Tunji Sotimirin is a multitalented actor. Known to be among the pioneers of Nigerian modern solo performance, the University of Lagos lecturer is no doubt making waves with his Konkere music and children story-telling programme on television. In this chat with OMIKO AWA, he spoke on theatre practice in Nigeria and other sundry issues affecting performance in the country.
You are one of the pioneers of solo performance in Nigeria, what inspired you to go into this genre?
I decided to go into solo performance, because I was convinced that I possess the substance in terms of artistic talents to hold and engage an audience.
As a teenager, I did a lot of experiment with music, dance, poetry, acting, singing and drumming as a solo performer before various audiences and they were completely amazed at the tremendous manner with which I delivered my presentations.
This has been a huge encouragement for me to continue to create more ideas in the area of solo drama.
Although, I participate in group play productions when I need to work with other actors and directors, sometimes with a completely different orientation; but as a trained actor and performer, I can fit into whatever method and artistic mode of expression required.
How do Nigerians see solo performance?
Well, I think they are gradually warming up to it. Before now, it was not a popular performance style in Nigeria.
People were a bit circumspect about it, especially when one considers the artistic challenges involved in creating a narrative with the type of content and creative ingenuity on the part of the solo performer that can hold and sustain the interest of an audience for one hour or more.
It is a very difficult and highly technical area of theatre practice.
Not too many people have the guts to dare it, but like I said, people are slowly embracing it.
Both the actors and the audience are now beginning to see it as a way of engaging and experiencing a different form of artistic expression that can serve as an alternative theatre.
To what extent can an actor or actress uses solo performance to tell a complex story?
It depends on the capacity of the actor in terms of the ability to deploy his/her craft, his/her body, voice and other creative tools at his/her disposal to communicate the story no matter how complex it may be to the audience.
As a solo performer/actor, you have to possess the right and appropriate instincts and the technical know-how to have a complete and competent grasp of your art.
You have to be extremely sensitive to the pulse of your audience. You have to be well guarded with your reactions to the atmosphere of the performance.
It is usually a plus and a huge advantage if you are a versatile performer.
You must be someone who can act, sing, dance, chant, improvise on the spur of the moment and possibly infuse humor if it is required in a story.
Some have argued that Nigerian actors/actresses do not research their roles. To what extent is this applicable to solo performance?
First and foremost, the art of solo performance, like I earlier pointed out, is a highly difficult, extremely technically and artistically demanding area of theatre practice.
You need to be disciplined to engage the art. To be able to conceive an idea requires deep thinking.
You need to research into the idea, even if you have to improvise, you need to have an understanding and appreciation of your subject matter so that you can explore and deliver it with a high level of competence.
You can’t afford to be lazy about it; otherwise, it will be very apparent that you have not done enough research and homework.
What differentiates a stand-up comedian from a solo performer?
The difference is that a standup comedian may not necessarily incorporate histrionics into his or her presentation.
All he or she does is to tell jokes to make people laugh. It is strictly about provoking laughter.
However, there are some standup comedians who are endowed with the ability of dramatising their jokes. To take it a bit further by creating a story around their jokes and actually demonstrate it in acting.
Whereas, the solo performer conceives a story and tells his/her story sequentially through the creative use of his voice, body, incorporating relevant and appropriate gestures and movement to an audience.
Sometimes, the solo performer actually requires a set on stage, which could just be a minimal placement of a stool or a clothes’ rack to create a decoration at the background.
How do you draw the line between solo performance and your Konkere music or performance?
It depends on the subject matter of the solo drama. I don’t have to incorporate the Konkere musical flavour if it is not required.
However, sometimes, the solo drama can be preceded with the Konkere music as an introduction to the drama. Like in the case of the play, Molue.
What genre of music is Konkere?
Konkere was created to popularise a genre of music, which sought to project Nigeria’s culture through creativity in lyrical composition and innovative use of African percussion instruments.
Most theatre troupes, especially the new ones, are not finding it easy getting sponsors; would you suggest they go solo and at what level is the total theatre necessary?
You have to do something highly radical and move away from the norm to get attention.
Whether you are a solo performer or you perform in a group you need to be different; avail yourself the opportunities provided by the social media platforms to carry people along and convince them to buy into your brand.
Consistency with your art is also very important. Strategic positioning of your creative talent is equally key to attract patronage and sponsorship.
Your content must also appeal to a particular audience and knowing this, you channel your proposal to that direction for support.
With your experience on stage, TV soaps and the big screen; how do you see the Nigerian theatre and movie space?
The Nigerian theatre and movie sector is growing by day. People are becoming more and more convinced that art in Nigeria is marketable, profitable and valuable products in terms of national development.
Producers, directors, actors, set designers, cinematographers, stage managers, production managers, and so on are constantly acquiring more knowledge in their areas of specialisation to improve themselves.
And so, Nigeria is poised and ready to rule the world. But we need to be sensitive to the issue of professional practice.
The various guilds, associations and unions need to be properly organised, have proper structure in place to guide their practice and you will see Nigeria and Nigerians at the top.
For example, the minimum wage for practitioners should be clearly articulated and stipulated in a constitutional document, which will be binding on all practitioners and stakeholders.
Your Play, Molue, depicts the chaotic situation of most city life, but with the removal of molue buses from Lagos roads, how apt is it to still use this vehicular mode to showcase city madness?
Frankly, when I thought of reviving the idea of Molue, it didn’t really occur to me that the buses have been phased out in most part of Lagos.
However, I was told that in places such as, Agege and Iyana Ipaja and some others, the buses still ply their roads.
Even at that, the concept is to remind those who experienced it in the good old days when it was a popular means of transportation and to educate and inform the younger ones who were not born then to know some things about the phenomenon called Molue.
What mood and situation made you write the play, Molue?
I was inspired by the kinds of interesting drama and scenarios created in the bus by the commuters, conductors and drivers. I find this very interesting with lots of artistic ingredients to be presented to an audience.
It is indeed a reflection of Nigeria’s socio-political and cultural lives amplified within the space of Molue bus.
Let us look at the two books you recently authored. When are you presenting them to the public?
The two books, Molue And Other Plays, Travelogue: Encounter With The Global Theatre Community would be officially launched on Sunday, October 21.
The event holds at the Cinema Hall 1, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. Time is 2.00pm. And attendance would be strictly by invitation.
What is the future of theatre practice in the country?
The future of theatre practice in Nigeria is hopeful. More people are going into the practice.
This means that it is becoming more and more relevant in the society. Theatre practice is assuming different dimensions in terms of the use of modern technology.
The truth of the matter is with the restless nature of theatregoers nowadays; practitioners need to begin to write stories with few words and plenty of visual content to appeal the sensibilities of modern audiences who are predominantly the young generation.
This will help boost patronage and sponsorships of theatre productions.
Source: G Entertainment