Veteran theatre art practitioner and academic, Prince Kola Oyewo, speaks with BOLA BAMIGBOLA about his upbringing and career


How will you describe your experience combining academic work with practice as an artist?


I am a hybrid theatre practitioner. I started under (the late) Ola Rotimi at the University of Ife and when the opportunity came, I got admitted into the university and I read Theatre Art up to PhD level and I became an academic. It was easy for me to combine the two because it was still within the range of my capability. It is just a case of me practising the theatre and going to read it. I read what I had been practising and I practise what I read, which is better than going for Geography, History or any other science courses, which is why I call myself a hybrid theatre practitioner because of the combination of the two, which is both practical and academic.

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Will you say being an academic gives you an edge on the field and vice versa?

think the two help each other because it is what I had already known in the theatre that I came to read and get the theoretical knowledge of and this made it easier for me to combine the two. In class, I gave examples of what I have been doing since my youth. So, I find it easy to teach Theatre Art. My area of specialisation is Acting and Directing. I have taught the two very well and many of my students that you see now would say Kola Oyewo was my teacher and he taught me well.

Do you love one above the other, between lecturing and acting?

I find it difficult to choose over the other because when I am on stage, I feel on top of the world and when I am in class I wouldn’t know when I will spend more time than the allotted duration and the students wouldn’t complain that they have another class. So, I find the two very interesting and that is why I can’t say I love one more than the other

How did you start your career in the theatre?

After my Secondary/Modern School at Osogbo (Osun State), I saw a poster advertising that Papa Oyin Adejobi wanted to employ trainee actors and actresses and I applied. There was an audition, which I took part in and I was employed. Then, there were people to look up to, to emulate because I met the like of Baba Lere Paimo at the Oyin Adejobi Theatre Group at that time. Baba Lere Paimo was my role model because as soon as he left the theatre group, I started taking the roles he used to take while he was with us. There were lots of people available for me to emulate and Baba Oyin Adejobi himself was the playwright and director. In those days, you must be able to sing, beat the drums, dance and act because the audition combined all these. It was through that that they would be able to know the area where you would be useful to the theatre and then employ you.

That was how I started acting and after spending nine years with Oyin Adejobi’s Theatre Group, I moved to Ori Olokun Cultural Centre to join the University of Ife Theatre under Ola Rotimi in 1973. That was when it all began.

What kind of family did you come from and what experiences shaped your childhood?

My father and mother were farmers and I am the last born. I was born in 1946. I grew up in my town which is more or less a small place. When I was young, I had a lot of my mates to play with. We went to school together and some of us left Oba-Ile almost at the same time. I was brought up by a good family of disciplinarians. I am also from a royal family. When my uncle was the king, I lived with him in the palace alongside many others who grew up in the palace.

Why the choice of theatre art rather than something else?

After Secondary/Modern School, there was no opportunity for me to go further in my education and I did not want to stay with my parents so as not to be going to farm with them. That was why I started looking for a job to do and I got the theatre job and no one raised any objection. They (parents) only asked me, if I was going to be comfortable with the job and I said they should just pray for me to scale the first hurdle. They continued praying for me and they saw me prosper before they died.

Who or what influenced your decision to be an academic or a lecturer?

Well, I would say necessity compelled me to go into the academia because after Ola Rotimi left, Wole Soyinka took over and after Soyinka, they (the management) said they were going to lay off those of us that didn’t have a university degree; they said we did not fit into the kind of Theatre Art they wanted to be running. So, that was what compelled me to go to school and I was encouraged by a lot of people like my late wife, Modupe; my colleagues in the theatre then, such as Kemi Koyejo, who visited me recently and we were sharing stories about how I started, how she encouraged me, how she brought books for me to read so as to be able to pass GCE. Professor Femi Osofisan also encouraged me a lot because he was my supervisor at the University of Ibadan for my master’s degree and PhD. It was just the fear of losing my job that made me read very hard because I was sure that if I had a degree in Theatre Art, I would not be sacked from the University of Ife theatre.

Then, after first degree, my Head of Department, Dr Olu Akomolafe, encouraged me to go further by applying for my master’s degree and then PhD.

Enrolling as an undergraduate at an old age must have come with some challenges for you. How did you cope?

I was in the same level with my second son, Adeyemi. He too read Dramatic Art and we were in the same class. Some of the lecturers who taught me then fondly called me Uncle K, because they knew me all along before I enrolled to become a student. They wouldn’t simply call be Kola; they called be Uncle K.

 What are the landmark moments in your lecturing career?

One landmark moment was when my first set of students at the Ekiti State University graduated. I was the pioneering Head of Department in 2014 and when they graduated, I saw it as an achievement that those that I admitted were able to graduate before I left the university

The Nigerian film industry seems to be mostly populated by people who didn’t study Theatre Art in school, yet the universities year in, year out churn on Theatre Art graduates. Where do these graduates go?

The film industry is big enough to contain them. As they say, “The sky is large enough for all birds to fly.” There is a space for everybody. You just have to choose your own area of specialisation. In fact, many of them are self-employed, they will come together to form a company of their own and they prosper. There is a space for everybody except the lazy ones. If you are not lazy, there is a space for you.

People complain about what they describe as the falling quality of the works coming out of the creative industry nowadays. Is this something you are also concerned about?.

Well, like they say in Yoruba: “Omo ti aye bi ni aye n pon.” Today’s practitioners are only putting out what the audience is interested in. They are putting out the quality of production that the people are willing to buy. In the first place, they are not bold enough to do productions that will criticise the government because you know the kind of government that we have – they will nab them and accuse them of inciting the people against government. So, many practitioners put out productions that give them away as people who haven’t had the opportunity of university education. This is unlike what obtained back then when quality works, such as Saworode, Kosegbe and many other movies were put out.

Those who are saying they want real Yoruba movies, how many of them are willing to pay? Many of those who buy video productions are okada riders, taxi drivers, mechanics and so on, because they want to be amused.

You’ve not been a regular face in movies in recent times. Have you retired?

 When you get old, there is a limit to the roles you can play. It is only those who need you and somebody close to your age that will invite you and give you roles. And since l am not producing videos, I only act, it is only when I am invited that I go and that is why you don’t see me often in productions these days. You will see that a few ones in which you see me, the role that I played are distinguished from some of the role that some other people can play. It is not that I am no longer interested but age has started slowing me down, which limits the roles that I can play. When I am invited, I go there to do my best.

How do you feel seeing yourself in productions like Saworo Ide, Agogo Ewo and Kosegbe considered by many people as timeless movies?

When I have important visitors who admire me and are meeting me for the first time, I like to play such videos for them to see and it makes me feel good seeing myself in those roles. I thank God that I had the opportunity of playing those roles and technology has made it possible to see myself in those roles when I was younger. So, I feel so happy and fulfilled.

You said you lived in the palace when your uncle was a monarch; did that help your mastery of Yoruba language and your acting skills?

Yes, because I did listen to the chiefs and other people talking. And that experience is what I try to reenact whenever I play the role of a chief in any production. I try to remember how those chiefs were behaving in the palace back then. The opportunity of living in the palace for some time when I was young has come in handy for me as an actor.

Is any of your children into the theatre?

Yes, Adeyemi is into theatre practice. Currently, he is working with the Art Council of Ekiti State University.

What is your advice for young people with the ambition to go into theatre practice?

What I will say is that if they really have the interest, they should try acquire knowledge. It is not enough to have a talent because after talent you have to acquire knowledge. It is the combination of the two that will make you a good practitioner.