Tade: I want to use the stage, movies for cultural rebirth

Oluwafemi Tade, Royal Star Entertainment Production

OLUWAFEMI TADE is founder and Artistic Director of Royal Star Entertainment Production (ROSEP) and a veteran of live performance. He has been at it for 40 years. Femi Femo, as he is called on stage, spoke with OMIKO AWA on his passion for acting and the challenges of stage production in the country

How did you become part of the acting business?

It all started right from my childhood, when my playmates and I used to re-enact what we had watched on television and, as I was growing, I began to take interest in it until I joined Agbajowo Theatre Group.

We started acting in Young Sports hall, where the likes of Baba Suwe, Iya Mero and other big time acts were then coming to rehearse and even perform on stage with us.

Our group performed a TV serial, Omo Lo Omo. We were regularly featuring on NTA 7 junior drama series in the 80s.
40 years down, why does your name not ring a bell like the Baba Suwes that used to rehearse and act on stage with you?

I thank God for being on stage this long, but I must confess we all have different challenges. Most of the big names in the entertainment industry love movies and television. But for me, I chose live performance.

In live stage little is known of the actor/actresses. It is not like movies and TV that come with glamour and popularity. I am happy with the medium of expression that I have chosen to express myself, pass messages and reach out to the people.

The little popularity the stage has given me is a challenge already.

Though I am not a video film producer, I must say I have directed different videos and trained many actors and actresses aside giving and creating platforms for many upcoming acts to make a living from acting.

You train actors/actresses and direct movies and stage plays. Do you also write scripts for stage?

Yes; I write for stage and movies. 12 of my scripts have been turned into films, while I have directed over 10 movies whose scripts I did not write.

Having been performing for four decades, how do you assess the stage and the big screen?

Stage is different from films or movies. Most people who act in films cannot perform well when they come on live performance. They will begin to lose their lines.

In fact, they become a waste of time. But in the movies, they perform very well and are even stars and this is so because films have to do with pre- and post-production, where some parts are edited or joined.

A stage artist can join in a movie at anytime and still get along. Stage actors/actresses do better. I have had different experiences of this from our productions.

The stage spotlights the actor/actress; you have to behave the way the director wants you to and if you must improvise, it has to be in line with the director’s specification. This is not truly so with films and movies. However, there is a bright future for both in the country.

What will be the component of your 40 years celebration on stage?

I will be putting up two productions – Ise Eda (Our Work) and Itan Je (Deception). While Ise Eda, which is for the movies talks about how we have deviated from our traditions and value systems, Itan Je, unveils religious manipulation.

It talks about how our religious leaders have used religion, both foreign and traditional, to manipulate their members, make them do things that are even against God and the good of the society.

I want to use the stage and the movies to correct some of these things in the culture. There is this saying: ‘Take one take all, drop one drop all.’

Once you begin to drop one aspect of our culture, you have begun to deviate from the truth and you can see all these in the happenings in our society, where some people steal with impunity and things we used to regard as abnormal are becoming the norm.

I want to use the celebration to call for cultural rebirth. We have departed from the source; we have to bring back our core value.

There are a lot of killings because we have put money, wealth first. And this has made our youths to be inordinate, lose respect for people and we have thrown our core traditional values to the winds. We worship money, wealth and power.

This is not part of our traditional value of caring for the aged, caring for one another, communality, respect, and others.

There was a case of some children abandoning their father and when the man died the children organised a grandiose funeral for him.

News had it that the man from the spirit world laid a curse on the children and things were no longer well with them.
Do you still hold on to superstitious beliefs like these in this era?

There you are! Do you not know that the dead commune with the living? People are moving from one place or the other appeasing one idol or deity or the other or from one church, mosque or shrine to another to cancel one curse or the other, yet we all pretend stories like this do not exist.

We have allowed the so-called modernity to blind our thinking, which is part of what my two plays are out to showcase. This is my 40th year in theatre; I have seen and heard a lot to make me believe in this type of story.

Is it true that there are some aspects of spiritism in stage performances, especially when one has to perform in a particular rural area and unveil some sacred objects?

The Almighty God is the greatest. He has all powers. I have experienced a situation where some people in the audience tried to use their magical powers to stop me from saying what I was saying while on stage; but they did not succeed.

Evil powers exist everywhere and not only on stage.

Pastors, imams and even traditionalists experience similar things when they embark on some projects in areas different from theirs.

So, the stage is not an exception and this is the reason one should be very close to God. Because on stage, you do not know who has come to watch your play or to find out the powers you are operating with.

The audience is a mix crowd of the good and the bad. So, one has to be prayerful.

Some may even challenge your authority spiritually to know if truly you have the power to say some of the incantations, call the cognomen of their local deities, have permission to do their sacred dances and others. For me, I do not believe in appeasement, but in fasting and praying.

You belong to different religious organisations — Ogboni, Gelede and other traditional societies, including Christian groups. To what extent have you used these groups to improve your acting?

Late last year, I used one of my plays to unite different ogboni sects in Ibadan and some parts of Lagos. The play made them to realise that if they continue to fight among themselves, government would never recognise them. They needed to be united, speak with one voice, propagate their doctrines and then be heard. The stage is powerful and actors have the license to control the audience.

As a pastor, why mingle with these religious groups that are oppose to your faith?

I am a pastor; my family members are Christians. Religion, I must tell you, is a business. The outcome of religion is one’s attitude, one’s ability to impact humanity for good. The essence of religion is love because God is love and peaceable and if you are short of this you have missed the mark.

The certificate of your religiosity is your character. I need to mingle with people from other faith to understand how they think, know some of the things they are passing through and then bring them to stage.

We showcase the positive aspect, proffer solutions to challenges and build bridges of unity and peace.

What is your take on state of the National Theatre?

The decay the National Theatre is experiencing is caused by government. Government is highly insensitive to its plight and until it allows those that can manage the edifice to do so, the place will continue to decay.

It is high time stakeholders and the art and culture community called government to order on this if they really want to encourage theatre groups, especially upcoming ones that cannot afford to pay for highbrow venues for their performances.

How is the poor state of the edifice affecting you as a performer?

No, it doesn’t because I act in both conventional and unconventional places. I act in the market squares, streets and the conventional theatres. Notwithstanding, the theatre should be put aright for all, big and small theatre troupes alike.

What is your view of grassroots theatre?

I groom people from the grassroots, use them to tell their own stories, and effect change. There are cases of violence against women, rape, kidnapping, religious manipulation and others at the grassroots level.

We highlight these problems as well as proffer solutions. With this, we are contributing our quota to grassroots development.

Are you partnering government to do these?

Government is still very far from the people in this area. In fact, government is not helping matters. Government should liaise with those close to the people like theatre groups to disseminate their policies, educate the people and show measures they are taking to improve the lots of the people.

For instance, I have a presentation to make at the grassroots and my letter is still with government officials awaiting approval.

Could this be happening in a country that is sensitive to the plight of the people? There should constant synergy among government officials at all levels and those that provide content for the grassroots people.

Governance is about the people and their welfare and until it begins to do something in this regard, we will continue to do things the way we have been doing them.



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