Oral history interview with Olumide Adeniregun
Monday 14 October 2019
Transcribed by Jayne Batzofin
Balogun Okay good afternoon sir.
Balogun Yes, so sir can I meet you officially?
Adeniregun Hi my name is Olumide Adeniregun. I work for University of Lagos as a production person. I read Theatre Arts at University of Ife 1984/85. I did the Certificate course in Theatre Art. I had a British Council Fellowship to an exchange programme on Technical Theatre in Newcastle Playhouse. I think that was 1981, National Theatre of Great Britain 1981, and Theatre Project, London.
Balogun Okay and I know at one time you were the Chairman of the Lagos chapter of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners.
Balogun Apart from the fact that you've also worked with the National Troupe of Nigeria, most of the distinguished directors that we had in Nigeria, including Wole Soyinka and Femi Osofisan… Sir, this project is entitled Reimagining Tragedy in Africa and the Global South – RETAGS. Being led by Professor Mark Fleishman the director of the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, University of Cape Town in South Africa. What we are looking at basically is the concept of tragedy and we're looking at the reimagination, adaptation of Greek tragedies, from let's say in the last 50 years or thereabout.
Balogun As a seasoned theatre practitioner in Nigeria, I'm sure you have worked on- well as at the time that you talked about during your production I know the adaptation of Greek tragedy that we have in Nigeria, were Ola Rotimi's The Gods are Not to Blame and Soyinka's Bacchae of Euripides. Osofisan's Tegonni and Women of Owu came-
Balogun - much, much later. I want to imagine you must have work on one of those works, Soyinka's Bacchae and Rotimi's The Gods are Not to Blame?
Adeniregun I've worked on Ola Rotimi's The Gods are Not to Blame with many directors.
Balogun Okay. Can you remember-
Adeniregun I can remember-
Balogun - sorry.
Adeniregun - I remember the late Bode Osanyin.
Adeniregun Segun Akinbola, who's now an oba…Alade, somewhere in Ondo state in Nigeria, who was my lecturer at the University of Ife. He directed The Gods are Not to Blame in 1984/85 and we were going around schools in Osun and Ondo states. Because The Gods are…
Balogun … are Not to Blame.
Adeniregun … were part of the school set syllabus, literature syllabus for secondary schools. So it's a kind of a culture thing to have a play of that- going around schools so that students can really see, apart from reading the text, practicalise the drama-
(Recording abruptly ends)
Balogun Okay so I'm here with one of Nigeria's most distinguished theatre practitioner, very well respected theatre designer who usually call him Uncle Olu. Good afternoon sir.
Adeniregun Good afternoon.
Balogun Can we meet you officially?
Adeniregun Yeah my name is Olumide Adeniregun. I work for University of Lagos. I've been in theatre for about 42 years now. And I've worked with so many directors in and outside Nigeria. I study theatre at University of Ife, a Degree course- a Certificate course, which is a year programme. I got a British Council Fellowship in 1981/82, I was with National Council- I was with National Theatre of Great Britain. From there to Newcastle Playhouse, Newcastle upon Tyne to Theatre Project in England where I spent some times as… a student let me say, as a student. But it's more of a practical thing. I was once the Chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioner, Lagos State Chapter. And that was like about 19 years ago. So let me just cut it short there.
Balogun Sir, this project is entitled Reimagining Tragedy in Africa and the Global South – RETAGS. Being led by Professor Mark Fleishman the director of the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, University of Cape Town in South Africa. And the whole- the concept that we are looking at is tragedy as received from classical Greek and now. So in this project we're looking at the reimagination, the adaptation of Greek tragedies in so many societies in Africa.
Balogun The time that you were talking about that you've been traveling around, that you started your practise, more than 30- nearly 40 years ago. I know for certain that two works were really popular then, Ola Rotimi's The Gods are Not to Blame and Soyinka's Bacchae of Euripides. Osofisan's Tegonni and Women of Owu were-
Balogun - were very recent maybe 10/15 years ago. I want to imagine that you have worked on at least one of these two plays that we mentioned.
Adeniregun Yes I've worked on The Gods are Not to Blame.
Balogun By Ola Rotimi.
Adeniregun By Ola Rotimi from many different directors.
Balogun Like can you remember-
Adeniregun Segun Ojewuyi, late Bode Osanyin who is now an oba somewhere in Ondo State. Even late Ayo Oluwasanmi, there so many directors that have done The Gods are Not to Blame.
Balogun Okay. So let's talk specifically about the one you did with-
Adeniregun Oba Segun Akinbola.
Adeniregun That was in my school days-
Balogun What year?
Adeniregun And this was kind of a project that was going through the secondary schools in Ondo state, most of the secondary schools. We were going from Osun to Ondo those states because University of Ife is in between the Ondo and Osun axis.
Balogun Yes. And the play itself-
Adeniregun And the play itself The Gods is part of the syllabus for WAEC.
Balogun In the secondary school?
Adeniregun In secondary school. So as you are reading it, we dramatise it for the students. And in fact all of them come with their texts and try to-
Balogun Read along.
Adeniregun - read along. Not knowing that they're two different things.
Balogun But there's another interesting thing: some of the locations mentioned in the play are actually specific locations-
Adeniregun In Osun.
Balogun - so that the student can be so familiar with them.
Balogun So sir let's really talk about the experience, the production itself. I want us to look at the process. What was your role in it?
Adeniregun I was the lighting designer for the production.
Balogun Okay. And you obviously must have worked closely with the director?
Adeniregun Ah very well, very well. The director and the stage manager.
Balogun And the stage manager. Okay so let's talk about the process, the rehearsal took place where?
Adeniregun The rehearsal took place in University of Ife, there is a theatre there called the Pit Theatre.
Adeniregun That's where the student, of the department of dramatic art, have their lectures and their practicals.
Adeniregun And rehearsals start very early in the morning from about 6:30/7am. You have a dance session first, a kind of exercise before-
Balogun For how many hours?
Adeniregun For like an hour before we go into the rehearsals.
Balogun Into the rehearsals?
Balogun So what was the audition like? Was it the cast were made up of students of the University-
Adeniregun Yes that's really good. The University of Ife had a performing troupe.
Adeniregun So part of the performing troupe, in fact everybody in the performing troupe and the certificate students are always involved in any production. Sometimes they ignore the Degree student because of their workload. But the certificate students and the performing art are fully involved.
Adeniregun So since I was a certificate student, I was 100% involved. The director was, as I said before, Mr Segun Akinbola, then the assistant director was Kola Oyewo.
Balogun Kole Oyewo?
Adeniregun Oyewo, yes, who is a professor somewhere in the University of-
Balogun Professor of Theatre Art at the Ogun State University.
Adeniregun Okay. Can we go on?
Balogun Okay now so it means that the cast was made up of…
Adeniregun Students and-
Balogun - students and-
Adeniregun Performing arts.
Balogun - and the performing art troupe. Why was that choice? Why did the director make that choice?
Adeniregun I don't think he has any choice (chortles) because these are ready made criteria.
Balogun Okay they are ready materials kind of.
Adeniregun The University has the performing art troupe with male and female, they are there. They resume in the morning and that's what they do. The certificate students are there for their practical experience, that's what they do. The Degree student had more work in terms of theory and practical class.
Balogun Okay before we go into the technical details, the rehearsal went for like how many weeks?
Adeniregun For about 3/ 4 weeks every day.
Balogun Every day?
Adeniregun Except Sunday.
Balogun Except Sunday.
Balogun And usually starts 6:30 in the morning?
Adeniregun 6:30 in the morning till around 2-
Adeniregun 1 we have a break then come back at 5, have another two hours then we go.
Balogun So obviously let's say every day the rehearsal run for about 7 or 8 hours?
Balogun Including the break?
Adeniregun Including the break.
Balogun Okay then the production started travelling in the mode of the travelling theatre. It was moving-
Adeniregun From one location, from one school to the other. Sometimes we go to two schools-
Balogun In a day?
Balogun So can you maybe give a rough like in total, how many performances did you give like roughly? Like how many schools put together- I know it is a long time ago, let's just have a rough-
Adeniregun At least we went to about 25 schools.
Balogun 25 schools?
Balogun So you must have given up at least 25 performances-
Adeniregun More than.
Balogun More than. Within the space of how many weeks?
Adeniregun I think two weeks.
Balogun Two weeks.
Adeniregun Two weeks yes.
Balogun Okay so sometimes you had performances in two schools-
Adeniregun Two schools.
Balogun - and then-
Adeniregun Sometimes you have two performance in one school.
Adeniregun So the students of that school, there are other students coming from other schools.
Balogun Maybe when there is availability of the performance venue-
Balogun - hall-
Balogun - to continue…okay.
Balogun So let's look at the technical details. Now you are moving from one school to another, how did you set up the light, the technical, how did you set that up?
Adeniregun You see The Gods what we did was that we try as much as possible to break the set down to what we can travel with.
Balogun Oh, moveable-
Balogun - flexible materials.
Adeniregun Then we used more of backdrop.
Balogun Okay. That's already designed-
Adeniregun That's already been designed, a palace, the inner room, the market place, which is always the front of the stage.
Balogun Of the stage, okay.
Adeniregun But the background it's what- it's more… visible-
Balogun Visible. So you had a painting on a canvas?
Adeniregun On a canvas.
Balogun You just roll it?
Adeniregun We just roll it-
Balogun When you get to another school you put it there. Okay. So that the other structures-
Adeniregun Are just minor, minor to demarcate. To demarcate the palace from the room.
Adeniregun The shrine of Ogun is not-
Balogun A symbolic-
Adeniregun A symbolic thing… an iron and some stones around it.
Balogun Okay. So just after a performance you dismantle and remove it.
Adeniregun Dismantle and move to another school. So it doesn't take us time.
Balogun To set up?
Adeniregun To set up takes like one hour, maximum.
Balogun For the performance.
Adeniregun For the performance. And the lights that we were using because of the problem of electricity in some of those schools.
Adeniregun So we are not using many lights. Where we are supposed to use like 30 lighting instrument, we are talking about maybe six or eight.
Balogun Just really for illumination?
Adeniregun For illumination-
Balogun And then…
Adeniregun Because there is no power to power so much.
Balogun So how did you now do that? Use generator or something?
Adeniregun No… HA! That's very interesting. Sometimes the schools have light. And sometimes during the production-
Balogun The light goes off.
Adeniregun - the light goes off. We use the director's car.
Balogun Okay. You just moved the car-
Adeniregun We moved the car to the (laughs)-
Adeniregun Put light on. Then we have a full light, the light of a car that has been removed from the car.
Balogun Oh! Okay the headlamps?
Adeniregun The headlamps, that's word… the headlamp. We have two headlamps that are not part of the car, that we removed and we wired to the battery of the car. But the car must be working to keep charging-
Balogun The battery.
Adeniregun - the battery.
Balogun Wow (laughs).
Adeniregun So when we are in the palace scene we move the headlamp, the two headlamp-
Balogun Close to the stage?
Adeniregun Close to the stage of the palace scene.
Balogun To just give the illumination.
Adeniregun Yes. When we move to Ojuola's house-
Balogun Another scene?
Adeniregun We moved the… we go in the blackout we quickly go-
Balogun Move the car?
Adeniregun - move the ca-
Balogun The battery?
Adeniregun No the-
Adeniregun The headlamp to the house...
Adeniregun When there's another scene in the palace.
Balogun You moved it like that?
Adeniregun I will be able to scale through.
Balogun So how did you manage that as a technical director? You're having people assisting you to move the car? Because I know you'd be conscious of the pace-
Adeniregun The pace yes-
Adeniregun - of course because we have rehearsed this-
Adeniregun - and we know where we are coming from, that in case we run into problem of light. Especially those shows that are in the evening. If we have the show in the afternoon we don't have much problem.
Adeniregun But when we have a show in the evening and we know already that look, electricity is a problem-
Balogun Is a problem in that, okay. So you factor all of these-
Adeniregun We factor- of course the director and I factor it. That look we have to buy a headlamp, wire it through your car, the car must be on and we plug it to your battery so that we won't run out of battery. So we were able to scale through.
Balogun That's an interesting one.
Balogun So let's now talk about the process, The Gods are Not to Blame is a very popular and I want to- from… I've interviewed a couple of people… Ife, where you rehearsed is just exactly the place Ola Rotimi wrote the play, you know when he premiered in 1968 and… Was there any influence of Ola Rotimi's directorial style? On the director that worked on that play, because we know at that time Ola Rotimi was immortalised and his presence was still there.
Adeniregun Yeah but Ola Rotimi at that time was no more in Ife, he had moved to University of Calabar.
Adeniregun University of Calabar. But I want to agree with you and I'm saying it without any bias, that even after that some of the directors from Ife…
Balogun Ife, okay.
Adeniregun You still see the Rotimi style-
Balogun The traces of Ola Rotimi's directorial style?
Adeniregun The traces of- yes the style. It's like this is how you must put this block.
Adeniregun This is how this used to be. Not this is what I want it to be.
Balogun So in a way what you're saying is that, for the performances of The Gods are Not to Blame at that time had more like the influence of Ola Rotimi's-
Adeniregun Of course.
Balogun - directorial style.
Adeniregun Of course.
Balogun And you think the director of this production we are talking about was also influenced by that?
Adeniregun I want to believe that, yes. Even after that, after that, that I was part of that I've seen The Gods from Ife, directed by another director from Ife. It's still- from the beginning the play start, I could understand that the next thing- this is the movement of Odewale…he's going to come from the audience.
Adeniregun Maybe very few directors, maybe one or two that I've seen that is different from that. But most of the directors from Ife, as of that time, that worked with Ola Rotimi had the same style.
Adeniregun Approach to The Gods.
Balogun Okay sir so let's now look at the... in terms of the choice of music how was the music for that production produced? Like was it drawn from an existing stock of music in Ile Ife or somebody was there to compose a new set of songs.
Adeniregun Lekan, this is what I'm telling you that everything that has to do with The Gods that comes from Ife. I'm not talking of now, in '84/'85 is- in fact they tell you that this is the way we do it.
Balogun Okay so it means that-
Adeniregun You cannot just change the songs.
Balogun So it didn't really change so much from when Ola Rotimi did it in 1968. They just recuperated the music-
Adeniregun Because… when you look at all those people apart from Uncle Jimi Solanke whom I've mentioned that was not part of it-
Balogun In the play
Adeniregun - in '84.
Adeniregun Uh-huh. You find it that nearly 80% of those people that Ola Rotimi used then-
Balogun That were part of it?
Adeniregun - were part of it in '84/'85.
Balogun Somebody like Kola Oyewo, Gboyega Ajayi, Ayo Akinwale.
Adeniregun Of course. Later Gboyega Ajayi… what's his name he's now ..
Balogun Femi Robinson
Adeniregun Not Femi Robinson… uh…
Balogun Segun Sofowote or something?
Adeniregun Who is late… Laide.
Adeniregun Laide Adewale or what what…
Balogun Laide Adewale.
Adeniregun Pade Olayiwola… even the drummers, they were all part of Ola Rotimi's-
Adeniregun Troupe then.
Balogun So they knew the songs, they knew-
Adeniregun In fact when they are sleeping they know-
Balogun They know the song.
Adeniregun - blocking. So it does not take them anything.
Balogun But what was really a bit different or significant in the production- this particular production that you are talking about, that you can say, okay this was a kind of a break away from the Ola Rotimi tradition. Is there any particular thing that you can think there was a change a little bit.
Adeniregun I will say the cast.
Adeniregun Because of the students that were part of the troupe.
Balogun Okay, okay.
Adeniregun Somebody like me was not part of Ola Rotimi's… I know personally Ola Rotimi but I was not part of-
Adeniregun - school then. And we are many of us like that who are student. That were part-
Balogun Of the production. But sir let's now look at it. What was okay, we had this- you and a couple of young-
Balogun - students, actors that were part of it. Uh… what was that new thing that your involvement in the play actually added? You know you guys were coming with let's say fresh minds, fresh ideas, was there any way in which you actually suggested something for the director.
Adeniregun I will say this, that when we had the play in Ife at the Pit Theatre.
Balogun Inside the University?
Adeniregun Inside the University, where we have the light, the sound.
Adeniregun I was 100% in charge.
Adeniregun And I did my best to the play in terms of lights, design-
Balogun The technical?
Adeniregun In terms of that…
Balogun Let me talk about the technical. How many lamps did you use, what are the choices of you know strobe lights-
Adeniregun No we don't have strobe lights.
Balogun Strobe lights, okay.
Adeniregun But you know you can flick the light.
Balogun You can flick the lights.
Adeniregun To get what effect you want. You see… what I did was that the palace scene- No let's start from the dialogue. From the audience-
Balogun The Opening.
Balogun I heard the wailing.
Adeniregun "I had their wailing!"
Balogun When Odewale is coming to-
Adeniregun I had a follow spot on him.
Adeniregun Coming from the audience.
Balogun From the audience.
Adeniregun Tight spot on him.
Balogun Tight, just tight on him?
Adeniregun Very tight spot on him.
Balogun On him, okay.
Adeniregun Continuing with the light I tried opening up more.
Balogun Expand the light.
Adeniregun Expand the light to a point where everybody could now see that ah!
Balogun Okay let's look at that his movement. So it means he takes his movement from outside so to speak. From behind the audience?
Adeniregun Behind the audience, yes.
Balogun And he starts coming.
Balogun So the moment you hear that first-
Adeniregun "I had wailing"
Balogun You had the light, the follow spot on him-
Adeniregun On him.
Balogun - but tight.
Adeniregun Very tight tiny. Just to identify-
Balogun To identify the actor, okay.
Adeniregun Call the audience to what is this. So the sound also follows then I keep opening the iris.
Balogun Of the light?
Adeniregun:… to the point where he gets to the middle of the stage, middle of the audience sorry.
Balogun Of the audience.
Adeniregun Of the audience, so I'd open up so everybody could now see.
Balogun What distance is this?
Balogun How many metres? From where he starts the line to when he gets to the stage? Can you still remember?
Adeniregun Maybe like about 15/20, let's say 20 feet.
Balogun 20 Feet.
Adeniregun Yeah let's say 20.
Balogun There's not really a very big-
Adeniregun It's not a very very big- no, no. The big theatre is not very big, you can't compare it with the University of Lagos Arts Theatre or-
Balogun Main auditorium?
Adeniregun Main- even the Oduduwa Hall in Ife.
Adeniregun The Oduduwa Hall seats about 2000 or something.
Balogun But that strategy, that use of light really worked to-
Adeniregun Really really. Then there are effects, the Ogun shrine.
Adeniregun We have some red light anytime there's going to the shrine.
Balogun Just to give it that kind of a supernatural-
Adeniregun Yes you have the red spotlight-
Balogun On the shrine?
Adeniregun On the shrine! Tight-- just on the shrine. And as the people get to the shrine you add more-
Adeniregun - light. For people to identify this is the Kabiyesi, this is that. Not just on the red light. They are moving to the point, you have a red light on the shrine. As they're moving by the time they will get to the shrine they will have full light on the shrine. So that people will-
Balogun Why is it important to do that?
Adeniregun Because the audience will see the actor, be able to see the eyes of the actor.
Balogun Of the actor.
Adeniregun It's not just the voice. You must be able to identify that this is… so -so person.
Balogun I'm even saying what's the need, the essence of having that red light on the shrine-
Adeniregun It's an African belief that a shrine is always with red or dark, black spot, which is not possible for you to have a black spot, for illumination. It's just the red. We are talking of a farm, you'll want to put a green light on a farm. A market place you want to put a full bright light.
Balogun Okay. I thought because the shrine is very central to the story, maybe it must be one of the reasons that you are lighting it with that light to draw the audience's attention to it.
Adeniregun That's part of it. So when you see a red spot, ah what's going to happen here? To anybody in Africa when you see a red spot it's like a danger.
Balogun Now how did you now manage, from what you have said so far… The stage, the performing area was actually demarcated into like how many-
Adeniregun two- let's say three places. You have the palace-
Adeniregun You have the house-
Balogun The inner chamber.
Adeniregun The inner chamber. Then you have the market-
Balogun The full playing area, close to the apron?
Adeniregun Which is the apron, which is the market.
Balogun Okay so how did you use light to play around with this demarcation?
Adeniregun You just break it into three. The palace, from the palace you have the shrine, that is the only thing in the palace, the shrine and the palace. Ojuola…the bed and the room. So when he stab himself-
Adeniregun When she stab herself, uh-huh, you just flick the lights okay and you go back to like 0.5 of the lights and gradually go back to full lights. By the time she stab herself you're going down to half-light, to half-light.
Balogun To half-light.
Adeniregun To like 0.5. So by the time the children and scream and Kabiyesi is coming out then I'll go back to full for them to see- for the audience to see what is going on.
Balogun So sir, what was the effect of this use of light on both the performance and the young audience. You know these are people who-
Adeniregun You create mood.
Balogun Yes. So it was effective for them.
Adeniregun Yes. It's like the light is part of the production.
Balogun so how did they receive, like the audience, the young people who might not have seen the performance of that-
Adeniregun It's like a magic-
Balogun It was really magical for them?
Adeniregun Yes, yes it was. Because the light itself is part of a play whether you like it or not. It creates the mood. It create the mood and it tells a story. When you have the Kabiyesi and the farmer-
Balogun Yes the flashback scene.
Adeniregun Uh-huh the flashback scene.
Balogun Where they had a fight and-
Balogun How did you manage that? Considering that-
Adeniregun Yeah from a full light and by the time the farmer started "Scorpion knows…" I've forgotten those lines " then you started- it's not pink, you're not just going straight-
Balogun Into it, it's a grad-
Adeniregun It's a gradual thing. You start coming down when you need to come down, you fade gradually to a point.
Balogun But that action that happened on the farm that you are trying to realise onstage, knowing that at the background you already understand that we have the palace, we have- how did you manage that, to create the illusion that this happened on a farm?
Adeniregun Yeah but you remember that that is the apron.
Adeniregun That is what we call- it is the same place you use at the market that they use as a farm, which is the apron of the stage.
Balogun Okay. That is where the action takes place.
Adeniregun Is, yes.
Adeniregun So you are not coming on all the lights to the backdrop. At that point you are not lighting the backdrop you are just lighting the apron.
Balogun I know it is a long time but can we try to remember how many people were involved in the production, like cast and crew. Maybe-
Adeniregun Of course I can give you-
Balogun A rough…
Adeniregun - plus the drummers.
Balogun Yes the drummers, dancers, actors, costumière, everybody.
Adeniregun We had a total 35 people because we went with the Coaster bus.
Balogun A bus, a long bus-
Adeniregun Yes a long Coastal bus. We travelled with the Coastal bus and we had what we call now this bus, this Toyota bus that we call a Liteace. That can take, that's where we put the set and the lights.
Balogun Okay see that's an 18 seater or 14 seater?
Adeniregun It's a 14 seater.
Balogun 14 seater.
Adeniregun That's where we put the set.
Balogun Okay, so the long bus took actors and the other -
Adeniregun One took costume, set, lights-
Balogun - props and everything.
Adeniregun And everything.
Balogun Wow, interesting.
Adeniregun I'm sure we were about 35.
Balogun So while you were moving around you were lodging in hotels-
Adeniregun Of course we are lodging in hotels and things like that.
Balogun Was this production sponsored by-
Adeniregun It was sponsored by University of Ife. It was the University-
Balogun It was a University project?
Adeniregun Yes because before we left the Vice Chancellor came to talk to us. That we were ambassadors of the University. That wherever we go we must first of all think of University of Ife and we must keep the flag flying.
Balogun So University of Ife actually sponsored the project to educate secondary school, drama school student about-
Balogun - Nigerian theatre and Nigerian drama. Was there any point in time that members of the cast actually interacted with the audience? In terms of-
Adeniregun Of course at the end of the play.
Balogun After each performance?
Adeniregun Each performance. There's like a 30/40 minute-
Balogun Question and Answer…
Adeniregun - question and answer between the student, the actors and the director. And it was a very successful one.
Adeniregun That's where you know that the students came with their text books.
Adeniregun It was then we now let them know, now we are acting, so not every line-
Balogun Okay so the students will ask, "okay, I was reading this page or this scene you didn't say these…". Okay the director would have to explain to them okay well for performance we have to do this.
Adeniregun Because as far they were concerned, they wanted to hear everything in the text-
Balogun That you wanted to get?
Balogun mmm. So the student had to be educated again that there's a difference between text and performance.
Adeniregun And performance.
Balogun mmm that's very interesting.
Adeniregun So that… this is the director's…
Adeniregun - concept.
Balogun Yeah directorial approach-
Adeniregun Uh-huh, areas that you are supposed to know, areas that you are supposed to see you have seen it. But go back and read.
Balogun So that what you've seen can help you further to understand it.
Balogun Sir let's now look at the play in its broader scope, in terms of how it addresses the society in which it is written and perhaps in the global perspective. If we look at The Gods are Not to Blame very well, I'm sure that, apart from the fact that the University organised this to educate- there must have been a reason for choosing that play from among so many other Nigerian plays. Do you- is it possible for us to discuss that aspect of it, in terms of what tragedy means onstage and what tragedy really means in our everyday interaction.
Adeniregun Hmm. (Pause). (Laughs)
Balogun Well maybe I should rephrase it again. You were part of that production-
Balogun How would you describe tragedy for example?
Adeniregun To me… if we look at The Gods are Not to Blame as a case study. The soothsayer-
Balogun The Baba Fakunle-
Adeniregun Baba Fakunle-
Balogun - the Priest.
Adeniregun - the Priest. He warns that this boy will kill his father and marry his mother.
Balogun (simultaneously said) will kill his father and marry his mother.
Adeniregun But if you go back to religion… the father said that the… is it the hunter or who- that he should take the boy and kill the boy or whatever.
Balogun mmm. Okay the man that was given the boy to go and kill, that's… Gbonka.
Balogun Gbonka didn't kill the boy-
Adeniregun He gave the baby to a farmer. This boy later came as a stranger…
Adeniregun is it Ijekun Yemoja or…?
Balogun But what exactly is the point you are trying to bring up?
Adeniregun The point I'm trying to bring up is that we must listen, we must take religion out of issues.
(There is a side conversation happening that creates a brief pause in the interview.)
Adeniregun We must take religion out of issues.
Balogun mmm, so you think the play is actually is a kind of an allusion to the problem that is created by religion in society now.
Adeniregun Of course! Because the Babalawo told them after the divination that look this is what's going to happen. The father believe and he gave the boy that they should go and sacrifice the boy. But the man gave the boy to the farmer but what happened is that the thing still happened. If the instruction that was given by the father was carried out by Gbonka, this will not happen.
Balogun Would not have happened.
Adeniregun But this is a lesson to all of us.
Adeniregun That if there's a tradition that we believe, let's believe in it. If you don't believe in it, don't try it. Why did you call in the babalawo to come and tell you what this boy will do in life, who will this boy be. If you know you don't believe in the babalawo, don't get him involved. If you know you don't believe in one religion, don't try it at all.
Balogun Okay so you think The Gods are Not to Blame is a statement about… religion as one of those elements of the tragedy in the world today?
Adeniregun Of course. Of course because people don't even believe in who they are any more.
Adeniregun People don't believe in-
Balogun They don't even believe in what they practice.
Adeniregun They try to mix the tradition with-
Balogun With Western Christianity and Islamic religion, and that's the problem.
Adeniregun Then you don't know where to go.
Adeniregun If you look at this case is the Kabiyesi that went to call The babalawo.
Balogun The babalawo.
Adeniregun The Priest.
Adeniregun Which is their culture.
Balogun Which is the custom.
Adeniregun Which is the custom. Now they brought in the babalawo… after the soothsayer said this boy will-
Balogun …kill his father-
Adeniregun And marry his mother. To everybody that's senseless, that's stupid. But this is going to happen because this is what Ife said through the Priest.
Balogun And Ife is supposed to be the-
Adeniregun The guiding spirit.
Balogun The guiding spirit, the guiding principle.
Adeniregun The father believed.
Balogun That's why -
Adeniregun That's what Ife said.
Balogun That's why the Priest was invited.
Adeniregun Yes. And that is why he gave the boy to Gbonka.
Balogun To go and kill.
Adeniregun To go and kill. But Gbonka-
Balogun Refused to do that. He gave-
Adeniregun He gave the boy away. Now the boy killed his father and married his mother.
Balogun Sir, earlier on I had an interview with another Nigerian actor who mentioned that for him, he was also a part of this production at one time, he was the stage manager. And then he told me that for him, any time he remembers that production, remembers The Gods are Not to Blame he's always remembering the problem about the tragedy over land. Then he gave this example, you know, very very interesting example that at the point where Odewale was going to commit the first crime that the Priest, you emphasised now talked about, where he was going to kill the father. He said both of them actually fought over a piece of land.
Adeniregun Of course.
Balogun And the guy, this man, this Nigerian actor- was even able to link it to what is happening in the Middle East. Where the Palestinians and the Israelis are fighting over land, to the extent that the whole place has been destroyed. And I begin to look at the power of a play to actually address, not only a society but in a global view. Look at the religion you are talking about, we can also go to the Middle East where we are talking about ISIS and people have become suicide bombers and they will tell you they are doing it in the name of religion. We have them in Nigeria-
Adeniregun Of course.
Balogun - the Boko Haram and all of those things. So are you saying that… an African play that has adapted a Greek tragedy of many many years- are you saying that this The Gods are Not to Blame is also reflecting our own time now? Is that what you are saying?
Balogun mmm and considering that the religious situation in Nigeria isn't as bad as the time the play was even performed about 51 years ago.
Balogun So does this mean that this is one of the enduring values of the classical text itself?
Adeniregun Yes. That's why I said that your belief, you must hold onto it. You don't doubt it. And again when you send somebody to do something for you… you must have trust in that person that he is going to carry out your instructions.
Balogun But how about the person who is to carry out the instructions. That person should also fulfil that aspect.
Adeniregun That is what I'm saying that you must be sure that he's going to carry out your instruction. If Gbonka had carried out the instruction-
Balogun Of the King.
Adeniregun - we will not be talking of The Gods are Not to Blame.
Balogun The tragedy?
Adeniregun The tragedy.
Adeniregun But as the Gods wanted it again… because it is a two-side coin.
Adeniregun Even we believe that anything that happened before it happen Gods knows about it (chuckles).
Balogun But that's from the perspective of religion in a way.
Balogun But if we look at it, isn't this from your argument now. Are you not trying to suggest that there's some kind of conflict between religion and culture?
Adeniregun Culture is before religion.
Balogun Yeah but that's what I'm saying now religion seemed to have taken over everywhere so is that some kind of clash?
Adeniregun Of course there is clash any day between religion and…
Balogun Does that constitute (chortles) tragedy on its own?
Adeniregun That's a big tragedy.
Adeniregun That's a very very big tragedy. Very very big one. In fact that's another discussion.
Balogun On its own? Outside of the theatre.
Adeniregun Outside of the theatre. Even within the Nigerian concept.
Balogun Okay, so it is even good that if the way theatre is reflecting that conflict how culture is being antagonised by received religion. Our received religion itself is trying to assert itself over culture. So in a way how do we now see the consequence in society itself? How can we capture the consequence of the conflict of religion and tradition and culture?
Adeniregun Lekan… number one. One, our language, we've thrown away our values in terms of language, in terms of dressing, in terms of culture. And again-
Balogun That's tragedy on its own?
Adeniregun It's a tragedy on its own. Even the language. You as a Yoruba man, I'm challenging you and I'm saying it to you… that if you spend one hour in your house with your family, 15 of 30 minutes of that one hour you are speaking foreign language to your children. You must accept that, that I'm saying that-
Adeniregun - not "mmm".
Adeniregun That's the problem.
Balogun Okay so-
Adeniregun From there you are losing our values. We are losing so many things that has to do with culture, religion, dressing. Now the number of people you'll find in Pizza shops are more than the number of people you'll find in a normal-
Balogun Buka where we eat local food.
Adeniregun - Buka where we eat our food. Even in my village that I just came back last week.
Balogun People are there..
Adeniregun There are about three or four pizza shop in my- area.
Balogun In your village.
Adeniregun And when I passed by the number of people in the pizza shop because there is Wifi where you buy pizza you have rights to the Wifi.
Balogun To use the Wifi.
Adeniregun And the whole place is filled up.
Balogun Whereas the local buka where they eat is…crying for customer.
Adeniregun That's part of the problem.
Balogun Now you are saying that there's a way The Gods are Not to Blame is actually drawing attention to that tragedy of losing the cultural value?
Balogun That's an interesting one. That's an interesting one.
Balogun So let's go back to the production now. Is there any point in the play where aspects of some of these things that you're mentioning now, maybe the director tried to work it into it. As a way of trying to enlighten the young students who were studying the text, at least- I know you said earlier that much of what those directors, much of what they did was like a kind of a transference of-
Adeniregun A carry over.
Balogun - Ola Rotimi's directorial style. But I'm just curious to know whether some of these arguments that you have put forward that the director was able to fuse a bit of it into it?
Adeniregun I'm not very sure.
Balogun Okay you're not very sure.
Adeniregun Not very sure.
Balogun But then, any way that's understandable of course… But let's go a little bit further maybe one or two more questions before we wrap up this interview. In the present circumstance we talked about religion, we talk about even mode of culture and all of those things. Ola Rotimi said in an interview that he wrote this play to condemn the tribal sentiment that led to Nigerian Civil War. The Nigerian Civil War gave us the idea of Biafra, when the Igbos were trying to break away. In the last 5 or 10 years, even in last year or 2 years ago, there has been renewed agitation for Biafra.
Adeniregun For Biafra,yes.
Balogun Could that be a statement about the significance of Ola Rotimi to actually address that problem 50 years ago and still talking about the problem that has refused to go away after 50 years. Can we look at The Gods are Not to Blame in that light.
Adeniregun I want to agree with you and I want to agree with Ola Rotimi. Because the problem in The Gods is not even the killing of the boy. It was that language, you, something from Ijekun-Yemoja.
Balogun Is a bushman?
Adeniregun Is a bushman. And he said, you abused my tribe.
Balogun mmm. So that was the high point of the play.
Adeniregun So that was at a point where the whole thing tore out.
Balogun Oh that is high point-
Adeniregun High point of the play. It was not even giving the boy to the farmer. It was at the point where he met his father, which he did not know is his father.
Balogun Okay sir let me get you. So you are saying Gbonka's refusal to obey instruction to kill the boy might not even be seen as the real tragedy Ola Rotimi was dramatizing.
Balogun So it is that point when he meets his father and the argument-
Adeniregun Yes. That was here he changed. You called me a bushman.
Balogun A way of saying, you are a foreigner, you know in our language, you don't belong to us. Wow, that's an interesting one!
Adeniregun And immediately he killed him, and the two farmers ran away.
Balogun And of course he has fulfilled the first prophecy, obviously he is going to fulfil the second one.
Adeniregun He now moved into the village.
Balogun So let's now look at that point in the play in relation to the Nigerian Civil War and the Biafra that-
Adeniregun I agree with you! You don't abuse Africans, you don't abuse my tribe.
Balogun Just like the South Africans and the xenophobia. That's why they were condemned. How can you say people are foreigners in-
Adeniregun In their own…
Adeniregun Look at the days of Obasanjo and South Africa…
Adeniregun No… what do you call it…
Balogun Thabo Mbeki?
Adeniregun No… there's this name…
Adeniregun Obasanjo went to all length so that we did not even attend Commonwealth Festival for Arts and Culture. We did not attend the Commonwealth Games. Ogunde had prepared his troupe…they were supposed to leave the second day but Obasanjo said "no.!"
Adeniregun In '78.
Balogun As a solidarity-
Adeniregun As a solidarity.
Balogun - with Black South Africa?
Adeniregun And that is what caused today that Nigerians got visa to enter Britain. Go and check records.
Balogun Okay that was-
Adeniregun That was when we started getting visa to enter Britain.
Balogun Okay at an international level, Nigeria's involvement with Apartheid
Adeniregun Is the cause of…
Balogun Being forced to get visa?
Balogun You mean… before 1978 Nigeria-
Adeniregun It's a Commonwealth, it's a Commonwealth country. You enter without visa.
Balogun So it was visa-free?
Adeniregun It was visa-free.
Balogun That's an interesting one.
Adeniregun No, go and research that.
Adeniregun It was then they changed British Petroleum to African Petroleum.
Balogun The British Petroleum in Nigeria?
Balogun They changed the name to African Petroleum?
Adeniregun - Petroleum.
Balogun That's an interesting one. So what you are saying is that this play actually has some kind of an international dimension to it.
Adeniregun So many.
Balogun If we're looking at the play from Ola Rotimi's perspective that it was condemning-
Adeniregun You don't-
Balogun - you know, tribalism or what you can call racism-
Adeniregun - I don't know in Europe or in America but when it comes to Africa, nobody plays with his tribe. You don't tell me my tribe is from a bush.
Balogun So it's a-
Adeniregun Even if I know that we are not civilised it is not you that will tell me that my tribe is not civilised. Who are you?
Balogun Or that I'm a foreigner in this place, even when you know that well I am doing business this is not my country. You are not supposed to force it into my mouth. Interesting. So you think Ola Rotimi was trying to highlight that point in that scene.
Adeniregun I think that's the problem. Because I remember very well that at that point-
Balogun In the play?
Adeniregun In the play. That guy changed.
Balogun That is Odewale- everything about him changed?
Adeniregun And he did not come as a warrior-
Balogun Yeah he was just a farmer, he just went to his farm.
Adeniregun But at that point when he mentioned that thing, you a foreigner.
Balogun So you think statements like that, like "you're a foreigner", you know racism, tribalism- they are very kind of smooth road to create a situation for violence?
Adeniregun Very very.
Balogun And tragedy?
Adeniregun Very very. Very very. Very very. Very very.
Balogun mmm that's an interesting one. So sir you think now the continuing the agitation for Biafra justifies Ola Rotimi's claim for writing The Gods are Not to Blame? That he is condemning anything that has to do with tribalism, that can lead to-
Adeniregun Of course, of course I will agree with that.
Balogun That's a very interesting one.
Balogun Sir, since that time… that you had the performance in 1984, some of the other performances of this play you have seen are Women of Owu or Tegonni. Can you relate them to these particular-
Adeniregun Uh I saw Women of Owu once.
Balogun When was this?
Adeniregun I think it was at Law School.
Balogun In Lagos?
Adeniregun In Lagos, I think it was at Law School. I think it was at Law School. I didn't see Tegonni I didn't even know about it. But I know I saw-
Balogun Women of Owu. Can you-
Adeniregun I cannot-
Balogun You can't remember-
Adeniregun I cannot.
Balogun Okay it's alright.
Balogun So sir, what you are saying then, on a final note, you're saying that the reimagination of these classical tragedies more often than not are actually addressing the environment in which they are written? Is that your point? That they are addressing situation that are-
Adeniregun Of course they are addressing-
Balogun - in your own country.
Adeniregun They are addressing.
Balogun Just like the example of… the British Petroleum, the-
Adeniregun The Apartheid-
Balogun - the Nigerian-
Adeniregun - the visa thing. That has cost Nigeria a lot. We've lost a lot but the Government- the Nigerian Government did not bother about it. Because they believe that they have a case to fight and that's the only way to fight it.
Balogun …in support of Black South Africans?
Adeniregun Yes. Let them go and fight, go and research into that. I know that very well cause at that '78- '77 – '78 I worked with National Theatre. And Ogunde had prepared to leave the second day.
Balogun The first Artistic Director of the National Troupe?
Adeniregun Yes. Before the National Troupe.
Adeniregun Before the National Troupe.
Balogun Before he started the National Troupe?
Adeniregun Yes. Ognde and his troupe are supposed to leave Nigeria for Commonwealth Games are part of Commonwealth Games is Commonwealth Festival. And that was stopped because of Apartheid.
Balogun So Nigeria tried to show you know solidarity-
Balogun - towards the Black South Africans…
Adeniregun - yes that they cannot have a performance with White people.
Balogun The White people are also-
Adeniregun If Black South Africans are not going to be represented.
Adeniregun And what is the reason? It has to do with the land. The ownership-
Balogun Of the land. You see it still comes back to what the other man said about-
Balogun - you know land ownership. Because if you look at the Apartheid system itself is very much tied to the claim over the land.
Adeniregun Of course.
Balogun And it's not even just the land, it's the resources that we're talking about in the real sense of it.
Balogun Thank you so very much for this wonderful interview.
Adeniregun You're welcome.
Balogun It's a pleasure sir.
Adeniregun Yeah you are welcome.
Balogun turns off the audio recorder