Joshua Alabi: For The Love Of Theatre
Just in his early 30s, Joshua Demola Alabi continues to make a mark in his chosen field: theatre. A recipient of the Mervin Stutter Award for Performance, Alabi is passionate about making Nigerians fall in love again with theatre. He speaks to The Guardian Life about the Sun, his children’s project and historical plays.
Why did you decide to go into filmmaking?
I am a storyteller. I went into film making because it’s a very effective way of telling certain types of stories. It is a platform just like several others that excels in telling audio-visual narratives. I am keen about stories that reflect us as a people, that speaks volume in the socio-political and cultural context and I plan to see what more we can do with films to drive reasonable, formidable and positive actions. Though I have always been into film making and acting for screen, I took a pause in 2003 to launch into theatre fully for proper training knowing it was a more effective platform into becoming an excellent storyteller.
You have achieved quite a lot. What is your impression on Nigerians appreciation of theatre?
The population of Nigerians that understand the existence and viability of theatre is less than 30% while those that appreciate it are less than 20% of the entire population and that can be seen through the major local works that are produced. Firstly, it is difficult for theatre to thrive in a nation that has NO physical theatre spaces. The event and concert halls we have can only contain less than 500 people per time and this is in a country of 200 million people. Banks, hospitals, churches, schools all need physical spaces to transact business and engage with people. So does theatre. The minimal appreciation of theatre is a result of lack of proper theatre spaces, the packaging of the little that exists and its business development which in turn affects the number of productions yearly. And whatever lacks consistency lacks visibility.
A little birdie tells us that you have worked with Jennie Reznek, Gill Robertson, Lara Foot and many others. What vital lessons have you learnt working with them?
They are successful people with common traits. They possess vision, mission, values and everything they do aligns with these 3 items. I’ve learnt that passion is everything but not compared to attitude and that all you ever want to be starts within your immediate environment. Above all, people are your greatest asset.
Your baby KIFT (Kininso International Festival of Theatre) is aimed at children. What is the idea behind KIFT, and what do you want to rekindle with KIFT?
We have a Special focus on theatre and art dedicated for Early years, children and adults audiences with the major aim of introducing children to live performances, which aids their learning process and helps them tap into their creativity at an early stage. As a member of ASSITEJ International, KIFT is poised at strengthening and creating awareness on children’s content which fortunately is vibrant in Italy, South Africa, France, UK, Germany and some other countries. We want to create a world where children can freely find expression. We organise workshops with teachers and schools on alternative ways to teach children and find creative paths to helping them explore their abilities by exposing teachers to children’s entertainment and psychology.
KIFT has been here for four years and boasts of over 10,000 children in participation. Yet, it is a self-funded project. How have you been able to keep organising it without aid?
It has been a very difficult process but we do all we can against the odds. Organising the festival has been possible only through little savings and profit that we make. It’s shocking to some people sometimes but we just have to do what we have to do. Nigeria is filled with people who keep talking and then do nothing. Whatever we believe in, we don’t rest until it’s done. The festival has also received kind support through our friends from Nigeria and various countries of the world who bring in their shows at little or no cost and the Goethe-institute Nigeria for showing up in our times of need.
Let’s talk about the forthcoming Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, and Funmilayo Ransom Kuti plays. What should we expect from the historical plays?
The Play on Funmilayo Ransom Kuti is titled ‘Jogbo’ and the other on Ajayi Crowther is called ‘Ajai’. Nigeria has several tribes, legends and heroes who blazed the trail. These stories and histories are not often told. This is one part of our rich culture we have abandoned. Take a look at Troy, Mummy Returns, and Selma, these are ancient stories being told centuries down the line. Expect nothing less than first-class/quality scripts with the best actors and crew in the industry.
What prompted you to start Home Theatre project?
The global pandemic has put an abrupt pause to a lot of businesses and the economy as a whole. Our minds need to be fed daily with positive things and how can the vast knowledge of various things gained in this period be documented? The entertainment industry has been greatly affected. Due to this, we sought to engage our theatre and digital audiences with something that will have a lasting effect and create room for networking between local and international artists. We sought to create a hub where theatre from around the world can be streamed. To have contents that will meet the needs of all age groups regardless of location.
If you were to return as the sun, moon, stars or a galaxy, what would you be and why?
I will return as the Sun. I would have chosen the Stars but we don’t see them anymore. But for the sun, for its multi-functional purpose. The sun gives vitamins, dries our clothes, helps us with good selfies and brightens each day.