In the first week of May every year, Itsekiri people and their friends from all walks of life converge on Warri for the annual anniversary of the coronation of the Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiame Atuwatse II, CON. However, this year’s edition which marked the 28th year of Ogiame Atuwatse II on the pristine throne of his forefathers as the 19th Olu of Warri, was with a difference. Son of the soil and award-winning filmmaker cum media practitioner of over 18 years, Alex Eyengho produced and directed a widely acclaimed world-class play about Olu Akengbuwa, the 16th Olu of Warri who reigned from 1795 to 1848. After the play was staged on May 1, 2015 at the main hall of the Federal Government College, Warri, Governor of Delta State, His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan in his speech announced the adoption of the play to be staged in Asaba on May 28, 2015 as part of activities marking his official hand-over to the Governor-elect,Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa on May 29. In this interview with WG, Eyengho who is the President of the Association of Nollywood Producers ,ANCOP, and Vice President of the International Federation of Film Producers Association, FIAPF, gives an insight into the development.
By Benjamin Njoku
How did you feel after the play, considering the mammoth crowd in the hall?
I felt great. I felt fulfilled. I felt very happy with myself as a filmmaker who was producing and directing his first ever stage play. Before now, I had concentrated mainly on producing and directing films. For me, it was not just about the over one thousand people in that hall but more about the quality of persons also in attendance. The number one citizen of Delta State, His Excellency the Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan was there in full force. The Olu of Warri with almost all his Chiefs, the Regent of Gbaramatu Ijaw with a large entourage, Urhobos, Isokos, Aniomas, top politicians, business gurus, serving and retired members of the armed forces, the academia, community leaders, corporate organizations, delegation from the United States, United Kingdom etc were in that hall. It was simply an awesome view.
What was your directorial approach to the play?
The play, Olu Akengbuwa is the story of the 88 years interregnum in Warri Kingdom, when for 88 years the Itsekiri people had no King. It is an intriguing story of power play, unbridled ambition, greed, unalloyed loyalty and the British incursion into the Warri area among others. As the director, I used a combination of music, dance, narration, strong dialogue, light and sound to tell a simple historical story in a complicated and intriguing form, befitting of the stage tradition.
Considering the fact that the play is your first attempt as a stage director, how did you cope?
First, I must say here that the general principles of directing are the same, be it for film, television or stage. What matters is for the director to recognize the differences in these media in terms of directorial approach. The directorial approach and techniques for film must certainly be different from that of stage or television soap opera, sit-coms. I know the rules. If and when I break the rules, know that it was done deliberately and for a reason. That’s the reason why even though majority of the thespians I worked with in this play are veterans, I maintained my position as the captain and knew where and when to draw the line in tandem with what exactly I want to see on stage as the director. All of them, from Norbert Young, Ejike Asiegbu, Peter Fatomilola, Soibifaa Dokubo, Eliel Otote, Efe Mayford-Orhorha, Bongolipso, Williams Ekpo among others adapted to my style. At the end of the day, we had a good show. However, I concede to the fact that there is always room for improvement.
What inspired Uduaghan’s decision to adopt the play to be staged in Asaba on May 28. Was it because you are his Itsekiri kinsman?
Far from it! First, you know as much as I do that Governor Uduaghan is a detribalized person. I think the governor had a swell time watching the play. In fact, the governor in his speech captured the very essence of the play. The message in the play cuts across every ethnic group in Nigeria and the world. Like the governor said, the play is a reminder of what happened in our political space as a nation in the past, what is happening now and what may happen in the future. The theme, sub themes and sub texts in the play are not limited to Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Anioma, Isoko or any other tribe for that matter. The play addresses leadership question and desperate quest for power. This happened in the past, it is happening at the moment and nothing says it will not happen tomorrow. I think the governor as a lover and promoter of the creative industry was circumspect enough to see beyond the entertainment value of the play and keyed into the information and education value in it. I tell you, the play, Olu Akengbuwa can be staged in any part of the world and people will relate to it seamlessly. Trust me. That is why we plan to take it round the country and major cities around the world.
At the moment, how prepared are you to stage the play in Asaba?
The cast and crew of the play are very prepared. We are already rehearsing. A couple of new things will be infused into the Asaba command performance of the play, Olu Akengbuwa. It certainly will be bigger and better both artistically and technically. I am in constant communication with the governor on this. The about 70-man cast and crew should hit Asaba at least one week before the performance. Everybody is in high spirit. In fact, most people who missed the Warri show have been calling me to get specific details about the Asaba show on the 28th. Everybody wants to see the play. For me, I think this will act as a catalyst to the gradual revival of the moribund theatre culture in Delta State.
What did it cost you to stage the play in Warri?
It gulped about twenty million naira. We raised the money through goodwill, family and friends. However, I must say here that we are still in debt now running into several millions of naira. But then, we are not discouraged. We believe that before long, corporate sponsorship will come our way. Our ultimate goal is to revive or build a vibrant theatre culture in various parts of Delta State.