For the love of children, Cinderella comes on stage
Of the three daughters of the late Mrs. Elsie Nelly Michael Ibru, Ms Obukome Ibru, is one you hardly get talking. But at the weekend, the ever-smiling lady opened up on a project so dear to her heart: Children. On May 27, her organisation will be staging an adaptation of Cinderella to celebrate the Children’s Day. She spoke to GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, DANIEL ANAZIA and MARGARET MWANTOK
Real gratitude sounds close to pledge. And that’s what Obukome Ibru is doing to the stage and screen. She has hovered around the two jealous sisters — stage and screen— that you wonder how she has creatively prevented a battle of the mind.
“I’m representing a non governmental organisation, (NGO), Heaven Aid Foundation. I’m kind of the face of the organisation,” she smiles. “The concept of the foundation is to develop young children in the arts.”
Obukome adds, “ultimately, the foundation will have an academy for children between three and 17 years, to train them in dancing, singing, playing musical instruments; whatever they love to do, as long as it is in the arts.”
According to the lady, “the academy will offer free training to select kids based on their talents. That is the ultimate for the foundation.”
Though the foundation has been in existence for five years, it has only started doing projects that will attract both media and corporate attention. These projects are aimed at raising both awareness and funds to build the academy.
“We can’t just sit and wait for the money to come to us, so, we have decided to put up shows that will raise awareness, entertain kids, and at the same time, train them,” Obukome says. “Our latest project is Cinderella.”
It is a musical play, with members of cast being children, who are under the age of 18.
“It is a stage adaptation of the original fairy tale, Cinderella. We decided to do a stage production, which is a musical style production, where the children sing and dance based on the story. We have adapted it to make it a little more interesting and local,” she reveals.
According to the project director of Heaven Aid Foundation, “the audience will identify with the story more as we have localised it to a Nigerian style. A Nigerian wrote all the songs and another young Nigerian did the play adaptation; both are under the age of 25 (Babs and Wale).
“Babs is a co-writer and director. Juliet Ododo produces it. The play will be staged on Children’s Day, May 27, at the National Theatre. We did the first show called, Little Treasures, last year, on Children’s Day too. The turnout was massive; it was not what we anticipated, because we were expecting 500 children, but got 1200.”
What kind of kids did they invite for the project? Was it just the elite kids?
Obukome draws a long laugh and says, “no. We went to about 13 public schools and 12 private schools. We had children from all areas, we don’t discriminate. We had more children from the Mainland — Yaba, Surulere, Ikeja and so on. The children were very cooperative, we rehearse somewhere in Surulere, because it is central. We give the kids a rehearsal fee of N500 per day. Most of the kids that come have supportive parents that bring them to rehearsals and wait to take them home, especially the younger ones.”
You wonder whether the rehearsals don’t clash with their school hours? Nodding her head to say no, Obukome says, “they started rehearsing when they were on Easter holiday. But when they resumed school, we had to reschedule so that the younger children, those still in primary, had theirs at weekends only, while the older ones still come three times during the week.”
On the age range, the fair complexion lady says, “if you deal with children, you’ll realise that children love children, the younger ones tend to make the older ones their heroes. For instance, two-year olds adore 14-year olds, and 17-year olds look after the three-year olds when you are not there.
“So, they now turnout to mentor the little ones. At three, the child can leave the parent and begin to have a mind of his own; you would be surprised at what a three year old knows. We teach the older ones how to behave properly, while the younger ones follow suit in their behavioural pattern.”
Her involvement with the NGO was not outright. In fact, it was through her younger sister, who seemed more committed to other projects that allowed her to help out in the basic things that have now catapulted the organisation.
“My sister, Elvina, met the daughter of the founder of the NGO (Juliet), and subsequently, her mother. She brought them to the house. At the time, she needed help with the NGO, which I gladly offered,” she retorts.
Art is a driving force for Obukome and this owes wholly to her late mother, Nelly. “Our mother drove us to the theatre. She loved theatre. I think I watched my first stage performance at the age of three, and I was mesmerised by the whole thing. My love for theatre is small compared to Elvina’s. She actually went to Drama College. Aside from being pushed to be educated, I read Economics and International Relations, but because my mum was always taking us to the theatre, I grew to love it.
“But Elvina took a step further by going to Drama School, and Gloria did Communication Management and had during her career, worked with television. I was strict with school, but still took dance classes, drama and musical lessons. Though, I was focused in school, I was also doing my art quietly on the side; I was in my school choir and drama team. It has always been in the blood,” she says.
On parents who think studying art would turn their kids into miscreants, she has this to say: “My mum was the person, who pushed me into arts, and it didn’t make me a miscreant, I still follow my formal education. Art is definitely not for miscreants. For instance, look at our comedians, who crack jokes, how stupid or how clever do you have to be to coin a joke around what is happening in the political sector of Nigeria? Of course, you have to be very intelligent to do that.
“There is a young comedian that uses music to tell political jokes. Look at the actors that have to deliver a whole script off heart, are they stupid? Even as a dancer, you have to remember a sequence, how many rehearsals do you have to do to perfect that? Parents should encourage their children in the art, because the more you do that, the better the child would be.”
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