Queen Monalisa Chinda… screen diva lives her dreams
Screen Diva Monalisa Chinda wears several caps. Not only does the star actress light up the screen with her unique style of role interpretation, but this long standing entertainment personality is also a media personality, a philanthropist, show host, producer and more recently, she has added being a theatre producer to the already bulging cap.
Blessed with a complexion that gives her out easily as a cross breed, the first of six siblings born to an Ikwere (in Rivers State) father and an Igbo mother is a theatre artiste by training and a good-looking woman by every standard. Host of the television programme You and I with Monalisa, the star of Games Men Play achieved runaway success when even as an undergraduate at the University of Port Harcourt, she featured in the successful urban telling, Pregnant Virgin. She returned to the turf weeks later to feature in another groundbreaking movie, Above the Law.
Much later, her convincing acting run in the long rested but popular television series, Heavens Gate and in the commercially successful movie, Games Men Play, earned her a place among the stars. It was on the back of those productions that Lisa rode to emerge a face in every movie at a time in Nollywood.
A disarmingly humble personality, who surely knows her onions, Monalisa recently led her theatre-focused production company K’ike Productions to put up a stage play, Philomena: Interview With A Prostitute. Written and directed by Nollywood veteran Bimbo Manuel, the play was staged in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, with a cast of talented actors including Ejike Asiegbu, Charles Inojie and Francis Duru. Moviedom caught up with the Heaven’s Gate star after the show…
Philomena in Port Harcourt
THE production in Port Harcourt went very well. Everyone kept saying they had not seen anything like it in Port Harcourt and that was a very big compliment knowing that the city itself is a major art and entertainment hub from even pre-colonial times. Everyone was very supportive.
On the whole, the reception was very good. It was our first outing with a stage play at K’Ike Productions and we are not counting our success in naira and kobo, but in impact and how that affects the narrative. In that regard, it was fantastic. Everyone wanted to come out to see us, but we had limited show time, only four days and six shows. They wanted us to stay longer.
Theatre Production Not One Off
This is the whole essence of K’Ike Productions. The name of the company itself means new play, new drama, new performance, which is where we are focused; exploring new dramatic ideas, encouraging new dramatists and growing new talents.
This is only the first in what we hope will be a long line of stage plays that we hope will further the Renaissance started by the likes of Wole Oguntokun, Bolanle Austen-Peters, Lala Akindoju and so on. It might also interest you to know that I have always wanted to own my own playhouse either by collaboration or partnerships with theatre enthusiasts. Uncle Bimbo and I didn’t come this far with K’Ike Production and Philomena for it to be a one off. It’s a continuous process. Though slow, but it will be actualised!
Motivation for Producing Stage Play
Uncle Bimbo Manuel and I have been discussing the idea of collaborating in theater since 2018. After he invited me to the first reading of the play, the power of the piece just would not leave my mind and I knew we had to present it. I have always loved the theater. I studied Theater and it is like going back home.
Though it is far more challenging than film and television, marketing it puts you in more control. You know the variables and you can control them to some extent, unlike film that you have to cross so many hurdles in marketing. You are in more control and your only main challenge is convincing the audience. We were sure we could do that and I’m glad this experience has proven our projections right. A topical issue, quality actors, solid support, it was no brainer.
I started doing my own personal research on the business of stage plays in our climes. To be honest, I have not been so convinced that this is the way to go now; we all have to keep reinventing ourselves. The story of Philomena needed to be told! It just had to be out there one way or the other. It delivers heavy ounces from each three characters that make us want to pause and think!
Between The Stage and Screen
I think I will choose stage nine times out of ten! That organic connection with the audience, the thrill of seeing the faces of the audience light up when it is pleasurable; the heavy sighs when it is emotional, that connection has no equal.
As for my memorable stage production, I would say that I have done quite a few in the past and each one holds a special place in my heart. The pieces I did with the incomparable late Amatu Braide, God bless her soul… it’s a long chain, but each one has been memorable. But Philomena will count as one of the most memorable for me. The emotion of homecoming, the energy of the fellow actors, the unrelenting drive of the director and his implacable demand for the best, the tension of opening night… it is just unforgettable.
And to answer your question on if I will study theatre again, given the opportunity, honestly, I look at myself now, what the arts have given me, who I have become through art, where I see our industry heading, I think I will still study Theater Arts. In my time, there were no film studies in my school; maybe I will add film studies to it if I have to go back, but I will still study Theater Arts. The thrill of stage, that rush, the lights, the music, the sometimes-manic energy… it’s the only place I am able to lose my natural shyness.
Back Seat in Moviedom?
Not taking a back seat as such; I have just been giving more of my time and resources to another of my passions – developing the young, offering chances to the underprivileged, lending a helping hand to those in need and so on. So, I have my foundation, Arise Monalisa Foundation through which I do all those things and my talk show, You and I with Monalisa …even though they are all time consuming, I am not complaining.
This does not also mean that I do not play on the screen anymore. I do. The script has to be right though, the director, the reach, etc. I am not in a hurry as I have long paid my dues. So, yes, I still play, but I am just a bit more selective now.
Next On The Plate
Right now, I am not working on any movie set, but Uncle Bimbo Manuel and I are at the discussion stages about the possibility of K’Ike working on a film or series project at some point soon, but not now. We need to fully exploit the stage products we have at hand to the fullest first.
We are putting plans together to take Philomena to Lagos and Abuja. We are also considering the possibility of producing another of the new plays by Bimbo Manuel, but we are presently focusing on Philomena.