They gathered in honour of my Uncle... Pa Ru

Rufus Abiodun Orishayomi (1947-2010)
London Artistes Send A Good Man, Quintessential Artman Home
(As published in The Guardian of June 6, 2010)
By Lookman Sanusi
Arcola Theatre in Dalston area of London on May 23 witnessed a marathon session of rehearsals and production in honour of the departed African Theatre pioneer in the UK, Rufus Orisayomi — ‘Papi Ru’ as he was fondly called by his friends and protégés.
Old and young artistes, who had had dealings with Papi Ru one way or the other, honoured an invitation from Femi Elufowoju Jr. They went through the session of rehearsals and performance tributes that lasted from 10 am through 7pm, when the curtain opened; leaving well past 10pm, when the show ended.
At the demise of Orisayomi, Femi Elufowoju jr. the outgoing Artistic Director of Tiata Fahodzi and Associate Artist, Almeida Theatre, London, who has carved a niche for himself in Black British theatre in the UK, promised to put a show together in the manner of the famous ‘We are the World’ to celebrate and raise funds for the immediate family of the departed.
It was such a good promise fulfilled as the almost full-to-the-capacity audience was entertained with a potpourri of remarkable theatre skits.

Peter Badejo (OBE), the dance impresario and close friend of Papi Ru, performed the opening glee with a dance piece titled ‘Ijo Agba’ accompanied by a talking drummer, Ayanlere.
From Femi Ogunjobi, who was not part of the performers to Funmi Adewole Kruczkowska, Bisi Adigun and Alex Oma-Pius, Artistic Director of Iroko Theatre — all confessed that Papi Ru’s Ritual Theatre Art Company provided them their first professional job as they were involved in his Akogun, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Alex Oma-Pius’ monologue rendition from Akogun met with a resounding applause from the audience.
There were group performances – ‘Lizombe Dance’ act comprising of H. Pattern, Judith Palmer, Charles Jaja, Charles James, Ras Hoppa and Bolaji Badejo — wife of Peter Badejo — thrilled the audience to no end.
Tunde Fagbenle, the newspaper columnist and publisher, a close family friend of Rufus was represented by his wife, Buki and children, OT, Tife, Tito, Torera Fagbenle — as they also took to the stage to depict Rufus’ deft skill in visual art in a mini musical pantomime supported by Adeola Badejo, on the jembe drum.
Before the end of the first half, Golda John enchanted the audience with her solo act ‘Mother’s Cry’, which illustrated the pain mothers of Abiku (child born to die and only to come back to the same mother) go through. At over 55 years, the texture of her acting continues to impress.
Of all the performances of the evening, Ben Onwukwe’s ‘Telephone Conversation 1978’ and Bisi Adigun’s ‘Uncle Rufus My Uncle Rufus’ actually captured in a jocular manner the essence of the man, Rufus Orisayomi.
Ben Onwukwe, a half-cast of Nigerian parentage had earlier confessed in a gathering in honour of the late artiaste that Rufus had helped him to reconnect with his father back in the 80s when he went in search of him.

Ben’s ‘Telephone Conversation 1978’ portrayed Rufus in his natural element and his usual ‘lackadaisical’ way as all the “grammas” this half cast had to say to Rufus on the phone in response to the advert calling for artistes to take part in an African film project on the soil of the whiteman did not matter to Rufus other than “can you act and dance, I need six people; bring your friends along with you.”
Bisi Adigun, Artistic Director, Arambe Productions, who flew in from Dublin to be part of the show, said “In 1993, Papi Ru gave me my first break on the British soil. I was involved in the theatre production of Akogun, I later learnt that was the premier of the show in UK.
“Before the production I had told uncle Rufus that I was a professional actor and must be paid for my role in the show and he agreed with me, so at the end of the show, he gave me a cheque of £75! I was thrilled; the value of the money in this present time could be equivalent to £750. Off to the bank I went with the cheque only for the cheque to bounce; I was livid with anger, I went to Uncle Rufus and told him what had happened, he chuckled and said in his usual self, ‘you did not tell me you were going to present the cheque, I thought being your first professional cheque, you were going to frame it and hang it on your wall”.
Bisi continued, “That actually disarmed me for you cannot bear a grudge with the man after that. He collected the cheque and gave me £75 cash. Bisi Adigun’s role in Akogun was as a drummer, after his tribute, he played the jembe drum and sang an elegy in praise of the dead.

The second half of the performances went quickly. Ayan de 1st , formally know as Ayan Dosu, treated the audience to quality drumming and got them involved in a call-and-response with his act gaining the support of his co-artistes on stage. Interestingly the stage was set in the theatre-in-a-circle formation with the performers completing the other half of the circle.
Other acts of notes were: Funmi Adewole Kruczkowska’s ‘Why Sun & Moon live in the sky’, Wale Ojo’s ‘Orisakorede’, Angie Amra Anderson’s ‘Call and Response’. There were excerpts from Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame performed by Cyril Nri and Ellen Thomas and Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and The Jewel performed by Joy Elias Rilwan and Ben Onwukwe.
Every act was given a maximum of five minutes with a sound cue to indicate the end and beginning of another act. Usifu Jalloh’s ‘Cow Foot’ exceeded the time limit, which the producer/director over looked when he saw the audience roaring with laughter from this single act.
In a story telling style, ‘Cow Foot’ emphasised the importance of collaboration. There were intermittent
interjection from the audience at his prompt. The skit foretold the exploit of a mouse that lived in the garden of a woman; she was disturbed by the presence of this mouse and decided to set up a trap. On sensing this, the mouse went to the cow; owned by the woman to help foil this trap, the cow could care less; same attitude from goat and chicken when the little mouse approached them.
Unknown to the woman, a poisonous snake also lived in the garden. The snake was ensnared by the trap and laid half dead writhing in pain.
Unfortunately for the woman, she stepped on the snake that bit her and she died instantly, this woman had many children and extended family.
Sympathisers came calling and as is the tradition, sympathisers must be fed, and then someone remembered the deceased had a cow. Immediately the cow was brought in and at the point of slaughter, the mouse came in and said to the cow, “See, the trap got the snake that bit the woman, she is dead and now you will die”.
After the 8th day, sympathisers came around again and they have to be fed, the goat was slaughtered. Towards the end of the day, one important relative of the dead who had just heard of the sad news came in and had to be entertained and fed; someone again remembered that the woman had a chicken, it was brought in and the mouse said, “See, the trap got the snake that bit the woman, she is dead, the cow is dead, the goat is dead and now you will die”. At this point the audience got the gist and finished the last line with him.
The event could not come to an end without a show of appreciation from the immediate family present, Warila Etamaraye, Rufus Orisayomi’s estrange wife and Kayode Orisayomi spoke first and also one of Rufus’ twins, Kehinde and her mum, who claimed “Rufus abandoned us” for the arts, took to the stage and thanked the artistes and the audience tremendously.
Rufus’ other children who could not make it to the event include, Kofo, who is studying in Dubai, Hendrix Emanuel and Taiwo, a publisher in New York and London.
Before the family response, though, was a short tribute from Prof. Wole Soyinka read by Femi Elufowoju, jr. describing Rufus as a colossal loss to the Arts. Ayo-dele Edwards’ sonorous voice accompanied on guitar by Ife Awonubi sang ‘Titilayo’ to close the curtain on the show.

Rufus Sunday Abiodun Awe Orisayomi was born in 1947. He was a Dramatist, Teacher, Publisher, and Photographer, Film Producer and Founder, Ritual Theatre Art. Rufus died of stroke last February 18; he is survived by his children, protégés and an aged mother.

Sanusi, founder of Bubbles Theatre, writes from London


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