‘Nigeria needs more dramatic therapists’

Dr Laide Nasir is Africa’s first doctorate degree holder in dramatic therapy. In this interview with ADEWALE OSHODI, the Performing Arts lecturer at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, speaks on his specialisation, and how he is promoting healthy living among Nigerians using the theatre. EXCERPTS:

YOU just bagged your PhD in drama therapy, how was the feeling like after all the hard work?

Well, all glory goes to God, the most high. It was not easy I must say, but at the end, I just felt a weight lifted off me. It was exhilarating, time and money consuming, but I now feel artistically fulfilled. And for me, that is what matters most. And looking back to all the work done on the field and off field, I felt fulfilled that it has not been time wasted at all. It’s really worth it.


You are Africa’s first PhD holder using drama as therapy, how did you discover this line of academic endeavour?

Well, the field of applied drama, under which drama therapy falls, is not new in several advanced countries. Since my undergraduate days, I have always been interested in the therapeutic area of theatre. Unfortunately, the area was hardly taught in those days. After my masters degree, I saw an opportunity to go after my dream and explore the therapeutic use of theatre. So I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to focus on any area except the therapeutic area. Fortunately for me, I got a lecturing job at Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, where I started teaching Theatre for Development  (TfD), which is also an aspect of applied drama. Four years later, I crossed to Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye in Ogun State. It was there that I was really able to actualise my passion. Again, I was teaching Theatre for Development (TfD) among other courses allocated to me. It was at Olabisi Onabanjo University that I was able to fester my nest using drama as therapy. I actually started the practice in Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta and The Nigerian Prisons, Igbeba, Ijebu-Ode in 2006, though I didn’t get to start interaction with the patients/inmates till 2007. This is because being specialised lock-up institutions, the authorities are wary of allowing the patients/inmates to interact with total strangers. As a result of this, I was forced to adopt the migratory approach of TfD, wherein the performances were rehearsed and enacted without inputs from the patients/inmates who are the recipients of the drama package as against the homestead approach where they will form an integral part of the players. During the question and answer session which is usually found in TfD performances, the authorities of the institutions understood my point and granted my request to interact with the patients and inmates for future practice. Since 2007 till date, I have been in the practice at both the Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Abeokuta and in the Federal Prison at Igbeba in Ijebu-Ode. This is in addition to using theatre to educate the villages and communities within the environ about topical issues such as dangers of Lassa Fever, Hepatitis B, Ebola virus etc. At this juncture, I must express my gratitude to the management of Olabisi Onabanjo University and Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Abeokuta as well as that of the Federal Prison, Ijebu-Ode for their unflinching support accorded to me all these years. In the same vein, I commend the management of General Hospital, Ijebu-Ode and General Hospital, Ijebu-Igbo for their support too because I extend the tentacles of the practice to those places as well.


Since no one has done this academic research in Africa before, how did you find a supervisor and how easy was it finding references for your project?

Actually, I must say am very lucky to find someone like Professor Lanre Bamidele to supervise me. He is a man of many parts and being a professor of theatre, drama therapy, though not practiced in Nigeria as at then, was not new to him. Therefore, under his tutelage and astute supervision, I was able to do a thorough job. Getting literature was not easy and I must give kudos to my friends abroad, most especially Mrs. Toyin Balogun (Nee Olumilua) and Temitope Badmus (Nee Lateef), who saw my vision and passion and came to my aid by never getting tired of my book demands. Through them, I was able to digest most of the works of Jacob Levi Moreno, the founder of psychodrama from where drama therapy emerged. Also, I acquainted myself with the works of Eleanor Irwin, Robert Landy, Renee Emunah, Sue Jennings, Richard Courtney, Adam Blatner and lots of other writers who took after Moreno.


What does drama therapy entails?

Succinctly put, drama therapy is the systematic and intentional use of drama and theatre processes to achieve therapeutic goals which could be of symptoms relief, personal or societal growth or even emotional and physical integration. It’s a health and human service profession that is capable to address the needs of citizens be they young or old. In advanced countries, it is used in the assessment and treatment of individuals, couples, families, juvenile delinquents and people in lock up institutions. It could be administered on people suffering from all kinds of ailments such as mental illness, drug abuse, schizophrenia, trauma, emotional problems, among others.


In the past, you worked with the psychiatric hospital, Aro, Abeokuta by using drama to calm the nerves of psychologically-disturbed patients, tell us more about this project.

The work done with the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta are numerous, and this is why I really appreciate the management for realising the importance of drama as therapy in the lives of the patients of the institution. I actually started in the Occupational Therapy (O.T) department, where I engage the patients in dramatic games. I also make use of Jonathan Fox’s playback theatre; David Read Johnson’s developmental transformation, while relying heavily on Robert Landy’s role method. All this culminated into the writing and productions of two full length drama in 2009 and 2012 titled “Turbulent Waters” and “The Crashed web.”


So what is your next line of action since you have bagged your PhD?

I see the acquisition of the PhD degree as the beginning of my research. I shall continue to research more in this field and engage in more refresher courses, because new challenges abound daily. The use of drama as therapy is fairly new in this country, and considering the composition of Nigeria, we are in dire need of it. It is an area that all sectors of development should key into because of its importance in human and societal growth. In this wise, I shall implore all institutions of higher learning offering theatre/drama/performing/creative arts to follow the trail laid by Olabisi Onabanjo University by shifting their attention more towards the therapeutic aspect of theatre.