lengthy information.

Too much information may overwhelm the audience, as they soon get exhausted and lose concentration. It is therefore recommended that scenes in the play should be sharp and brief. And where they have to be long, care should be taken not to bore the audience.


Art: It’s Documentation

A painting or a sculpture is a document in itself, which preserves the thoughts and intentions of the artist. A work of architecture, apart from being an edifice, has the artist's impression, the plans and scale drawings to keep us in mind of the processes of construction.

In the theatre, the plays itself present a permanent documents of the nucleus of the production. Apart from this text, the production is documented through what is known as the master prompt script, which includes all the details of producing that particular version of play.

The peculiarities of styles and devices may not be universal, as they would only have reflected the preferences of a particular director, interpreting the play to suit his own objectives. These days, there are video-recordings of events, which may include the recording of one performance during the run of the production, should this happen the recording would have frozen that single performance out of several.

It is indeed the most available mode of documentation that exists today for any progress, except the celluloid which may start and stop and progress, to make a faire copy of the show. This would not have been from a performance, because of the various stops for correction.

Apart from this recording, the only other form of documentation would be a critique written about the work, whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a piece of architecture, a dramatic piece or a musical piece.


Conclusion on the Cultural Heritage: Living Culture and Performing Arts

We have attempted to look at the visual arts within the context of the performing arts, especially the dramatic arts. Several factors come together to bring about a work of art and central to these, is the artist himself, who controls his thought-process through the medium at his disposal. He relies on certain external materials to express himself.

It thereafter devolves on the individual who has his own marks for identifying a work of art and who chooses what is and is not art. As for the dramatic arts, it is not possible for only one individual to be able to carry out all the responsibilities that abound in a production.

It is absolutely impossible for a director to split himself into all the design and acting roles that are available. He must collaborate with other specialists to bring about the production.

But a work of art cannot become one without the active participation of the audience.

In the theatre, the audience becomes very necessary to the very meaning of the play because without them, the best intentions can only be a rehearsal. The treatment of the subject of this paper cannot be exhaustive because of the spread of information available to every department of the discussion: visual arts, performing arts, and documentation. Probably future discussions may be able to extend the horizon a little further.

Nigeria's rich and varied heritage makes it a fable land for living culture and performing arts. We gave you details about the different kinds' of this cultural tradition and their prevalent forms. We also defined for you the meaning of living culture and performing arts.

All this information is a valuable tool for practicing tourism professional. You will appreciate the significance of using these tourism products for promoting both domestic as well as foreign tourist.

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