Several years ago, the theatre, that is, stage performances defined the authentic art of entertainment in Nigeria. It was a period that had theatre troupes as the major forces to reckon with when it comes to entertainment across the country. The troupes travelled from place to place putting up performances in market squares, town halls and every available space and the audiences were in the legions. The period birthed many that will eventually become the reference points in the Nigerian film and cinema culture. These include Hubert Ogunde, Oyin Adejobi, Ade Afolayan (Ade Love), Duro Ladipo, Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala), Kola Ogunmola and several others. The founding of Mbari Mbayo art movement and the collaboration of the academic theater and the itinerant troupes known as Alarinjo Theater movements added impetus to the already vibrant theatre culture across the country especially during the late 1960s and the 1970s. Somehow, the fire died!
So many reasons have been advanced for the comatose state of stage performances in Nigeria and these include the emergence of the cinema culture and home videos, limited funding and insecurity. However, given that the cinema culture itself was in limbo for many years and access to online platforms of entertainment has equally dealt with home video entertainment, one may infer that lack of or limited funding is the biggest impediment to the resurgence of stage performances across the country. This is because in spite of the precarious state of security in Nigeria, people still troop to the cinemas to watch the afterhours shows and ongoing experiments in parts of Nigeria especially Lagos State have shown that with adequate publicity where funding is available, people will watch stage plays.
It is in the context of the above background that the initiative of Government College Ibadan Class of ’89 old boys is commendable. The class has boldly taken up the gauntlet to stoke the fire for the awakening of live theatre performances in Ibadan and across the country. This was made known to the general public at the just concluded theater festival held by the class set during the Christmas holidays. The set produced Femi Osofisan’s ‘The Engagement’ sponsored by a member of the class Pastor. Olusegun Onayinka to honour his father Gbegande Olusegun Onayinka who was an old boy of the Class of ’62. The Executive Producer while speaking at the event noted that Ibadan is where it all began as Ibadan was the home of theatrical activities in the past and the home of the first University in Nigeria which equally birth the first theater department in academics in the country.
The Chairman of the set Tolulope Fadulu further spoke on the importance of Ibadan and GCI in the desire to reignite passion for the patronage of stage performances in the ancient city. The Chairman in his welcome brief observed that no school has produced as many literary giants as Government College Ibadan. According to him, the school has the enviable record of grooming:
Cyprian Ekwensi – Novelist
T.M Aluko – Novelist and poet
Wole Soyinka – Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature
Dapo Adelugba – Critic, Theatre Academic, Director and Actor
Banwo Smith – Art enthusiast
Femi Osofisan – Playwright, Poet, Essayist and Theatre Academic
Bode Sowande – Playwright and Theatre Academic
Yanju Adegbite – Broadcaster, Actor and Filmmaker
These have all being followed by several other young generations of GCI old boys doing well in the arts and entertainment industry. Therefore, the vision as the chairman remarked was not only to entertain families during the holiday seasons but to also inspire and encourage the young audiences to tap into their hidden potentials and maximize their talents in any form or ways that will be beneficial and productive.
The performance thrilled the audience in no small measures and the biggest confirmation of this was the response of the young members of the audience to the play. A few of the young audiences brimming with excitement expressed their desires to take up acting as a career and others noted that in addition to their primary choice of careers; they will explore their talents in writing, acting and directing. The performance no doubt had a profound impact on members of the audience as the play addressed a theme that is often ignored when it comes to betrothals and marriages. The Engagement’s central plot is on the incompatibility of many people who go into either relationships or marriages. Elemude is the dashing suitor who has come for the hand of the delectable Ronke the daughter of Chief Medayekan respected retired soldier now turned farmer. A thorough analysis of these characters shows that they have nothing in common but are only bonded by a common cause- marriage. Elemude is cantankerous, emotionally weak and suffers a myriad of health problems. Ronke is unyielding, has high expectations and manipulative. Chief Medayekan may be retired but still retains all the attitudes of an old soldier, intolerant and very good at noticing everyone’s faults but his.
The play opens with Elemude expressing his intention to be wedded to Ronke and Chief Medayekan’s joy at the news. As event unfolds, Elemude was unable to ask for Ronke’s hand directly because he is shy, things soon degenerated into argument about ownership of farm lands and who possesses the best hunting dog. At this point, it became obvious that the two were not a perfect match as they neither was willing to tolerate nor compromise on their individual convictions. This echoes the theme of incompatibility which ran through the play until the very end. The effective use of space was obvious from the beginning as action shifted from one part of the stage to the other meaningfully and in well coordinated movements. The characters’ interpretations evidenced that the director had a full grasp of the personality traits and attributes necessary to carry the audience along. Elemude was rightly depicted as a shy, pretentious ‘happening guy’ with his over the top costume, a combination to rival a circus clown. Ronke’s deliberate ‘classy’ way of walking showed a lady desperate for attention but doing all she can to mask that desire. Chief Medayekan on the other hand displayed a gait which showed that he would rather still be in the army instead of been on a farm or pretending at being a musician.
One must commend the actors for doing a good job in terms of carrying the roles well. The director indeed selected his cast meritoriously and guided them to thrill the audience for a full hour of fast paced, suspense filled comedic action. Elemude was played by the director Samsideen Adesiyan who is also the Social Secretary/PRO of the Class of ’89. Chief Medayekan was played by Gideon Oluwamonure while Tomilola Ojelade played the role of Ronke.
Speaking after the performance, the writer Emeritus Professor Femi Osofisan was full of praises for the class set and the actors. He thanked the audience for showing up to see the play and used the occasion to call for more support and funding for live performances. ‘The theatre is an art that has endured and which must endure for generations now and those coming in the future. It is the only way they can have the unique experience of this authentic artistic expression which gave birth to all forms of entertainment’ he said. The sentiments were echoed by Chief Tunde Odunlade and Mr. Yanju Adegbite who both remarked that the event brought back nostalgic feelings and wished it will continue on an even bigger scale. Professor Chukwuma Okoye and Dr. Laide Nasir both lecturers of theatre in the University of Ibadan and Federal University Oye Ekiti respectively, expressed gratitude to the Government College Ibadan Class of ’89 set for dreaming up the vision and actualizing it, noting that the need to revive stage performances is important. In his own address, Alhaji Oyewale Adesiyan a former Minister of Police Affairs observed that it was the first time that he was seeing such a performance and will be looking forward to more of it from the set.
Pastor. Olusegun Onayinka, Barrister Olawale Aro, Engineer Muyideen Jimoh, Mr. Olusola Sanni, Mr. Adeniyi Adegbindin and Barrister Sumbo Akande who all spoke on behalf of the set reiterated the set’s commitment to keeping the initiative going and asked that the audience should continue to support the vision. The director in his closing remarks called for more collaboration between the corporate world and artistes as it is the only way to ensure more talents are discovered and taken off the street. According to him, ultimately proceeds from such ventures goes back into nurturing talents in GCI and other schools as the J.D Bullock Secondary School Drama Competition in Oyo State is currently doing.
The event was also used to honour and celebrate some members of the set, senior old boys living and dead and those who have contributed to the arts in various ways. The honorees include late Gbegande Olusegun Onayinka (Class of ’62), Barrister Olawale Aro (Class of ’89)- Deputy Manager IBEDC, Engineer Muyideen Jimoh (Class of ’89)– Head of Logistics for West and Central Africa BAT, Pastor Olusegun Onayinka (Class of ’89)- Lawyer, Businessman and Shepherd at Saints Community Church, Barrister Wole Esan (Class of ’89)- Deputy Managing Partner Olaniwun Ajayi LP, Dr. Tokunbo Dagunduro (Class of ’89)- Tourism and Travel Expert. Also honored were ace broadcaster and former CEO of Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, Mr. Yanju Adegbite of the Class of ‘67 and the artist/painter Chief Tunde Odunlade who though is not an old boy of the school was recognized for his many contributions to art and culture.
As the set’s Social Secretary/PRO submitted, the drama outings will also afford the set the opportunity to honor and celebrate the many talents within and outside of the set in the coming years.