76 Theatre veterans walk the redcarpet for Soyinka 76th

Olu Jacobs: One of the 76 Theatre veterans who walk the redcarpet for Soyinka 76th Birthday

The MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, will reverberate with theatre and drama for Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka on July 13 when he clocks 76. To mark the day, seventy six veterans of the Nigerian theatre including, Lari Williams, Baba Sala (Moses Olaiya Adejumo), Ahmed Yerima, Sadiq Daba, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Olu Jacob, Bayo Awala, Joke Silva, Bode Sowande and Jimi Solanke, will walk the red carpet in honour of the 1986 Nobel laureate in Literature. “We don’t want to wait till the man passes on, let’s celebrate him while he is here,” states Wasee Kareem, chief executive of Zmirage Multimedia Limited. The honour for Kongi, as Professor Soyinka is popularly called among his theatre colleagues, is part of an initiative being coordinated by Zmirage to revive live theatre, celebrate the Nobel Laureate and kick-start Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee.

Last month, ‘Preemptive’, a play written by US-based Professor Niyi Coker and directed by Professor Segun Ojewuyi of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, US, started a tour of Barbados, United Kingdom, the United States of America and selected Nigerian cities. The play centres on inter-racial respect and mirrors people’s reactions to the US government’s measures on terrorism after the failed bomb attempt in America linked to Nigerian-born Abdul-Mutallab. Kareem and his partners—Ojewuyi, Coker and the Southern Illinois University– intend for the play to impact positively on Nigerian theatre. “We want the play to perform the original role of traditional theatre in terms of affecting people‘s lives even without losing its entertainment potential,” states Kareem, a Theatre Arts graduate of the University of Ibadan. The play will feature a cast of eight actors, with six of these coming from the US. “For us, it is about humanity and world peace. The colour of the artist doesn’t matter. Experience is about theatre as a medium of world concern,” Kareem states while rationalizing the decision. The executive producer of ‘Preemptive’ adds that those behind the initiative chose to partner with Southern Illinois University because of close ties between them.

A fringe production titled ‘Seven’ will make the round with ‘Preemptive’. Written by Rachel Hastings, ‘Seven’ is about seven generations of women. It draws from the past to showcase the fortitude of mothers hurting, healing, loving and being remembered by their daughters. ‘Preemptive’ was on stage in Barbados from June 24 to 29; it will be at the Shaw Theatre, UK, on July 1 and 2; and the Tabernacle Theatre also in the UK. The production will be staged at the MUSON Centre from July 13 to 15; Cultural Centre, Calabar, on July 20 and 21 and the NUC Hall, Abuja on July 24. Several TV stations, according to Kareem, will cover the red carpet event for Professor Soyinka on July 13 when the play is staged at MUSON Centre.

The show organizers hope to raise about $250,000 for the event. Zmirage Foundation will lead the way by providing technical support valued at between 15 and 20 per cent of the budget. Southern Illinois University, under the aegis of its Africana Theatre Lab comprising past and current students of the institution, will finance the trip of the team from the US while the Shaw Theatre has agreed to a discount. Theatre Tabernacle will house the cast and crew in the UK for three days and selected Nigerian restaurants will feed the cast and crew for free. “We will give value back to every strategic partner,” Kareem promises. He is not also afraid of incurring a loss. “We hope to get 50 per cent of expenditure from gate takings,” he assures confidently.