YOU’VE been staging productions since 2007, what has sustained your interest?
Passion and vision. I studied Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan; my parents wanted me to study law. My father later said, you know what? It’s your life. I would like you to be a lawyer but if you say it’s Theatre Arts you’re interested in, go ahead. We’ll give you all the support. So, it’s been passion and dedication that has sustained me this far.
Why the Live Theatre Lagos Initiative in the first instance?
Without trying to sound academic or pious, I believe that each of us has been called to make life better at our level. So, what do I have to affect my world and change the conversation? Theatre is what I studied; it’s what I know how to do. Why not do something that would help to drive social harmony, improve quality of life and give people a reason to relax and help them to calm down from the stress around. We live in a highly stressful environment, that’s why we do live theatre. It’s Live Theatre Lagos because we are in Lagos and also to drive the theatre renaissance and experience conversation further.
What I’ve realised in the years of producing theatre is the fact that the economy is tough, people would clothe themselves, eat and find shelter before they get entertainment. Meanwhile, entertainment has a strong social influence in changing people’s experience and opinions. That’s why we are doing this project; to make the world a better place at our level. I’m happy when I see a production on stage; it gives me high energy to be part of putting a production together; providing employment for people and helping people to relax. It has come a long way; it used to be called Live Theatre on Sunday.
You always do a Wole Soyinka play, why is this so?
Professor Wole Soyinka is one of the most visible proponents of Nigerian theatre. There are other dramatists, but maybe because he’s also a social and political activist, his work has currency. We’ve done ‘Trials of Brother Jero’ a few times; we did ‘King Baab’u, we are doing ‘Death and The King’s Horseman’ now. Each of these plays has ongoing social relevance. His plays have strong social currency, and they are a project dedicated to and focussed on social awareness, and development. They are topical plays. It’s a good thing to celebrate his birthday, but you are not just celebrating Wole Soyinka, you are celebrating the advancement and existence of Nigerian theatre.
Why ‘Death and The King’s Horseman’ this time?
There was an issue with an Elesin less than five years ago. The Elesin that was supposed to accompany the Ooni absconded, and no one knows where he is till now. It’s also about culture; so Wole Soyinka is turning 85, what play can we do? We have done ‘King Baabu’ but ‘Death and The King’s Horseman’, when I read the play, the issues are still here. It’s a story worth telling; we talk about people abdicating their responsibility. This is an Elesin that by birth, has responsibilities and enjoys privileges, but when it’s time for his duty, he says no. These things are still here, and that’s why we are doing this play.
You took a break…
Yes, we took a break because we needed to reappraise things. We are a mostly self-funded project; 60, 70 per cent self-funded; we’ve been self-funded for a long time, and at some point, you ask yourself where is my life going? We needed to shut down to take care of our personal lives. We started the free theatre; Live Theatre on Sunday in 2013, and at some point, we thought let’s try and do commercial theatre. But it didn’t work for us, so we needed the time to re-calibrate the vision; re-evaluate the idea to see what we can do better. We took the break deliberately to see how we can improve and make things more vibrant.
So, you’ve gone back to free shows?
Yes. I believe everything starts with what you see. When I conceived this idea in the university, it was to create a platform to provide entertainment for people and provide employment for thespians because at that time, a lot of my colleagues, we finished from school and we were all thinking what’s next? Those who wanted to pursue a career in acting, how many shows would you get? So, we decided to create an initiative to help people express themselves and still earn a living. We came back to that original vision because we tried to do commercial theatre and realised that it came down to the same thing: if you are doing commercial theatre, you still need sponsorship. It is a given project, but all the elements have to be paid for – artistes, publicity and costumes.
I was going to ask if your artistes are doing this for free too?
No, but they are very considerate because we all understand the environment in which we live, and this is the thing about staying power. We started in 2013 and when we did it wasn’t easy. We started here [Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, Ikeja), but it wasn’t easy; people were not turning up. By the following year, we were having upwards of 400 people per show. Then, we stopped that project and went to do commercial in 2015, 2016. It was a good run, but we lost money, and we realised it was better to go back to our original plan. It took us time to gather ourselves to do that.
What’s next after Death and The King’s Horseman?
We shall have our show over the Sallah holiday. We will be here doing a new play entitled ‘What Men Want’. It’s a commissioned play written by AdelarinAwotedu. I commissioned the play in 2013. When people talk about women, we tend to talk about female empowerment, rape, genital mutilation and external issues that affect the woman. But what about the psyche of the woman? That’s what the play is about.
So, how have you been coping?
Right now, we are running our shows out of pocket, but we need funding. We need sponsors and collaborators. Theatre is an excellent form of entertainment so that you can donate products or money. When people come for the shows, we solicit for donation. The show is free, but we need donations. Our society needs this, and we are telling good stories and helping to change lives. Crowdfunding, that’s what we are looking at. We are also not just throwing money at productions; we are trying to grow institutional. We have invested in equipment, we own our lights, costumes and a lot of resources but we need money for other things.