INTERVIEW BY SOMTO MONANU
I don’t know. Does one retire from life? My job is life so why should I retire from it? There is no retirement because everything I am passing through is life. Where do I retire from, from being granddad, uncle or dad?
2.ON JOURNEY SO FAR
I came back to Nigeria in the 70s and we started organizing stage productions at the National Theatre. When we started, people didn’t think that there was any road there. I remember that a lot of my friends didn’t respect what I was doing, but they always said ‘Olu, you are different‘. I will say ‘how different am I?’If you don’t like and respect somebody in my profession just because of your own bias, how can you say I am different? I am not different; it is to me that those insults are being passed. It went as far as some people dodging me because I came to their offices to see them. Those friends that didn’t respect my talent, I had to stay away from them and I was mingling more with people that were in entertainment like me. At the end of the day, I am what I am today and to the glory of God it has been a very fulfilling experience
I thought to myself that what we were doing in the UK, we could do it here. That kept us busy and during one Christmas, I think we did about 23 performances straight non-stop. We did a play by award winning UK journalist and play writer, Tom Stoppard ‘Night and Day’. It was quite a successful play. People were amazed and we were able to get the network news on Sundays to come to our rehearsals. The most fantastic thing was that people in Sokoto, Maiduguri, Makurdi, Minna, Kano, Zaria, were calling NTA and also calling their own relations that featured saying ‘We just saw you on NTA in this play. Is this what you say you were doing? oh, this is fantastic, wonderful’. All the actors were very happy knowing that something was communicating to their people more than anything else that they could say. One day we were doing a show and Hubert Ogunde was doing his show upstairs. That is the man I saw in 1949 that made me decide that I would do nothing else but act. Our show was full but his was not. Our show was full because we did it in English language and many of the people that came to see it were non-Yoruba speaking.
But then, we had the social problem-car snatching. You went out, you were not sure if you will get home with your car. NEPA was doing its worse, armed robbers and all of that was going on, and it was discouraging people from going out to watch all the shows. They would watch maybe half an hour of it and leave. So that slowed us down but at the same time, it was to our benefit because we are now making movies that we are selling outside that you can go and watch at the afternoon at the National Theatre
When cinema came, stage was not doing well anymore. Like I said, it was not safe to go out at night because of armed robbers and car snatchers. Even in the buses you were not safe. You join a bus going to Agege and when you get to Oshodi Oke, it turns and goes somewhere else then they park in the middle of nowhere and you were robbed. So when the movies came, you could buy and take it home, lock your door and watch it. Of course, there is going to be competition but it has not done any harm to the cinema. Stage is very expensive. We are trying but it is not easy at all. To get a venue now will cost you maybe quarter of a million per show. So maybe you can squeeze two shows in a day and that will be half a million. Why? And you have to advertise, you cannot rely on sponsorship, nothing can survive on that. They come in occasionally, they can’t come religiously and when they do, they reduce. What is happening to the field of entertainment is only a natural law. When people cannot go out, they will stay in. If they can do in their homes what they want to go and do outside, better. At the time they discovered they could do it at home, it appeared like the one outside is doomed, everybody is staying home now. Tell me, somebody comes to watch a show at 8pm and he is on his way home and robbers attack him, who is he going to blame? So he looks for money, buys the tape recorder, sits at home and even invites his neighbours to come join him.
3.HOW HE MET JOKE SILVA
I was having a meeting at the National Theatre and the door opened a young lady came in. I looked at her. I have never met her before in my life and I said to the people in the room ‘ladies and gentlemen, this is the lady I am going to marry‘. Everybody laughed. She looked at me up and down, hissed and left. Today, she is my wife and that was about 30 yrs ago.
4.HOW HIS MARRIAGE TO JOKE SILVA SURVIVED
It is God. There are other forces outside that you need to take cognizance of but when you do, you have to make sure that they don’t take control over your life. You are now thinking for two. No decision you take should be for yourself alone. It’s for two and it must stay for two. You have to always remember that. If my wife goes out, and she finds out that she would not be able to make it back when she initially thought she would, she picks up the phone and calls me to tell me. Fine! You are thinking for two, she knows where I am, I know where she is. We still do this till tomorrow. Communicating like that helps a lot, once we are talking, you have an idea of where I am and I have an idea of where you are. I am not saying that it should be every minute calls. Sometimes just being together in a room not necessarily saying anything is also important.
5.HOW THEY RESOLVE QUARRELS DURING ALMOST 30-YR MARRIAGE
You learn not to pick on anything your partner says. It interferes with the relationship. If something happens and you want to discuss it, discuss it till the two of you resolve it. Why won’t we argue? I have a mind, she has a mind so why shouldn’t we argue. We must argue but as we do so, we must finish up that argument so we can start another one. We must quarrel, it is resolving it that is the task. Anybody can fight but how many can sit down and resolve it? You must finish one fight before another and you cannot jump because if you jump it will pull you back. We thank God and pray to him to continue to guide us and give us the wisdom to relate properly, and to be as fair and honest as possible. Apart from that, we just take it as it comes.
6.WHY WIFE HAS KEPT MAIDEN NAME
She is her own individual. When I met her, she was an actress known as Joke Silva so why should marrying me now deny her and her audience her name. She is Miss Joke Silva who is Mrs. Joke Jacobs. It is as simple as that. People now begin to say what they like. They have even written that we are separated and all sort of stuffs. When she is working, she is Joke Silva but she is Mrs. Joke Jacobs at home.
7.MORE ABOUT FAMILY
Sometimes, she insists on things. Even when we have resolved it, she will still bring it back. She thinks more of others. She will think of you and remind you of things that need to be reminded of. She is always happy to help anybody. For her it’s not an effort. She cares a lot and of course, we are all boys in the house so she mothers all of us. That’s the way, we handle it, so whatever we need to do, we discuss it.
They are grown-ups now but we are still together. When we are together, we ask the children what they think of this or that. You don’t leave them out of it, they have come into the circle and they did not choose to come, we asked them to come so we must make the time to make sure that we look after them, guide them and be with them. Sometimes, that is more important than saying anything, just being with them gives them that extra calmness. You know in our job, we do a lot of travelling, but if I don’t have anything to do outside, what am I looking for? I have the phone, if I have to book an appointment I do so. If I have to go out I go out and if I don’t have to go out, I don’t go out and I am quite happy.
In 22 years, a lot has happened. We have seen a lot of talented people, we have seen a lot of ‘cowboys’, and we have seen a lot of people coming and get thrown out by situations. Some cannot cope while some can cope. Some are still fighting to survive but above all, the ‘baby‘ is very much alive and is 22 years old. A 22year old baby is a damn young man. Our baby is doing well, like I said, there are some cowboys, there are people who like to cut corners but we are beginning to get more people who know and more people who want to know. Most of the people who ignored me and went away from me have called me for the last 12 years. When they saw the change and what was happening, they began to call me saying ‘My son is taking after you. He says it is Theatre Arts he wants to do, I said well your uncle is there, let him talk to you. He will explain better to you how it is run‘. With all these happening now, more and more want to know where they can train, that is good. And we are beginning to promote knowledge, with our academies. So I would say that we are on the right path.
TO BE CONTINUED