Dr.Kola Oyewole is a professional actor whose career has spanned over four decades. In fact, his involvement in acting dates back to his early years in secondary school when he joined the Oba Drama Society in 1961. From there, he moved on to the Oyin Odejobi Theatre Group (1964-1973). And with a burning desire to reach the apex of his career, he proceeded to the Ori Olokun Cultural Theatre, based at the Institute of Cultural Studies of the Obafemi Awolowo University. In this interview with GBENGA OLUMIDE, he says he feels fulfilled because he is making a headway in the career he has chosen.
,b>The name Kola Oyewo seems to have been ringing a bell from time immemo rial, how long have you actually been in the theatre industry?
I started with Oyin Adejobi Theatre in 1964 as a full time actor in January 1964 but before then, I had been involved in theatre practice. There is this uncle of mine, Kunle Olaniyan when we were in Secondary Modern School, during the long vacation, he would just bring boys and girls together and they called us Oba Dramatic Society. At that time, he was a teacher and he would just teach us some plays that he had come across. So during the holidays, he would bring the adaptation of such plays. We would rehearse it and go and perform in the suburbs, not in secondary schools because we were not bold enough to come to urban areas. We went to the rural areas around Oba. We went to Ekuinde Iye and the small towns around Ilesa, Ekosin, Igbaye, Agbeye and so on during long vacations. So, that gave me the first taste of theatre practice. After my Secondary Modern School in 1963, I just saw that Oyin Adejobi Theatre was going to take off as a full time professional theatre. It was called Orokiroya Theatre before then but in January 1964, Oyin Adejobi renamed it Adejobi Theatre and employed boys and girls as full-time and I went for the auditioning and was employed. That was how I started.
You only partake in good, seasoned films, yet some wishy-washy ones are being churned out daily. What are professionals like you doing to change the trend?
When you start, you cannot be on top right from the beginning. It’s like any other profession you start because to turn out a very good production of high standard, you need a lot of money; you need expertise; you need so many things that you may not be able to afford in the beginning but if you persist, the standard will rise, it will improve too. That is why you see some substandard productions in the market. Like they say, ‘Rome was not built in a day;’ you have to start from somewhere. In the past, training facilities were not available; a theatre practitioner in Nigeria used to be a self-made person. During the time of Ogunde and the rest of them, there were no universities offering Theatre Arts courses. It was only Kola Ogunmola who had a taste of University experience, because when they wanted to start the School of Drama at Ibadan, it was Kola Ogunmola’s group that was used as a kind of experiment. They were there for one session as artistes in residence; Geoffrey Aswalde was the director then and that was how they started the University of Ibadan Theatre Arts Department. Kola Ogunmola’s group was used as an experiment to take off but there were so many other theatre practitioners in those days that had the opportunity. So, that was why I said, like Ogunde used to say, that the Yoruba travelling theatre practitioner is a self-made man. He had no opportunity, unlike in other countries like India, Japan, who, right from the 17th century, had facilities for training actors, dancers and so on but that opportunity was not available in Nigeria. So, the self-made practitioner that the theatre practitioner is, was the norm at that time unlike nowadays when so many universities are offering courses in Theatre Arts.
How fulfilled are you?
I feel fulfilled because this is a profession that I started at a tender age; I was 18 years old when I joined the Oyin Adejobi Theatre and I had just Secondary Modern School but like I told you, I have a Ph.D. I feel fulfilled; I am a Senior Lecturer now in the Theatre Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University and if you want to count actors in Nigeria today, I think I will be mentioned, that is why I feel fulfilled that the career I have chosen, I’m making a headway in it.
You seem to be a very busy man, considering the fact that you combine lecturing with acting. How do you relax?
You see, our job has one thing, what I would call the opportunity for us to relax even while working. Even when I lecture, there are times for us to crack jokes especially when we are at rehearsals, we break to crack jokes. For me, that’s relaxation. On locations when it is not your turn to be before the camera, we sit together and talk and relax. We talk, we discuss issues that have to do with the arts, issues that have to do with politics and so on; that’s the only way to relax while on location. The only time I have to relax fully is the Christmas period. I don’t go on location. I love to be at Oba-Ile amongst my people. My sons would bring their wives and children, so I play around, play with my grandchildren and my daughters-in-law, my cousins, my friends and we enjoy together. Christmas period is the only time that I have, that I don’t think about any other thing. I don’t take any appointments at that time for any reason.
You started when actors got next-to-nothing in terms of monetary. How did you cope then?
Well, it was rather rough because I remember that when I started in 1964 with Oyin Adejobi Theatre, my salary was three pounds per month and it was regular but because of the interest that I had in it, I continued and after spending nine years with Oyin Adejobi Theatre, I found that I needed to do something about my life. I had two options: either to go and look for a job in another theatre group where I would have enough to feed myself and family or establish a theatre group of my own. But the second option was rather difficult because at that time, if you wanted to establish a theatre group of your own, you would become a polygamist. You would have to marry many wives because that is the only way to retain your female actors and I was not prepared to become a polygamist. So, I was at a dilemma until one day the University of Ife Theatre Group came to perform at Ede town hall and I went there from Osogbo to watch them and I saw their style of performance, Oh! My God, I was impressed. That was the first time I saw a play performed in a round hall. Before, we were using the proscenium but that was the first time I saw a play performed in the round and it was Kurunmi by Ola Rotimi, directed by Rotimi himself and then one of them, Uncle Gboyega Ajayi, Oyin Adejobi’s nephew was among the University of Ife Theatre. He had been with his uncle’s theatre but he left to work with Rotimi at Ife. I called him and I asked ‘what if I want to become a member of your group?’ He told me that the next auditioning would be in June, that was around March, so it was in June, 1973, that I came to Ife at the Ori Olokun Cultural Centre for auditioning and I was employed. And you know, salary became regular and was even better than what it was at Osogbo.
Any regret about your life and career?
There is none. There is no regret at all though, I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school at an early age despite that, I had the opportunity later in my life and I now, I have a Ph.D; so, there is no regret. I have a wife and children that are doing well. I also have grand children. I have a place to go to in my place at Oba; there is no regret at all. There is one thing that God gave me that I am very happy about and that is good health. I have never slept in a hospital; I am going to be 63 on March 26, and I have never slept in a hospital, God keeps giving me good health.
What’s the magic?
I don’t know, I do not just know. It’s God-given; it’s God’s grace. I used to smoke, I used to drink, I stopped drinking only a few years ago and I used to smoke when I was young but I have just been lucky. I have no peculiar ailment aside asthma and I know how to keep away from dust, and the kitchen when anything is being fried. Since 2003, I have never had attacks, I have thrown away my inhaler since 2003, so, I have good health.
,/b>Is any of your children toeing your line?
Yes, Adeyemi read Theatre Arts; he’s in Lagos. He’s working with Group Africa an Advertising Company. We graduated together at Ife here in the Dramatic Arts Department and the rest are not into it; one is a banker but at the same time, he is doing some part- time radio coverage and so on. The other one is in London but he told me that he’s now into photography and film, that when he comes back, he will be into full-time film making. So, it’s in the blood and I’m happy about that too.
It is believed that every African man is polygamous in nature, even if he’s married to one wife, is it true of you?
You see, even if you are not a public figure like myself, women will like to surround you, but it is left to the man to take his decisions on what he really wants to be in life. As an artiste, there are so many women who show interest. They will say ‘we are your fans, we love you, and so on and so forth.But I always make sure that it does not exceed the platonic love, nothing serious, no deep friendship because I want to maintain a good home. If you want to maintain a good home, you have to be very careful about your response to women overtures, unless you want to become irresponsible, and besides I’m a Catholic and I practise my Catholicism. I’m married to one wife even when I was younger and I want to retain that. If I married a woman now, what do you think I can do? If I give birth to a child now, at my age, how old will the child be when I die? So, I always think of my future and that of my family in doing my things. That is why I did not establish my own theatre in the first place because I dread polygamy. In fact, when you see so many of the plays that we do about having so many wives, it’s from the experience of the author, it’s not just from the void and I’ve learnt a lot from that and I have seen that there is no point having so many women as concubines, girlfriends, or even as wives. There is no religion that does not support one man, one wife, even our traditional African Religion. There is an Odu Ifa that says “Okan soso ropoto lobirin dun mo lowo oko, to ba di meji, owo ade, to ba di meta, a de ta ntule….” So, our own tradition, African Traditional Religion supports one man, one wife because that is the most peaceful thing to do.
What would you say has been your most difficult experience in the film industry?
Well, I tried to produce a film of my own in 2000 because a friend of mine came from the U.S. and made funds available. He even brought the story and said I should do the project. I tried it and saw that if you are not doing it full time, there is no way you can make your money back. That was why I shelved the idea; I’ve never tried again. I tried it and I saw that it takes time, it takes a lot of money and if you don’t do it full time, there is no way you can have your money back.
People describe you as versatile, how do you shift so naturally into any character you are asked to portray?
You see, for any profession, the talent matters, and then talent alone is not enough, you have to undergo some training, either formal or informal. I had the opportunity when I was young to have informal training and then when I grew up, I had the opportunity of formal training. If I read Theatre Arts up to Ph.D level, I think I should be versatile in an area of my interest and my area of interest is Acting and Directing. Those are the two; I’ve never tried my hands on play writing or in technical theatre. Acting and Directing are my areas of specialisation and I concentrate on that too. That brings about my versatility too, I had formal training, informal training and on- the-job training and if you do a thing for so long and you don’t get a head way, people don’t say you know how to do it; it means you have dabbled into it; that it’s not your line, you had better changed into some other things; that is my own belief. The talent is there and I had the opportunity of developing that talent, first with the Yoruba popular Travelling Theatre, then with the University Theatre within an academic environment and then I had the opportunity of formal training, first, a certificate in Dramatic Art, another Certificate in Yoruba Oral Literature, then B.A. Dramatic Arts, M.A. Theatre Arts and Ph.D Theatre Arts. After all these, if I appear on stage or in a film or I direct a play and they say it’s not good, it means I have missed my calling.
Ever since you started, which has been your most challenging character and which one is the best, to you?
When I came to the University of Ife Theatre in 1973, you know with Oyin Adejobi Theatre, the medium of communication was the Yoruba Language, but when I came to the University of Ife Theatre, I was given the role of Odewale in the Gods Are Not To Blame. You know all the experiences of acting are there but the direction, the English Language; how to pronounce some English words correctly and so on. This was a very big challenge to me but I took it up and there has been no other person that has played the role of Odewale longer than I have done. I started playing the role in 1974 up to year 2000 when Ola Rotimi died and it was a great challenge at the beginning but because of the determination to overcome such impediments, I was able to get over it.
We would like to know about your background
Well, like I said the other time, I’m from Oba-Ile in Olorunda Local Government, my town is just about 10 kilometres from Osogbo. I attended St. Joseph Catholic School at Oba, in Osun State and I read up to Primary 5 at St. Joseph in Oba, before I moved down to Osogbo – St. Benedict Catholic Primary School, then from there to St. James’ Secondary Modern School and at Ife, I first had the opportunity of a certificate course in 1977/78 and certificate in Dramatic Arts, later in 1990. I also did certificate in Yoruba Oral Literature and then I went to University of Ibadan for my Masters which I completed in 1998 and then my Ph.D which I defended in March 2005.