In this Interview with Jos Repertory Theatre (JRT), young director, make-up artist, actress, fashion designer, Osasogie Guobadia, speaks of how her multi-tasking skills in the world of theatre have continued to pay the bills. Guobadia, now one of the appointed five directors for the Jos Festival of Theatre (JFT), chats with Books & Art, about overcoming her fears of choreographing plays after a surprise compliment from a noble laureate.
You are an actress, filmmaker, theatre director, make-up artiste, a budding documentarist, and about to launch a clothing line too. Where does the energy to keep up with all these works come from?
It has been God’s help so far. He has been my source of inspiration. Also, growing up, I had everything handed over to me, I never lacked anything. Before my dad died, he had encouraged us to learn a skill or two because we might not know where that may take us. I am really thankful for that advice because that is what has led me to this point. I hate to lack, and I hate to depend on people. I want to be useful. I hate it when someone walks up to me for help and I can’t offer it. I would like to help if not 100 per cent, at least 40 per cent. The energy, I believe, comes from God, my dad’s advice and my mom’s encouragement. These have made me good at multi-tasking.
Aren’t you afraid that getting involved in many things would make you a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-none? How are you able to manage your different talents to an extent that they have coalesced into a unifying purpose?
I just don’t dovetail into anything. I dovetail into things that are within the field of entertainment. To illustrate, when I started acting, I needed to know the rudiments of acting. I met a make-up artiste at this period. I felt it was something I could do, because I was good with colours, and I also had twitchy fingers that like to be kept busy, so I learnt it. I am not done learning about acting but as with all other skills I have acquired, I try to get up to a point where I can beat my chest and say, “I am good at this,” then add something else to it. I say so because in the society we live in today, with what I do (acting), things don’t happen at the same time. So, when it calls for acting, I do so. If it is make-up, I do so and do it well. Likewise, with filmmaking, since I studied filmmaking at the Jos Film Institute. At school, we were taught various aspects of filmmaking, before we specialised in our final year (400 level) in either cinematography, or make-up, writing, film management, photography, editing, etc. At that last year, your project determines your strength, or specialisation. That has been an added advantage to me. At any point in time, I find myself doing either one or the other. I try as much as possible to learn skills to the point that I am ‘six out of ten’ good in that skill. However, it is also crucial to note again that all these skills revolve around the entertainment sector.
Which takes precedence for you? Is it acting or filmmaking or costuming?
The make-up, actually, which is something I just love doing! I don’t care how much I put into it. Oftentimes, I organise projects with my personal funds, which I execute, where I do the make-up. It gives me this certain satisfaction that I am no longer where I was three years ago. I have organised a project where I did the make-up and a member of the audience said, “You have improved, this is far better than what I saw last year.” I felt good, because that means I haven’t been wasting my time.
So, tell us about the make-up on this last play, Radio Golf, because that was the best make-up and costuming throughout the festival for me. Transporting audience’s imagination to that time and mood of the period?
I handled make-up for all six plays at the festival; I had to work directly with each of the plays’ directors. I do a make-up breakdown or script breakdown for the kind of make-up required and ask the director’s thoughts on it. Some of them said “yes,” pointed out what they liked, others suggested some other or additional things. For Radio Golf, I gave the director, a make-up breakdown, after which he asked if we could get fake hair. He said he wanted all the cast to have fake hair and must have an old school feel to it. After I had rejected the use of wigs which he suggested, as too obvious and a give-away, I came up with the style you saw and I liked the result.
So, the tufts of hair on the head of one of the main actors of the cast and beards were fixed?
Not really, I had to glue it from the scalp of his hair, and also give him a believable hair parting. For the other main character, with tuft-like hair I gave him a punk, which funnily, he says he will maintain since the style looks good on him. I like to push myself a little bit so I can confidently say I have moved past the point where I was a while back. I hope that at the next festival, the make-up will be better than what I did this year.
Your boss; the JRT and JFT artistic director has practically handed over the festival activities and arrangement to five of you. How do feel about that? Do you feel that with increased capability or knowledge comes greater responsibility?
I feel honoured. That’s the truth. For someone of his calibre to see things from that point of view, of passing on responsibility to us, it means he has seen something in us, and knows that we can do better. It means we still have the energy to do better and be much more creative. It takes a lot of confidence for someone to pass on responsibility to another. He must have seen one or two things that made him do so. I feel honoured and look forward to those responsibilities.
It is usual to see performers who started from theatre, abandon it for films and Nollywood. Given your certificate in filmmaking and documentary, not to mention winning the Best Actress award at the Zuma Film Festival last year, do you have plans to cross over to films?
Theatre has given me a platform that film hasn’t offered me. A platform in the sense that when I go to shoot movies, it is easier to imbibe my lines, while waiting for the other actors/actresses to catch-up. They always ask me, “How do you take-in your lines so quickly?” I have a nickname onset, ‘One Take Actor’, because my scenes are shot once, but the people I work with have to go through several scene cuts.
If I had to choose, I would take theatre. Why? That’s because theatre is real; it is raw, it shows your strength. Film doesn’t have that; it has several cuts and edits to make it better; but with theatre, what you see is what you get.
However, film does give actors opportunity for more jobs, paid jobs, or dependability, if you will, than theatre, right?
Yes, but the truth? With the jobs I have done so far, I was able to pay my school fees via theatre. It is not that my dad couldn’t afford it, rather I was making good money and I thought why not? I mean I had to convince my father that the career I had chosen could pay my bills. It might not be as rosy as it sounds now, but it is all about mastering your strength. During my school days at National Film Institute, Jos, the fees were N100, 000 per semester. I paid my first tuition, so when my dad gave me my school fees, I told him I had paid. He was shocked. I was able to pay my fees following a production I did at the Lagos Black Heritage Festival in 2010, The Tragedy of King Christoph. I also did some choreography jobs at the time to pay the bill. My father said, “so acting can actually pay,” and I replied, “to some extent”. From my second year till graduation, theatre paid for everything including the handouts, personal project etc.
In other words, the different roles you play in the theatre world, enabled you pay for your education?
You choreographed the dance steps for the musical at this year’s festival, Brother Jonah’s Vocation? Tell us your experience directing a musical, which happens to be the director’s first musical production?
Yes. It wasn’t really different from what I do as dance instructor and choreographer. All I had to do is to marry both, make them seem like an opera, if I can use that word; like a dance drama. I had a problem with the performers because most of them do not dance. They went, “Oh no no! Don’t call it dance. We can’t dance.” So, I chose the word, movement. I said to them, “I am not choreographing, I am just showing you your movements.” This is so they could open up their minds to assimilate what I had to offer. They felt more at ease with my approach as their movement coordinator.
Personally, choreographing Brother Jonah’s Vocation was easy, yet different. It is my second time choreographing a play after The Tragedy of King Christoph. Most of the dances in the latter were largely ballroom dances. I worked with 29 casts for that production, which was huge. Brother Jonah’s Vocation was a walk-through, which I did in a day.
Didn’t you have to choreograph the 13 songs in the musical?
Yes. At every point in time I had to do that. At first, I didn’t think I could do it. I went to the director and told him I couldn’t do it.
Why did you think you couldn’t do it?
I was overwhelmed. I thought “just me? I can’t do this. There are others who are better than I am at this.” He insisted, saying, “I have seen what you can do. I want you to do it.” Somehow, I did it, and it came out well. At the stage production of The Tragedy of King Christophe, professor Wole Soyinka said whoever choreographed The Tragedy of King Christophe, did a good job.
That’s quite a compliment.
Yes. My head literally blew up. I mean coming from a playwright as Soyinka, for him to affirm it, he must have seen a thing or two to say, he liked the movements used in that production. My boss looked at me and said, “I knew you could do it. Never look down on yourself.” Till today, I firmly believe anyone can learn anything. Never look down on yourself, and always aspire and think you can do better.
If you had to return to the same musical, would you do things differently?
Oh yes! I would so do a lot of things differently. I would drill all the actors to do the dances not just for the fun of it, but because the dances (movements) are the soul of the play.
Let’s talk documentaries. Is that something you hope to stretch further into?
I have something cooking already. I hope before the end of the year, I will produce one.
Can you tell us what it’s about?
That’s like letting the cat out of the bag. I will say though it is something I am going into.
I feel documentaries are oftentimes more of personal projects for their makers. Do you have a focus for the kind of documentaries you want to do? Is there a particular focus for your documentaries?
There is a focus for me. I intend looking into humanitarian services. I want to focus on those people who lend their services, actual services to humanity, like rectors. We see rectors, but don’t really take time to think about the value they add to human lives. I want people to think about what sacrifices they make, where they source materials to pass on to those in need or facing challenges. That is an organisation that needs support, relief materials to move on to other societies that are in need. I will look at NGOs, how do they get their materials, and source funding for aid and so on.
Beyond theatre, what are your other interests?
I have never really thought about it. Beyond theatre, hmmm … I will say raising my own family. I am looking forward to raising my own family, so when I am at work, I know that whatever benefit of profit I make, goes to my children. It wouldn’t just be about my mom, my siblings or me. It would be for me, my children, for my own home.
When people see me globetrotting, they often ask, “will you ever settle down?”, “How do you handle your relationships?” I have had challenges, true. That hasn’t stopped me. Any man who sees and likes that in me, will stay. If he doesn’t, so be it.
How fulfilling has that personal aspect of your life been so far?
It has been fulfilling, because I haven’t let setbacks weigh me down. If I had, I wouldn’t get to this point and I would not move forward. When I encounter such setbacks, it simply means I have to work harder. I have to work harder to employ people who will do the job for me. That way, I don’t necessarily have to be in the field. I can allocate responsibilities, such that whoever that lucky man is, will always stand by me, and say, “Let’s do this together.”