WOLE SOYINKA WAS LIKE A TERROR ON LOCATION — SAM LOCO EFE
Sixty seven-year old Sam Loco Efe, one of Nigeria's prominent actors, has worked on several drama projects in the country. He has featured in plays written by Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi's The Gods Are Not To Blame, Wale Ogunyemi's Mount Langbodo from D.O. Fagunwa's Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale translated by Soyinka as The Forest of a Thousand Demons. Loco Efe who currently acted in Living under the Law, soap for television which was premiered recently at Domino Dinners, Yaba, Lagos bares his mind on several issues relating to the world theatre. Excerpts:
CAN you give us an insight into some of your past productions?
The answer will amount to opening my lap top. To be very frank, that type of question is always very pregnant when you ask: How many productions have I done? Is it on stage, radio or television, the so-called home video? I have lost count but the most challenging is Mount Langbodo, Nigeria's contribution and drama entry to FESTAC 77 which came first in the world festival. There are also Kunrumi, The gods are not blame by Ola Rotimi. On television, we have Sam Loco, my own creation, War Against Indiscipline, which I think the Federal Government borrowed from me. And then many soaps such as, Winds Against my Soul (that was the first series on Nigeria television, mind you). The last one I did, I can't remember the title. I tend to remember titles when they are still owing me, but once you have paid me, I forget your job and your title, to be quiet frank. But I think I have flogged quite a lot in the industry.
What do you eat? What do you like to eat mostly? Gulder !
Semovita, Ogbono. No red meat, God forgive me. Snails, dry fish, especially lady fish, stock fish at times when it is soft, they call it bread. I am a sparse eater not because I am watching my weight or height ...I am still growing but people don't know. But things like gari, you call Eba here, Apu...I never touched Apu in more than forty something years, actually. Then, amala is my lightest swallow, black, that's all. I drink sparsely, not two much.
Why not? You are trying to advertise Gulder? They call me Mr. Gulder, anyway. You see, I believe in one philosophy in life, and that is, whatever gives you pleasure in life, do it. But the moment anything disturbs your modus operandi, drop it because you are now visiting the spirit in you. If I take ten bottles and I cannot drive to my house, I will stop the next day. But some idiots don't know, they keep falling into the gutter everyday. So, people say drinking is bad because of such porous brained people. But if you take forty bottles and you can still drive home and, still talk intelligently, for God's sake, if it gives you pleasure, go ahead. And that's the idea. Don't say because this man is taking four bottles, I have to take four too.
No, if he takes four and I think two will be okay for me, then, I stop there. Challenges are not supposed to be carried to the extreme. The way I look at it is that when you do that, you are commercializing your habit. Which is very wrong? That's a way of bastardization too. When your kids say, “Daddy, you are drunk”, you must go and see God that same day. You either stop or you commit self murder which they call suicide here. Nothing is bad. It's not what goeth into the mouth but what cometh out.
You participated in the production of Kurunmi and The gods are not to blame. Did you have any relationship with Ola Rotimi when he was alive?
Why not? I directed most of his plays when he was at Ife. At that time, I was running ONTG, Ovenranmen National Theatre Group in Benin. We had met several times too, yes, why not? Don't forget I was a critique in the newspaper too. I was also close to the late Wale Ogunyemi, met Wole Soyinka one or two times, then my mentor in the university, the late Professor Yinka Adedeji, my oga patapata. I have worked with virtually every known actor or director in this country.
Who was Ola Rotimi?
Ola Rotimi was an enigma. He was a totalitarian; there are certain things people don't understand. Acquiring distinction in academia is quite different from making it on the field. I think Ola Rotimi was amongst the first set of people who wrote from the bottom of his heart and who wrote for the grassroots. Wole Soyinka's plays are mostly very academic.
Even master's students find it difficult to decipher some of his plays. But Rotimi wrote for the grassroots. Ola was a nice guy, forget his height. He was a man after my heart, very much after my heart. I loved him for all he did. And he succeeded in churning out several world leaders in acting. He was almost like Clemens Westerhorf (former Nigerian national team coach) who would bring someone from Kaduna Rovers and start polishing the person until the person becomes number two for Green Eagles. That was Ola Rotimi for you, unlike most others.
In those days, you used to go to Ife varsity. You saw the theatre. I too was there and I saw Ola Rotimi at close quarters at the Oduduwa Hall. What was the theatre like in those days? Can you recall?
The theatre then was like what it can never be now. That was the citadel of discipline like Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). Ife was where everything was knocked into you. For example, there were things some academic calendars would knock into your head within one session.
When we had Langbodo, we had only three stages in the country which could carry Langbodo: The mainbowl of the National Theatre, Unilag and Oduduwa Hall at Ife. The crowd at Ife is even enough to overwhelm so many university theatres that we have these days. But, Ife was a child to University of Ibadan. Ife was a very sound and intelligent son of University of Ibadan. We had exchanges with schools overseas. We used to send lecturers to them. Ife had all it took to nurture people into stardom. I don't know how it is now. But I went to see Jimi Solanke some years back, I got to the theatre, it was losing steam slightly, probably because the in-take is being bastardized too by the central recruiting body. Now, a monkey can just say, I want to do theatre arts.
All over the world, live theatre is going into extinction. The tube has taken over but we are still teaching live theatre in theatre schools which is bad. Why not work with practitioners on the field and add it to your curriculum? May be once in a month, people from outside come, teach camera handling, script writing, etc, for the screen. For example, on stage, it is almost rudeness to back your audience. But, on television, you can back your camera because the camera is the one doing the movement, not you. So, these things have to be included in their curriculum.
For example again, whenever I audition boys and girls from the universities and look at their certificates, I see Second Class (Upper), Theatre Arts. I give them script, trouble starts. So, I begin to get ashamed. It's not their fault. They only focus on the academic pursuit as against the practical approach to things. That's why most of our stars are those who attended school on the field. They are becoming stars. Here now, any monkey can become a star on Nigerian television. Chimpanzees will even do better. I think something has to be done.
What can we do to stop these monkeys from becoming stars?
I told you, mention one university in this country that has a studio with camera, editing suites? The whiteman who introduced the thing to us as a discipline follows the trend of things but here, we are so static. Some graduates have never seen a camera.
In management, they are teaching theatre management, so, when they come out, they can't fit because they have never done it. They should make the curriculum one-third pure academic work and two-thirds field work....
There are some problems I noticed in Nollywood. For example, a producer is informed that there is a good script he can work on, but he says no, I have a story in my head. But in the university system, people go through various scripts, digest and pick the best for production. What are your comments?
It's like a coin. It has two sides. In the university, there is that license, people have time to flog the script inside out, upside down. But the people outside are interested in cash. What they do, you tell a story, this man writes. They have no time to waste and they are churning out films.
Those who say they have story in their heads, it is either they are just being greedy or they are following the system laid down by some half-baked officers in that cartel. The ones outside are now commercially oriented. They have no time, they avoid people who are objective critics because they are afraid of subjectivity which is common amongst some people.
Have you worked on any of Wole Soyinka's production?
Very many. Is it Kongi's Harvest? It was compulsory when we were at the University of Ibadan, when I used to be in the University of Ibadan MASKS. Later, I headed the university's performing company. We worked on plays by Soyinka, Rotimi.
When you were working on Langbodo, taken from Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole which Soyinka called The Forest of A Thousand Demons, what was the experience like?
The original writer was D. O. Fagunwa. Wale Ogunyemi wrote the other version and called it Langbodo. So, when there was problem about the interpretation, we were staying at Hotel Bobby. We had many consultants; even the name was problematic because of the tonal effects in Yoruba language. So, when Soyinka came, probably, because of his carriage, I didn't like to be too close. The impression people had about him was that he was too wicked, so everyone kept a distance.
I interviewed Laide Adewale some months ago and he also worked on productions with both Soyinka and Ola Rotimi. He said in those days, Ola Rotimi related to students academically but Soyinka sometimes sat, ate and drank with the students?
Yes, Soyinka was a rascal. Don't forget his antecedents. He was in U. I when there was no cultism, he and Aig-Imokhuede and the rest would tie their bands. They behaved as stubborn students but were all intelligent not unruly. He was rascally.
I think Soyinka expected everybody to be as intelligent as he is. So, most people, instead of exposing their inbuilt capacity, when they see Soyinka, their spirit would dampen and they would continue to make mistake in their scripts. But if it's Ola Rotimi, people would just go straight, and talk freely with him.
Soyinka was such an enigma that his presence was like that of Napoleon I in the war front. Whenever Napoleon appeared leading French troops, according to history, the opposing army would just break up, and then disappear. Soyinka was that type of teacher. I don't think he had the aura for making people to come close to him. He had a few people around him. Jimi Solanke was one of them, Jimi Johnson…