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Art influences every culture, civilisation — Segun Adefila

Art influences every culture, civilisation — Segun Adefila

The co-founder and artistic director of Crown Troupe of Africa, Segun Adefila, tells BLESSING ENENAITE (as posted by the Punch) about his career as a theater practitioner.

What inspired your love for the arts?

Nothing inspired my love for the arts. I just grew up loving the arts. I did not know what else to do and nothing came to my mind aside from what I am doing now.

Who did you look up to then in the industry?

One has to get into the industry to look up to people in the industry. What attracted me was the fact that I love the arts. I got into it and saw people like Hubert Ogunde, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley. They helped to shape the industry because one did not know what was inside, then one got inside and started to think of the things one needed to thrive in it.

How would you describe your journey so far as a theatre practitioner?

Like every other journey in life, it has been interesting. There have been ups, downs, trials, triumphs, failures and success but overall, we are still grateful to Olodumare (God) because when we started, we did not know where we were going or whether we would get there. We just knew that we wanted to do something and we got in there. Somehow, the people we encountered, new inspiration and new experiences helped to shape what we started doing with it. There have been challenges but if I have to do this again, I will.

As the artistic director of Crown Troupe of Africa, what are your roles?

My role is very simple. It is just to sit down and claim credit (laughs). I am surrounded by great, young and gifted, fresh, creative and passionate people and it is not all the time that they find themselves in such a space. We bring up ideas and do what we have to do and perform. Then, I get the credit as the artistic director.Information Guide Nigeria

You are a writer, actor and director. Which would you say is the most challenging?

Writing is the most challenging for me. I don’t like writing at all. In fact, when I write, it is because I want people to call me a writer. It is a big deal to be a writer, and it is not for everybody. Writing is not my favourite (activity) but I love to do it. For the one I love most, it has been directing.

You have been running Crown Troupe since 1996. What are the things you did to get to this level?

First, it is the grace of God.

Second, I kept my nose out of the business part of it. That is not to say that people should keep their nose out of the business part of the arts because one would pay for it. Business is all about gains all the time but more focus should be on what lifts one’s soul and what one is passionate about. That has been the main stay (for me) because if I consider the money, it is not all the time that money is in the cards. Things can be so dry on some days. Having the passion for it, not depending on any human being, thinking more about the impact, and how I would feel after a performance are the things that have kept me this far. If one serves the arts, the arts will serve one.

In the past, people who were involved in the arts were not taken too seriously unlike now. What would you say caused a change in the narrative?

Those in the profession then paid the price although people did not say good things about them then. The females were considered as prostitutes in the eyes of society, while the males were seen as lazy people who could not do anything except dancing and the likes. But, those people then kept at what they did. My generation complains of challenges but the previous generation had their challenges too. During their time, there was no social media. Now, everything has a gadget. That notwithstanding, we also have our challenges and it may be overwhelming. Many persons now mention Prof Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Fela Kuti, Cyprian Ekwensi, Hubert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala) and Richard Mofe-Damijo as people to be looked up to. If those people did not stand well then, we won’t have a reference point. We are just redefining what they did.

What is the difference in the industry when you initially started and now?

Acceptance is the difference and the democratisation of performance spaces. The performance spaces we have in Nigeria have been up and down. Until the 70s, they were very good. Live theatre was selling and entertainment was good. Then, military interventions started coming in here and there. In my opinion, the height of the arts was in the early 80s. From the mid-80s till 1999, the performance space started dying. But following the return of the country to democracy, the shows became frequent. From January to December, there is always a show happening on weekends.

Back then, we did not have any performance spaces except National Theatre, University of Lagos, Law School and Muson Centre. Those were the only upper echelon spaces. However, there is change today with places like Terra Kulture, and various art practitioners joining the industry. What we need now is finance to make their works into something befitting. We need more of those performance spaces.

You described yourself as the ‘lead masquerade’ of Crown Troupe. Why is that so?

The way we practise our arts is attached to the intellectual tradition of our ancestors. One of those traditions is the masquerade. I grew up in the royal family in a village called Omu Aran in Kwara State. In the king’s palace during every masquerade period, masquerades would come to our compound to pay homage to the king before they leave. That was how I got fascinated with masquerades, and I had my own masquerade as a child. I lost touch with the masquerade life when I was brought to the city until the arts found me again. What the masquerades did then was to perform, entertain, chastise, make corrections and pray for people. That was how we fashioned our performances at Crown Troupe. Our work is entertainment but it should also be therapeutic and healing. We should also talk about the problems of this country and what should be done to solve them. That is the traditional role of the arts. That is why I used the term ‘masquerade’.

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What challenges have you experienced in your journey as a theatre practitioner?

I was a science student while in secondary school. I never studied arts until I got into the university. It took me some time to get to where I wanted to be. The challenges are not peculiar to the arts alone. However, there is a way people look at artists, especially dancers. Acceptance was a challenge and it took a lot of time. At times, one would do something and it would crumble in one’s presence, which would make one feel like giving up. It is just like marriage. Some couples would want to divorce because they are experiencing some challenges but when they give themselves some time, they could reconcile.

What impact does the arts have on society?

You hear about the culture of a particular country through TV and in their films. That is soft power. The Nigerian government does not understand this. They do not know the power of the arts on its own. I can represent the country in another country through the arts. It could be in dancing, acting or even singing. And when one gets to that country, the people would identify with people in one’s country saying things like, ‘Oh, you are from Prof Wole Soyinka’s country’, or ‘Or you are from Achebe’s country’, or even Jay Jay Okocha’s country. That is soft power and we are not using enough of that. That is capable of creating jobs for many young people. The talents are out there. All they need is space, including theatres, clubs, music concerts and exhibitions. The government must promote and make sure those things are available and are sustained. This will also help to drive the economy. I have been to one or two festivals across the world. They do not have the content we have. We must make use of soft power to promote the arts.

What makes Crown Troupe different from other theatre houses?

There is nothing really distinct about us; we are all the same. One of the greatest comments I have got in the course of my career was when someone said my performance reminded him of Fela Kuti. I felt so excited that I had arrived.

Were you discouraged when you initially decided to be a theater practitioner?

Do you believe the theatre can influence the decision of the government?

If there is an intellectually sound government in place, the arts can influence that. But, if the government is not intellectually sound, the arts cannot do anything. It is what one understands that one reacts to. Art influences every culture and civilisation.

What are your most memorable moments as a theatre practitioner?

They are quite many. Every moment is a memorable one for me. We have also had embarrassing moments. There was a time we had a good performance on stage. After we were done, we decided to go back to flex more muscles. The Master of Ceremonies did not want to offend us so he allowed us. We later messed up and people who were initially clapping for us later stoned us out of that stage (laughs).

How do you balance work and family?

I think I am lucky and I thank God for that. We are good and they (family members) come for my shows once in a while.

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement as a theater practitioner?

The fact that I am still alive and a father are my biggest achievements.

If you were not a theatre practitioner, what would you have become?

I would have become a hairdresser or mechanic.

You often dress in traditional attire. What influences that?

That is what I feel comfortable wearing. I wear jeans a lot too. At times, I wear trainers and shirts. I just feel more comfortable with wearing traditional attire.

What are some of the notable achievements of Crown Troupe?

We have been around despite many odds. We would not have had this interview 25 years ago but we are having it now and that is because we have been around.

What are the downsides of being a theatre practitioner?

We face many struggles all the time. Sometimes, I wish I could just stay in my house and people would come to watch my plays. When it comes to other professions like medicine and law, people go to meet them. But in our profession, it feels like we are going to meet people or they are doing us a favour. That can be a bit discouraging.

Will you encourage any of your children to become full-time theatre practitioners?

Yes, I will. But, I will also advise them to learn something else.

 What are your hobbies?

I love to travel to new places in company with friends. I like to be happy. Happiness is my hobby.JAMB Result

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Emediong Ekpe

Emediong Ekpe is a graduate of English. A professional Sports journalist/analyst, and a spoken word artist. He is passionate about decimating information and putting smiles on people's faces via news writing.

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