Arya on the soapbox during rehearsals
Nigeria does have talent and when you take that and burnish it with a three-month intensive training, the result is the excited audience at the grounds of the CMD to witness the graduating class perform on August 25
A few days before the opening night, veteran actor Nobert Young said he had picked the play, The Man Who Never Died by Barrie Stavis because of “the constant poor state of the Nigerian worker”. The play was to be performed by the second graduating class of the Theatre Academy of the Centre for Media Development (CMD), who have had the rare opportunity of learning from Young and his assistant, Daddy Ejidoh. Added to that was the reason of having a large class hence, the need to do a play that would involve everybody.
Young, who had performed in the play back at university, was also interested in staying back to watch it performed by others. The smiles he exuded that evening must count for something.
The night was magical not just for the graduating students, but also for the audience, including clerics from the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, which founded the school, as well as theatre practitioners. Those on the stage that night who took the magic and ran away with it included: Emmanuel Anya (Joe Hill); Afor Ifeoma (Copper King Moody; Obijuru Jennifer (Alexander Marshall); Jones Jonathan (Ed Rowan) and Stanley Onwuemeka (Attorney General Stone).
That is not to say the other cast members, who add up to over 40, did not do well but the listed stood out considering that no one among them had ever done serious acting before. Besides, it took them only three months to master the lines in addition to other studies in the course content at the fully integrated media centre. Anya for instance, was all over the place; he moved like a professional, singing and saying the lines not like one who had crammed them in a hurry but as a true actor who had internalised them, made them his own.
He delivered and moved to near perfection. His expression were sad when they needed to be and happy when that was called for.
He held the play together and the others earlier listed would have done the same too had they been picked to play Joe Hill who had speaking lines in almost every scene in the production that lasted close to two hours. Essentially, the play is inspired by the true life story of the Swedish-American labour activist, songwriter and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Joe Hill, who confronted power by organising a trade union and paid with his life in 1915. Anya, with help from the other graduating students, brings Hill back to life through his songs and moving speeches.
The audience could not help but get lost in the action some of them even shedding tears. It is no surprise then that Ambrose Igboke, who was MC for the night and administrative manager for the centre revealed at the beginning of the programme that some members of the first graduating class had already done jobs including appearing on the television soap opera, Tinsel as well as television adverts. They only just obtained their certificate three months ago on April 21.
Before the play started, some of the graduating students performed poems and sections of great works to the admiration of the audience. Clearly, all that these young people need to do is remain consistent and their newly acquired skills will never die. Perhaps, the only fault that could be found with the production was the not very smooth movement from one scene to the next, but only those with a keen eye for theatre would have noticed.
There was also one trying moment when an overzealous cameraman, perhaps thinking he was filming a wedding, jumped onto the stage to record while action was going on. Then, there was the crude lighting which is expected to get better as the centre continues to grow. Gloria Young (the director’s wife, a thespian in her own right) and Wole Oguntokun of Renegade Theatre, were among the practitioners in the audience. The clerics included: Very Revd. Msgr. Bernard Okodua and Revd. Father Mike Umoh, who is the director of the centre.