Wednesday, June 17, 2009

RAIN OF TRIBUTES TO MY BRODAMAN




The US-based Actor, Theatre Director, and currently Head of Directing at the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Prof. Segun Ojewuyi, was 50 on Monday, June 15. Typical of the activist theatre man, he literally ‘directed’ all his friends not to as much as utter a word about his attainment of golden age. But trust the artistes community to ‘obey’ orders (only in reverse), even from the most insistent director of Ojewuyi’s calibre, they still went ahead to celebrate the man, who has done much to put theatre directing on a high pedestal. The tributes, which were collected from colleagues, friends and admirers from across the ocean -- spanning Nigeria, United Kingdom and the United States, were collated by Florida US-based Culture activist and photo-documentarist, KOLE ADE-ADUTOLA, who told The Guardian that he embarked on the project as a ‘way of encouraging the proper narration and documentation of the history of contemporary art practice in Nigeria”. Ade-Odutola, who in the nineties, championed the formation of the Coalition of Nigerian Artistes, CONA, as a platform to give a communal voice to the interest of the collective of Nigerian artistes, said he was particularly motivated to start the series of documentation, because he had noticed that some artistes or pseudo-artistes practising today, appear to be in a haste to peddle uninformed narration of the true history and struggle of the genuine members of the Nigerian artistes community -- as had been noticed in some media interviews that they (the young artistes) had granted of recent. It is necessary, said Ade-Odutola, to challenge those false stories and conclusions -- not by shouting back but by embarking on a project that would properly document the legacy and contribution of those artistes while they are still alive. Ojewuyi’s is only a starting point, promised Ade-Odutola.


Patrick-Jude Oteh, Artistic Director of the Jos Repertory Theatre

I have nothing against Segun Ojewuyi! I have always believed that there are some people that the very day they apply for a visa to leave this country called Nigeria, all the embassies should be shut down and they should be denied such visas! Segun Ojewuyi falls into this category. I mean the category of people that should not have been allowed to leave this country under any guise.
To tell the truth, the Segun’s in this category should be placed perpetually under “house arrest”. Not of the Gulag Archipelago or Ita Oko type but putting it more succinctly, they should be put under ”professional arrest”. All they require would be put at their disposal from money to wine to women to family to anything they care to name and it would be provided for them at little or no time and at no cost.
The Nigerian state is the loser for it the day I heard that Segun Ojewuyi was making preparations for a possible long sojourn in the US, my young heart bled. Why?
My thinking then and it has not changed was that ultimately, the Nigerian theatre would be the loser for it. Over the years till this very moment, my thinking has been proved right. Hopefully, it is not too late but I believe secretly that for one of Segun’s temperament, it is too late. He has tasted the forbidden fruit of an academic and a scholar who has all at his beck and call from current journals to works that challenge the brains and to colleagues whose heads are brimming with new ideas of what new experiments to conduct and what new methods of theatre theory and practice should be put into practice.
Would Segun Ojewuyi have still been content to continue to teach Aristotle as a main issue in this part of the world to students whose heads are full of the next star steps? Would he have been content to go for departmental meetings where all that is discussed is the fact that the University does not have water or diesel to power its generators? I doubt if Segun would thrive in these climes. Or to debate whether the federal government has honored an agreement it willingly signed to give the lecturers a better deal? Or who is being sexually harassed and what new tactics the students have developed to entice their lecturers or vice versa?
Segun Ojewuyi is clocking 50 in the US just be rest assured that I have nothing against Segun Ojewuyi.
Segun Ojewuyi our own bundle of intelligence, our own impatient (with mediocrity) minstrel Yes, I can rightly say that for the likes of Segun Ojewuyi, the Nigerian nation is the loser for it.
I ran into Segun Ojewuyi in the University of Ibadan. I had come in as a green eyed youngster to read a Diploma in Theatre Arts and I was determined to be the best at it. Segun I quickly found out was simply put not the best but one of the very best. He was brilliant, he was good at what he was doing and he was also very political. I think my real full consciousness of him was when he became the ATAS President. How could one forget that voice that forced you to turn and look what about the level of reasoning of his thoughts? Brilliant. I made up my mind that I was going to work with him before he leaves the department.
The opportunity came when he asked me to be his stage manager in the ATAS production of Bode Osanyin’s The Shattered Bridge which was our entry for NUTAF. Was I happy? I celebrated at the SUB with some certain rascals that I would not dare name in print – it was during the performance that I discovered something else about Segun he could be very patient! The extent of his brilliance shone very clearly in that epoch production and we all went away with mutual respect and satisfaction for ourselves and of course a healthy respect for Segun Ojewuyi.
Shortly after he left for the compulsory NYSC but he was back soon enough for his Masters, which he got in no time. I was still in the department but my eyes had opened. I remember telling my friends that if I was ever going to be ATAS President, I would model my footsteps after Segun’s reason being that he could very aptly combine his studies with his politics and still not miss a step.
Shortly after, I heard he had been employed as the resident stage manager of the Center for Creative Studies in the University of Lagos. Was I happy? I was overjoyed and I saw this only as an extension of what he had been doing at the University level.
Our paths were to cross so soon after again I was on NYSC at the PEC Repertory Theatre and shortly after the Chuck Mike revolution was to shake the nations’ theatre circuit.
I had joined Chuck Mike after the brief stint at PEC and the office we had was in USIS on Broad Street in a section that was called the American Theatre Revue Secretariat. Guess? Segun Ojewuyi was to be the assistant cultural officer in USIS and my thoughts were such that I simply felt that the combination of Chuck Mike and Segun Ojewuyi would take Nigerian theatre to its rightful position.
There was a basis for this assumption Segun had been a part of the initial ATR dream when shortly after HOME, he was to be Associate Director of all the plays for the maiden Festival of Black American Drama in 1989. He subsequently directed another play for ATR. This was during the season of African American Nigerian Drama 1991 when he directed J.C.de Graft’s Through A Film Darkly
There was a very good relationship between Segun Ojewuyi and Chuck Mike before Segun berthed at the USIS but somehow the coming of Segun to USIS did not continue this relationship with Chuck. It was almost as if from the moment he stepped into USIS, a cold war started between Chuck and Segun. I never got to know the genesis of that beautiful quarrel but the closest I believe I have seen is the falling apart of August Wilson and Lloyd Richards at the Yale Repertory Theatre. I remember trying to talk to Segun about the relationship with Chuck but he was adamant that on the long run Chuck would see reason with him. Trying to talk to my boss and friend, Chuck also met a stone wall that only said sooner or later Segun would realize the damage he is doing not only to the fledgling Collective Artistes but to the Nigerian theatre. Shortly after, our funding at USIS was stopped and ditto for Funso Alabi’s work on the theatre circuit in Nigeria. I do not believe that Segun was instrumental to the stoppage of the funding but he was merely a circumstantial participant in events over which he had no control. But this investigation will be left to history on a later date. The above did not stop or decrease my respect for Segun.
Another incident was to further increase my confusion about Segun’s temperament – this was when Odu Themes under the direction of Dr. Bode Sowande got the nod to produce Amos Tutuola’s epic My Life In The Bush of Ghosts as Nigeria’s entry to the Africa ’95 Festival in London. I had thought that it was a good one for the Nigerian theatre but Segun was at the forefront of people that opposed the play being ceded to Odu Themes instead of the National Theatre and I remember that a press conference was actually organized where Segun under the auspices of NANTAP opposed the play being produced by Odu Themes. When later we met in Lagos and I asked him about this opposition, he said there were some things in the theatre circuit that I would not understand just yet. The matter was laid to rest on that platform.
I wonder if Segun had been in Nigeria when some group of people were toying with the idea of selling the National Theatre, they would have bought “fire” aplenty from Segun Ojewuyi alone.
One would safely think that Segun Ojewuyi is a towering giant but Segun is only a little above 5ft 5ins. This I believe is his selling point there is so much energy in that frame that belies his age and restlessness.
All things considered, Segun meant well for the Nigerian theatre. He meant well for his friends and family he is only one of a rare kind. The kind of person who once an idea is conceived and he believes in it, he does not spare resources to prosecute the idea.
It was thus no surprise when I heard that he was asked to direct Akinwunmi Ishola’s adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman, which was translated into Yoruba as Iku Olokun Eshin, I went to Lagos from Ibadan for that particular production. Reason being that Segun’s works are not mere trifles they speak volumes and I was not disappointed. My interest also stemmed from one major factor I was privileged to see Segun’s final year directing project in Ibadan before graduation. It was Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman. Even my own productions of the play are yet to rival what our eyes beheld that night in the Arts Theatre! In all subsequent productions of that play that I have seen, I am yet to see the trance scene when Elesin dances towards death come so alive as in Segun’s own version. With the live chicken that was been used and the ‘agbe bo adie’ chant, it was simply remarkable. I was curious to see what the difference will be between the English version and the Yoruba version it was remarkable. The Yoruba version under Segun’s direction simply took its own flight and I still believe strongly that it is one of those plays that after seeing Segun’s version, other directors are intimated with trying to put up the play.
Amongst the things I believe about Segun, I believe that over the years, he must have made Tessy and the kids a good husband and father. He has always been a perfect gentleman even when in the Theatre Arts department we all had roving eyes! Do not get me wrong Segun had double roving eyes but he never threw these in anybody’s face! He was very diligent about it. I doubt if the passage of time has blunted any of these remarkable qualities, which is so much in short supply in subsequent generations.
What did the Nigerian theatre lose? We lost the vibrancy of someone who is extremely passionate about his craft and his knowledge of it not just the practice of it but also the theoretical aspect. Who are the direct losers in this? All his students in the Department of Creative Arts in the University of Lagos. We lost genuine theatre activism that is focused and embracing. These days we find a lot of people in the name of theatre or arts activism pursuing personal interests which ultimately lead the collective nowhere. We lost one of the most vibrant voices in the Nigerian theatre circuit I am sure that even if the hands of the clock were wound back by thirty years, and the Nigerian situation was in the mould of a country like Ghana, Segun would not dare dream of leaving the shores of this country but that is what this country consistently does a country that kills its young ones in their infancy. Someone like Segun would have wondered out aloud in that resonating baritone of his how do you dream in this place?
What we lost, the American society has claimed with utmost glee and I am sure that his protégées in that society are laughing at us all or out rightly sympathizing with us over our loss. But all is not lost he would be back! One notable example will suffice Segun in his characteristic generosity donated some books to the NANTAP when I saw the quality of those books I was amazed because those were the kind of books that a lot of theatre departments in Nigeria Universities crave for yet they do not get. I believe that Segun with his fertile mind must have spent time to source for those books. They were rich and I kind of know how much Tade Adekunle the then President of NANTAP spent in conveying those books to Lagos but I must report to Segun that some charlatans in the name of seeking for funds or money for NANTAP practically sold off all those books and little or nothing is left and those they could not sell they converted to their private libraries which do not in any way benefit the collective. That is part of the poverty that the likes of Segun will continue to run away from.
Segun will be 50 in June. We all rejoice with you and bid you a deserved welcome to the golden club. We are yet to see the best of your creative vibrancy I also am convinced that one day very soon you will be back here. Forget the present gloom you will rise above it, people like you always do and I am sure that if you find the situation stifling enough, your seat will always be waiting way back in the US.
Perhaps, who knows? In an uncertain society like ours should we invite you to run the National Theatre of Nigeria? What exactly will you do? Now is the time to leave legacies – yours will be rich and enduring.



Teju Kareem, Theatre Designer, managing Director, Z-Mirage Company

On this occasion of his 50th birthday, let me look back before I look forward. I remember meeting Professor Segun Ojewuyi almost 3 decades ago. Having interacted closely with him for almost a decade academically, professionally and personally, I was entranced with his writing style and directorial interpretation and jokingly started calling him “prof”. In retrospect, I was predicting the obvious. Some of our memorable collaborations are “The man who never died”, “Death and the kings horseman” and others.
Segun Ojewuyi and I also worked together as President and Secretary General respectively of NUTASA (Nigerian University Theatre Arts Students Association). His belief at that time that the future of the theatre rested on the seriousness of the student practitioners is borne out by the fact that till date, he remains in the practice not only as a theatre director but also as a professor of the thespian art. His trademark is the depth of his directorial interpretation of the plays such that even his student performances ranked at par and often rivaled professional productions. His style was inspirational such that not only the actors but even the stage designer, costumier and every other person involved were motivated to measure up to the standard that existed and which he insisted upon. Many of those who excel in the profession today are those who caught the fever of Segun Ojewuyi’s professionalism. The reputation he left behind was such that even students who joined the theatre arts department of the University of Ibadan after he left ensured that every production they put up lived up to the benchmark Segun Ojewuyi met, maintained, and improved upon by constantly bringing the consciousness of his co-students to the tradition of theatre per excellence as taught by Soyinka, Adedeji, Adelugba, Oduneye,Sofola, Sowande, Osofisan, Fatoba, Umukoro and a host of others, whose immense concern for the reputation of theatre practice at the University of Ibadan and the academic success of its students pushed us to the edge so much so, that we cynically wondered if our success would result in some personal gain for these theatrical heavyweights; the league to which Segun Ojewuyi now rightly belongs in the far away land of the United States of America.

Ayo Oluwasanmi: Producer, Director

HOW do you describe someone that even if you don’t see for years is always there playing his normal role in your life. Segun Ojewuyi, l know and very much so too that if l must confess whatever l say about him is going to be subjective but be that as it may, l will try.
Segun and l must have met shortly before FESTAC 77 while he was with the University of Lagos Centre for cultural studies and l was with the Unibadan Masques of the Dept. of Theatre Arts University of lbadan.
We were working on a production of Bode Osanyin’s The Shattered Bridge and l played the role of Daodu while in the UNILAG version of the same play, Segun played the lead role of Lawuwo.
Segun has been the friend as they say who constantly looks out for each other and can look at you straight in the face and say it as it is, that, l enjoy more than anything in Segun. l remember at a time when what would have become our very first and testy quarrel came l never even allowed Segun to hear a thing about it. Segun was at the USIS then and people came to me to tell me how he vowed never to give me the opportunity to travel to America because he was in charge of who goes for the exchange or not but unknown to people Segun and l discuss virtually all subjects on earth and that singular occasion made me realize that in life we need to be wary at all times. Is this not one of the reasons that lead to disharmony in homes and nations too? As I reflect on the past I can say without equivocation that one does not pick one’s friends who are unique in one’s life; God does. I lived with Segun at Gbagada and at that period was the time the changes in our lives from boy to men started to unfold and we never had a day of acrimony.

Tade Adekunle, ex-President, NANTAP

I met Segun Ojewuyi in 1995, a solid ten year after Kole Ade-Odutola met him. He came back for his Master’s programme at the University of Ibadan and before then a lot has been said about him with respect to his final year project which was a production of Wole Soyinka’s Death And the King’s Horseman. It was a reference point even for some of us that did not see the production. We were told that he is one student that dared to tread where other students fear to.
I came to admire him while acting under his directorial guidance in Bode Osanyin’s The Shattered Bridge, the production was later taken to National Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF) in Zaria (1996). While other student directors laboured to defend their productions, it was accolades from various quarters for Segun’s interpretation of the play. I worked with him again in Lola Fani Kayode’s Mind Bending where he was assistant director, I assisted him in ITD production of Femi Osofisan’s Morountodun (1991) and we both worked together on a collage of different Wole Soyinka’s plays for Collective Artists season of plays in 1992.
Various actors he worked with know that you have to justify your action at any point in time and be consistently faithful to your interpretation of words and actions as agreed or else you may see the other side of him. This is the time you will wonder whether Segun wants to grow taller than he really his.
Though trained under the tutelage of such erudite scholars like Prof Dapo Adelugba, Prof Yinka Adedeji, Carol Dawes, Prof Ebun Clark etc, he has carved out a clear identity for himself that even before he left the shores of Nigeria, he commanded respect not only as a director but also has a theatre critic who has a clear understanding and opinion of theatre beyond the shores of Nigeria. He is a man who combines theory with practical.
Segun Ojewuyi has a great character that even if you disagree with his view point you will still admire him for his eloquence in marshalling his view points.




Akin Adesokan: Turning tragedy of exile into positive theatrical tool

SOME years ago, during a telephone conversation, Segun Ojewuyi and I talked about the meanings of exile. It was one of those probing conversations which arise from a certain kind of sense of loss, but which, agonizing being pointless, end up as an affirmation of life. We were both of the opinion that though it was tragic to be forced out of one’s home by the kind of conditions contemporary African migrants know so well, one had to turn that tragedy into a positive tool. We agreed that there were children being brought up in Lagos by parents who were born in other places: what home would they claim when they grew up? Who knew where they would grow up?
I’ve thought about that conversation many times since 2001, and must confess that I’m more conflicted now than I was at the time. It is true that Nigeria has both lost and gained from the mass self-scattering of its citizens to different parts of the world in the last twenty years. The gain may even have outstripped the loss from an economic point of view, Nigeria being the second African country (after Egypt) with the highest remittances. But, as Africans say, “Money makes one wealthy, but wealth in humans is of a higher value.” Although people have left their homes from time immemorial in order to make a better life for themselves, the implications of migration in our time are very different, and unless something drastic is done to reverse the trend, I doubt that Nigeria (or any of the other countries) will ever recover from those implications. We have not recovered from the scandalous tragedy of the slave trade.
Segun Ojewuyi is a fine, accomplished theater director, among the best in his generation. The man knows his onions from the inside leaf out. Theater is in a serious crisis in Nigeria at the moment. The other day, in another conversation, we tried to take a stock of the active theater companies in the country. Apart from Patrick-Jude Oteh’s Jos Repertory Theater, and the fledgling initiative by Yemi Akintokun at the New Culture Studio in Ibadan, the only other company we noted was the group led by Wole Oguntokun in Lagos. There may be others, surely, but that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the argument that theater is in crisis in Nigeria. For the crisis is a symptom of something deeper: the degradation of social life in the country at large. Ojewuyi has remained highly productive as head of directing at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, and he is involved in other productions elsewhere, as far afield as Oregon and Florida. Last year, he put up a production of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, seen by the playwright, and as the performance progressed, one kept wishing that he had done this in Lagos!
And one wishes he were working in Nigeria at this crucial turn of his life, engaging the traditions that have shaped him, and of which he is very, very proud. I wish he were because I wish I was, too. What a difference that would make, provided one could work under the present conditions! There’s a school of thought, which holds that the best way to relate to a tradition in which one is deeply invested is to depart from it. You glimpse this philosophy in Soyinka’s The Strong Breed, when Eman says, “A village which cannot produce its own carriers contains no men.” But you have to have that tradition in yourself, as the German writer Theodor Adorno, says, to know how to hate it properly. Currently, Nigerian theater artists are in the process of celebrating the life and work of the distinguished theater director, Professor Dapo Adelugba, who trained Ojewuyi and numerous others. The enthusiasm for the events, slated for December 2009, has been incredible and unprecedented, an uncanny compensation for the state of things in the theatre profession. Adelugba turned seventy in March. Will there be a platoon as dedicated and involved as this when it is Ojewuyi’s turn?
Ojewuyi comes from an illustrious family of alarinjo, the masquerade artists, in Ikirun, Osun State. His grandsires became Nigerians because that was the British order of their day. He is now the father of American children, and though he is committed to the US in a way his grandsires were not required to be committed to Nigeria, he is also interested in making those children know that they have a home elsewhere.
That is a cause for celebration; it is as important as turning 50, and hopefully it offers a provisional answer to the question in the previous paragraph.
Here’s a song for the celebrant:
m eleegun ni wa o e e m eleegun ni wa o a a, Awa la s’oje ma ma b’oja je o
Omo eleegun ni wa! Happy birthday



Kole Ade-Odutola: Close –up with Mind Bending

I met Ojewuyi many years ago around 1985 or there about, at the Centre for Cultural Studies, UNILAG, later I became the mid-night photographer for Ajo fest and Segun played one of the roles in the written by Fred Agbeyegbe and adapted for stage by Jide Ogungbade plays. I may not have all the pictures but I promise to re-construct what my camera saw during those long nights of rehearsals.
The last semi professional contact I had with him was when I worked as the ‘production house boy’ on Lola Fani Kayode’s TV series: Mind Bending. He was LFK’s right hand man (the assistant director) since both finished at UI and I finished at UNIBEN, you can imagine!!! Yes oooo, I learned a lot from these two brilliant minds...so that is part of my story and I promise to keep writing...but I want to invite you all to this initiative.

Laide Olaniyan: The Segun Ojewuyi I know

MY first contact with Segun was in 1981 as a young banker transitioning to the thespian art-a crazy choice then … for all my friends who thought I had a brilliant career in banking ahead of me. To me, he was the kampala or adire wearing baritone voiced diminutive trouble maker who was intensely popular among his mates. Closer contact changed my opinion well made my opinion more positive. Segun was a lecturer’s delight and friend and inspiration to other students. Forget the escapades! Tessy I hope you are not reading this…we all had some adventurous times before our spouses of today came in. How time flies this was before Yetunde met Sola Fosudo. Yes some of us were old enough to know the beginning of certain things. Happy 20th Anniversary Sola and Yetunde.
Not to forget Segun’s matter as I write this short note in the early hours of June 15 2009 (in my house in North Carolina US ) when this Professor of Theatre Arts turns 50.
I remember Segun who on my migration to Lagos during NYSC in 1988 gave me an opportunity to perform on the National Theatre Stage The Man Who Never Died. Before then, Ojewuyi had marvelous outing with Ajofest. It is getting to look like ages now. The nocturnal rehearsals somewhere in a shed near a dingy guest house in Ebute Metta… Ayo Oluwasanmi where are you? Then the MA year, the NUTASA Presidency that was won and handed over to Sola Fosudo. He presented and fought for my selection for the post of Financial Secretary of NUTASA. I remember the smile on his face when I told him I had facilitated the opening of the first ever bank account for NUTASA before Zik Okafor and Sola Fosudo edged me out No harm meant oooo. And his disappointment about that regime. He said I warned you all. But then he still supported us. Segun you will remember your coffee flask in a Video studio in Ojuelegba where you did V/O for my Documentaries for Dotun Adegbola’s Teleprom.
And when fate brought us together again in US where we both live now we spoke from 1100PM to 5.00 AM one night in 2006. Segun you came to my house later in 2006, travelled thousands of air miles and abandoned your hotel accommodation to stay with me. Remember our meeting after many years at the Greensboro Air port and it was same vintage Segun that I met again. We spoke last week and your sense of humor is still as sharp as it used to be. Wasee Kareem come over to US if you can and let us celebrate this young man that indulged you and Henry Foluso in your Kuti Hall days. Ayo Oluwasanmi come over some day let us celebrate your brother and roommate of many years at Agbowo, Gbagada and may be, Idi oro.
Happy Birthday, My Friend ,My Brother and the only Professor of Theater Arts that I know in USA. Omo Baba Ojewuyi ni Ikirun, Bi eguugun ba pegba Ologbojo ni Baba won. Pele o Ose ndagba Oje..na nuu. Igba Odun, Odun Kan Mo gbadura pe ko ma ti inu ola de inu ola. Mo mo Oje tire ti wa fehin ti Jesu Oduro gboin gboin. Egun Alare se ti nkorin igbala oni sise Wa dagba, Wa fowoo pawu . A o dijo ma gburo ara wa pe titi kanrin kese. Ireoo!

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