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On Sunday, February 13, it was time for the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) to hold a stampede in honour of one of Nigeria’s pioneering actresses, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett at a celebration of her 70th birthday. Held in collaboration with the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), the event, an Arthouse Forum, was tagged ‘State of the Stage: Conversation With and Around Taiwo Ajai-Lycett.’ One actress at the event, who is notable for her low-profile lifestyle, unlike many of her counterparts, is Tina Mba. At the stampede held at Tribeca on Victoria Island, she took time out to relive her journey into the arts. She also gave the movie industry the knocks it deserved. Having been on stage and screen for over two decades, the Enugu State born actress said her acting career had an humble beginning. “I saw people doing it and I felt that I could too. They couldn’t even speak proper English. Eventually, I started going to auditions until I met Bassey Effiong,” she said. “He took one look at me and saw it (talent) immediately in me. He gave me a role to perform. I was a model at the time,” she continued. When her career kicked off, as she said, it was a journey of uncertainties. “Strange things happen in life, I didn’t even know where I was going. Apparently, I started seeing myself on television. I had been seeing the likes of Taiwo Ajai-Lycett on TV. Also, there was Olu Jacobs, Dejumo Lewis as well as Francesca Emanuel,” said the actress. Her interest in the arts, as the screen diva puts it, was locked somewhere in her subconscious. However, her first action in the creative world was in the area of production. “The first thing I did in the theatre world was to produce a play. Some of the cast in the drama are still in the arts; some are not. I didn’t make money from that production but the impact it had on the children and the general audience was something I will never forget,” the actress said. Today, she is more accustomed to the stage. “This is because I admire the energy, strength and discipline that go with the stage. Stage is where you feel you are at home. You didn’t want to be the one who didn’t do it well thus bringing a lot of healthy competition among us. Theatre wasn’t democratic then, your elder was your elder and your senior was your senior,” she said. The major issue the Extended Family star has with the movie world today is that of indiscipline. Placed against the movies, Mba said most well trained theatre artistes cannot cope with Nollywood because most of the time, they are unruly and have no artistic history. “In theatre, you have to earn it before you get to the next stage with a lot of hard work. Now having earned all of that, you don’t want to mess it up. This is why I stay away from all the razzmatazz. I guess it is the indiscipline that put me off in the first place and this thing about people thinking that they are the supposed stars. I don’t know where that is coming from. I look at some of our actors and I don’t see the act in them.” With the growth in the Nigerian film industry known as Nollywood, there is the influx of young chaps who seek fame above passion. As the industry progresses, in the words of the actress, there comes the need to draw the line between just doing a job and passion. “Most of the young people who go into acting today just do it for the fame. They believe that with the fame comes money. Passion has no place in their hearts and that is why the industry will always have difficulty growing,” she said. The lack of professionalism in the industry is one issue that she said needs to be addressed with haste. Today, people argue that Nollywood is more commercially successful than it is professionally. In the views of the actress, the options are either to make all the money and not have a career or do something where coming generations can make a thesis on you. That, she says, is the reason she left the screens for the stage. Nevertheless, she has appeared in a few movies mostly of the Yoruba genre. On her love for the theater, she said she enjoys doing the academic thing. “I find the stage more academic. It is true that Nollywood gives you fame and glamour and money, but I’m not worried because I do know that before Nollywood came, the stage had been there and actors were performing and earning.” The actress argues that it is time for the Nigerian movie industry to put its acts together and better its game. She drives home the call using the recently concluded iRep festival as a case in point. More festivals of that nature, she argues, can go a long way at showing the setbacks in the industry while proffering adequate solutions. A household name in entertainment industry, both in Nigeria and Africa, Mba’s performances over the years have earned her the respectable and envied position she now enjoys. The mother of two children has produced two major plays namely, Williams Shakespeare’s As You Like It in 1989 and The Return of Golden Sword in 2008. Some of her works on television include Everyday People, Magnate, Living Next to You, Behind the Siege, Tides to Fate, Shadows as well as Foot Prints, On stage, the actress has also made herself known with such performances as Visit of Bishop Alaba, Women of Owu, Lion and the Jewel, Aetu, Midnight Hotel, One Legend Many Sessions and The Return of the Golden Sword. She has also featured in some radio productions including Inspector Joe, Sisi Clara and Story Story, a BBC World Service Trust production
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