Dele Odule: An actor’s actor gives back
In Nollywood, as in Hollywood, screen celebrities always have one reason or the other to call a party. If they are not marking their birthday or wedding anniversaries, they would be marking their anniversary on stage or screen.
Notable actor and one of those in the professional class, Dele Odule, would be 40 years on stage this year and to commemorate his 40 years sojourn on screen and on stage, the actor, who is best known for his role in the 1993 hit movie, Ti Oluwa Nile, has hinted that in addition to wining and dining, a performance of a stage play, Oju Kelekun, for which he would be committing the sum of N10 million, would be staged.
“The play is titled Oju Kelekun, which simply means Farewell to Reproach, and it is my own way of giving back to the profession that has given me so much,” the 56-year-old product of Teachers Training College, Oru in Ogun State and the Theatre Arts department of the University of Ibadan said while announcing the production of the stage play that would be directed by Rasaki Ojo Bakare, a professor of the Performance Arts and one-time Artistic Director of the Abuja Carnival.
Undoubtedly one of the most versatile actors in the Yoruba movie industry, Odule disclosed that rehearsals for the production commences from April 23 in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, while the first command performance holds on June 12 in Abeokuta.
Apart from coinciding with the date of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, Odule, who is current president of Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Producers Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), stated that the performance of the play in Abeokuta on June 12 “coincides with the day the doyen of Nigerian theatre, Chief Hubert Ogunde, staged his firs performance, The Garden of Eden and the Throne of God.
Theatre historians recorded that the late Ogunde and his touring theatre company first staged the epic production on June 12, 1944.
Asked why he would not just commemorate the anniversary with probably a dinner and a visit to the less privileged, as has become the tradition with some of his colleagues, Odule, who is featured in well over 500 movies and stage plays since he started out professionally, said he was inspired by the need to revive stage performance, which, as he observed, have suffered a lot of setbacks in Nigeria.
He said: “You will all agree with me that stage performances have suffered a lot of setbacks in Nigeria.
“Am sure you will also agree that most of our late theatre legends, such as Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola and Oyin Adejobi, made their names and fames through the stage and travelling theatre.
“It is, therefore, my intention, as someone who sipped from some of these masters and legends, to revive the culture of stage dramas as a means of empowerment in schools and major streets in the country.
“The idea is to bring back the lost memories and glory of the theatre. The overall intention is to give our youth an opportunity to choose a career in the arts through this form of motivation.”
Oju Kelekun, which features some of the industry’s big stage and screen names, would, after the command performance in Abeokuta, be staged in Kwara and all the Southwest states.
“We have decided to take the play around because there is hardly any where in the Southwest that I have not taken my art to.
“We will need the assistance of the government and people of Southwest states for this project. I need them to support the celebration of my 40 years sojourn on stage as an entertainer and to support my dream of reviving stage performances,” he said.
Born in Oru Ijebu in Ijebu North Council of Ogun State, Odule, the sixth child of his parents, had his early education in his local government areas.
Theatre has always appealed to Odule right from childhood, so he made it his first love and said no to the pressure from within his family and outside to take up other career interests.
Aware that he was passionately in love with the theatre, those who wanted him to join the Nigeria Police Force or to be something of a medical doctor allowed the young Odule to live his dream.
As he also alluded, he has devoted all his energies to making sure that he succeeded as an entertainer.
Although he acknowledged that he trained as a performer under the supervision of the late Mukaila Adebisi, who was at a time manager of the foremost theatre company, Oloko Theatre Group, and later under the supervision of the theatre guru, Dele Ogunsanya, whom he said greatly influenced his artistic career, Odule recalled with nostalgia how growing up in Fanafonmu, a village near Oru, greatly contributed to his choice of a profession.
“I had the opportunity to witness a number of traditional festivals, dances, drumming and so on.
“I also learnt to beat the drum and to dance. So when I sing, dance and drum and people wonder why I am able to do these things, it is because they don’t know my background.
“I have a solid upbringing in the performing arts and all that influenced my choice of a career path,” he recalled.
It was in a bid to make a mark in the profession that Odule enrolled for a Diploma programme in Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan. Upon completion of the programme, he joined a theatre group, took to acting full time and since then, as he revealed, he has “never done any other job except acting.”
Odule moved from stage performances to home video when acting on that medium boomed around the early 90s, his first appearance being in Agbebo Adiye.
It took his performance in that movie for the producers and directors to beat a pathway to his residence.
But the big break came in 1993 after he featured in the groundbreaking movie by Mainframe Production, Ti Oluwa Nile. And Odule did not fail to name the movie as one of his most memorable productions.
He speaks on his role as the young king in that epic movie production. “Ti Oluwa Nile was my major breakthrough movie as an actor. The experience with the movie was really interesting, because the producer didn’t believe I could deliver.
“But Alhaji Kareem Adepoju (Baba Wande), who wrote the script, felt I would do the job. At the end of the day, I did the job to the admiration of the producer and all the people involved and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Married with children, Odule said he is fulfilled as an actor and would want to tow this career path again, given another opportunity to live life again.
“I have no regrets. It has been a rewarding experience. It has not made me a billionaire, but I am contented and happy.
“At least, it has helped to open several doors for me and there are still more doors to be opened, as long as there is life.
“So, I am fulfilled. No regrets. Though there are still rough edges with our industry that needs to be addressed, such as piracy, I am convinced that things will get better for our industry as we progress.
“Oh, no…There is no retirement for me. There is even no retirement in acting. This is all I signed to do and this is all I will continue doing as along as I live.”