Wednesday, January 7, 2009

'Kurunmi, a Refresher Course for Me'

The play, Kurunmi, was staged by the National Troupe of Nigeria at the National Theatre, Lagos, during the festive period. Ola. Sunkanmi writes on one of the dramatis personae behind the play, Wale Macauley, who played the role of Kurunmi.

ON Sunday, December 22, 2008, the last play on the bill of the National Theatre/National Trope of Nigeria opened to the audience. It ran all through Christmas till the first day of the New Year. The play is none other than Ola Rotimi’s Kurunmi. Acclaimed as one of the best in the Nigerian dramatic repertoire, the play production whose rehearsals started six weeks before opening, has been generating quite a buzz in the arts sector and the reasons for this are many.

Apart from being reputed as one of the best from Ola Rotimi, it has the passion of the connectivity of history, especially with the Yoruba people. It is directed by Ben Tomoloju, also acclaimed as one of the most imaginative interpreters on the Nigerian stage. It is, indisputably, the biggest thing the National Troupe has handled in a long time. The play is critical in the historical tragedy of the city/state formation of the Oyo kingdom as it diffuses its power to younger but more vibrant formations. It is a classical tragedy of one man against the rest of the people. It is the tragedy of one person who brings untold hardship, pain and death on his people for what he calls the defence of tradition.

The person is Kurunmi, the then Aare Ona Kakanfo of the entire Yoruba kingdom and the person playing the role is Wale Macaulay.If you do not know the name, you will perhaps know the face when you see it, except that from play to play, and from roles to roles, his face has been taking different looks and shapes all in the name of making an attempt to reflect the specific character he is playing. There have been times when he was clean-shaven with a Samanja-like moustache. There were times when he had quite a heavy load of beards and a complimenting share on his head. Right now, he is on low cut with a spot of natural make up fluffs of whites on his beards which almost make the job of the make-up artiste team in Kurunmi half done. His voice, which you could say has been conditioned by television acting, is a rich outflow of rhythmical waves that the lover of good art cannot but love. Wale Macaulay is a versatile artiste. Educated in Nigeria and England, he is an actor, poet, director, and playwright. His works on stage and screen have drawn critical acclaim locally and internationally; Prominent among his performances on stage are the plays Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to blame and Femi Osofisan’s Twingle Twangle. On screen, he is better known for remarkable roles in Amaka Igwe’s popular film, Violated, Tunde Kelani’s celebrated Thunderbolt and O leku, and the MNET hit cable television series, Doctor’s Quarters. Others are national television drama credits which read like a list of virtually all the hit series in the past twenty-five years – from National Television Authority’s (NTA) Play of the week series through Mirror in the sun, Third Eye, The Charly Boy Show and Family Ties to Superstory and Everyday People. Recently he’s been engaged as a content director on the famed Big Brother (Nigeria) project and was also the Big Brother voice. A songwriter too, his more successful songs include Ti o basi ti oluwa ni delivered by Grammy Awards nominee, King Sunny Ade and Lucifer performed by popular reggae artiste, Ras Kimono. He is married and lives on Snake Island, Lagos.The last time he was actually seen on live theatre stage was in 2005 as Professor on Femi Osofisan’s Twingle Twangle a Twinning Tayle, which staged in Abuja during COJA. So you would be right to label him a television actor.

Well, he did not quite disagree but he worked out his answer on an economic template. He says the remuneration on stage is hardly enough for him to take care of his transportation during rehearsals not to talk of feeding himself or taking care of other personal sundry expenses. Besides, according to him, artistes also have families to take care of. Enslaving oneself to the form of the stage may therefore mean starvation.Another thing is that while he insists that the movies pay more than the stage, he has not been seen in too many films. His explanation is that since he is responsible for all the choices he makes in life and would not want to blame anybody for the consequences of such actions, he likes to go through a script first in order to find out if the quality meets his taste. Says he, ‘I haven’t really been happy with the state of the stage in Nigeria. You cannot expect one to work as hard as one does on stage and live on the pittance offered. Aside from your person, you also have a family you have to take care of. You have needs you have to meet. So, if another genre of arts can take care of my bills, I don’t see anything wrong in that and that is why I actually salute Ben T. for him to have so much believe in me in spite of my perception as an essential television actor is an act of bravery I salute.’

He would also be careful in choosing the director he would work with. This way, the options of films to act in are not much for him. But he is sure that the few ones he has done would stand the test of time. He says, ‘ in our line of job, you are as good as your last job’. I guess this is why he makes sure the last job people can remember him by are the few good ones he does.He declares ‘I could do a film a year. I write as well’.

Yes, he writes too. On record he has The Rape of Gidiolu published in 2005 to his credit. But since then he has not come out with any other thing. Rape of Gidiolu was in the film genre too a year before it was published in book form. It starred: Femi Branch, William Benson and Adebayo M. Liadi among others. Apart from being the writer, Wale Macaulay also directed it. Not only that, he also composed the title music. Produced by his outfit, Kazimba Productions, of which not much has been heard in recent times, the film ran for ninety minutes. This film was recorded during the premiere stage performance of the Rape of Gidiolu at Shell Hall, Muson Centre, Lagos, Nigeria, on 4 June 2005. This event was sponsored by the Herbert Macaulay Leadership Institute. It was screened at the biennial International Council Meeting (ICM) of Amnesty International in Mexico on 19 August 2005. The ICM is attended by 450 delegates from all over the world. The film was screened alongside international successes like ‘Hotel Rwanda’, ‘Voces Inocentes’ (Innocent Voices) and other films with important human rights messages, such as ‘Seoul Train’ and ‘Child Soldiers’, and, though very well received in certain international circuits, is yet largely unknown and unheard of here at home.

Why then is he here on the set of Kurunmi? Is the remuneration in this particular case any better? Do not go there he says. He insists that as in other cases of stage productions, this one even though it is by the National Troupe of Nigeria is not much different financially. He reveals that when he removes his cost of transportation from the total package, the rest is nothing to write home about. But then, he had always wanted to work with Ben Tomoloju. This would be the first time the two of them would be working together. He sees him as one of the directors an actor like him can learn something from. While he had been auditioned a number of times by the National Troupe, this however, would be the first time he would be picked for any job with them. Given the circumstances surrounding the current job, he says ‘This is actually a refresher course for me. It is a good thing to come back to the source once in a while for some mental and intellectual boost. And the source for me actually, is the theatre because this is where it all started with me and for me’.

On his interaction with the character and script of Kurunmi, this is what he has to say, ‘This is one of the very few scripts that really touch me and sometimes at the beginning; I got really emotional about some scenes. It seems in the history of Africa, people with causes we kill them….Kurunmi as a character is larger than life, but what I saw in the handling of the material is that Ben T. (the director) shows the totality of the character. You will see Kurunmi laughing, romantic, wild and cowed. It is total’.

Asked, how soon are we to expect any new thing from him after this Christmas/New Year gift, he replies, ‘I want to take a rest’. You might also want to take a rest after six grueling weeks of rehearsals and twelve performances as Kurunmi.

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