April 15, 2024

As ‘Saro the Musical’ ends January 2, 2024, stars speak about performance ambience, audience engagement

  • December 31, 2023
  • 10 min read
As ‘Saro the Musical’ ends January 2, 2024, stars speak about performance ambience, audience engagement

* ‘It’s been amazing working with Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters

* ‘Audience feedback has been so-so mind-blowing’

* I must have an Urhobo blood somewhere, says Yomi Shodimu

By Anote Ajeluorou

Since December 22, 2023, Saro the Musical show has thrilled packed audiences this Christmas holiday inside Terra Theatre Arena in Victoria Island, Lagos, and comes to a glorious end on January 2, 2024. Some cast members in the feel-good, aspirational musical theatre gave insight into their roles, the entire performance ambience and audience response to the performance. Saro mirrors the lives of four young men who leave their rustic village to make a living in Lagos

Oluchi Odii (as Oghenerume – ‘Rume)

IT has been very amazing six days so far and I’m proud to say that we’ve given our best and the audience has been enjoying our show. It’s been good. It’s my first time on Saro. Working with the team has been great as well. I’ve worked with a couple of them before, in fact most of them on several productions. Just a few people that I haven’t worked with personally before. So it’s good vibe everywhere; we’re ready to work, ready to deliver. The atmosphere is kind and really cool.

Yeah, it is stressful but not extremely so. I can only say it’s a bit more demanding for the dancers, because they do more of body movement and all that. Some actors too, those having scenes back-to-back, costume change, etc. But it’s not really stressful, but it’s theatre; we’re used to the level of work we do.

Aside acting I’m also a recording artiste. I have music recorded online. Yeah, I have songs recorded. That’s why I’m trying out my options; so let’s see what happens. I mean, it’s a gift that is with me; I might as well maximise everyone of them – try out different things. There’s no limitations to what one can do, as far as it doesn’t take your blood.

The part of Saro that resonates more with me is the Lagos-style ‘hussling’ to make a living, to make as much money for yourself. Just basic survival instinct, you know. As a Lagosian, it’s a tough world, a touch city. But despite that it’s tough, you can work as much as you can just to make a living. That resonates with me. Lagos is a city for ‘husslers’, and all of us are ‘husslers’, trying to make a way.

And it’s been amazing working with the director, Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters. I’ve worked with her about four times now. She’s an amazing director; she already has what it is that she wants you to do. She has a vision, and it’s amazing how everything comes to life. One more thing I admire about her is that she knows exactly what her audience wants. She’s very sensitive to the needs of her audience; she knows what they like, and so she tailors her stories around what would excite her audience, and it’s been an amazing process with her.

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Nonso Bassey as Obaro (left); Hector Amiwero as Olaitan; Uche Chika Elumelu as Jane; Emeka Nwagbaraocha as Efe; Gideon Okeke and Yewande Osemein as Derry Black in Saro the Musical

Yemi Shodimu (as ‘Rume’s Urhobo father)

IT’S been an exciting challenge acting an Urhobo man, but I’m a trained actor. So I was able to draw from my experience as an actor. But the more exciting thing about it is that it just dawned on me that we are all one. We are one. We just hang on to our different ethnic sentiments, which may not necessarily be helpful in nation building. I just looked for an Urhobo blood in me, somewhere! I must have an Urhobo blood somewhere. And you’d find it in every Nigerian if you searched properly. It’s not particularly unique to me. I enjoyed it. I liked the bit at the end where I’m able to switch to Yoruba man and back to Urhobo. I enjoyed it.

In Saro’s nation building project, one will be speaking specifically about Lagos, which is located in the South West part of the country. But it’s obviously a melting point to all cultures and ethnic nationality for those aspiring to come to Lagos – mostly for one thing: to make it in life, to make a better life for oneself! It’s such an accommodating environment; so accommodating. If you stayed at the entry point at the express everyday of the week, you’d see the number of people coming in. A large number of them are first-timers, and most of these first-timers have on-way ticket! They just want to come in here, and at the end of the day, they still survive. That’s something for the nation to learn; that’s something for the other parts of the country to learn.

We have so much hostility all around. I think Lagos should be used as an example, as a model for others to copy. And talking about nation building, we need to embrace ourselves. There’s nothing wrong in being a Yoruba man; nothing wrong in being an Hausa, Ijaw, Efik man, etc. But there’s a nation to be built, as long as we are under this umbrella. The best is to make it comfortable for ourselves. I just hope our leaders will learn from this. Of course, the citizens have a big share in this; they do; they are culprits, too. But our leaders, who we did not beg to rule us, should do the needful.

Yewande Osemein (as Derry Black)

THE path of those four young boys make me think; it’s also encouraging, but it makes you think about those who would probably fall into deception, fall into the wrong hands and may never get to see Don C to help them without any ulterior motives, and just allow them to shine or blow. And I’d like to compare Don C to Bolanle Austen-Peters, because she’s not only giving a platform to young people to shine (or blow), but giving them opportunity to shine again and again. So she’s basically built a community of young people who go to do other things. So I actually came from England to Lagos years ago. Austen-Peters was one person I could look up and work with. And she has a platform that has helped others like me. It’s beautiful to know that I’m in great hands; not someone that’s looking to exploit me, someone with no hidden ulterior motives. This is someone who appreciates the arts and is giving young people a platform, and you don’t have to worry. You know you’re in safe, good hands.

So yes, I worry about many young people that may not meet Austen-Peters or a Don C, but it’s also encouraging to know that there’s a platform like this. The question is: are there enough such platforms to cater for all young talents? BAP is actually raising other powerhouses. She’s such a great example to look at. She’s raising other Don Cs to look up to. You’re in a space where you’re going to serve so many other young people. She has a team of choreographers, dancers, others are directing; she has raised other people who are running their own productions right now. You’re looking at BAP and you’re saying to yourself: I want to do this. That’s the beautiful thing about her.

Audience response? Aaah, it makes me speechless. I don’t know what to say. It brings me to tears. It’s a feel-good – enthralling, exciting, but there’s actually a message. I know that Saro may not be as educational or serious as her last two plays, yet it’s a fun play – it’s fun, humorous, and has a message. There’s so much people can take away from it. Dedication, hard work, and also for people looking to help others; we can help one another. My friend coming to Lagos the other day didn’t get much help; in fact, she was almost abused. People face abuse, people face exploitation; you’d be lucky if you fall into the hands of someone who just wants to help you. So it’s a message about dedication, helping others; that you can make it in Lagos. People go away feeling encouraged, and also happy. It’s a feel-good show. So the feedback has been so-so mind-blowing; it’s been very encouraging. it makes me want to come back; I can’t wait to come back in Easter. The feedback has been amazing; it has been an experience that everybody should experience.

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Olaitan (Hector Amiwero) adn Oghenerume – ‘Rume (Oluchi Odii) village love scene in Saro the Musical

Emeka Nwagbaraocha (as Efe)

THE audience is what makes the whole experience exciting. Theatre is very demanding. One question I kept asking myself was: why do theatre artists still do theatre? Because it can be very demanding – time, energy, and resources. So I came to the first show and saw the audience’s reaction, and it’s been so beautiful. It’s realtime feedback from the audience on your work. I remember telling one of my people: now I know why theatre artists go back to what they do. You really can’t buy something like this. For film it’s edited, so you really don’t have to be there to see people’s feedback to your work. But in theatre, it’s direct contact with your audience and you get direct feedback. It’s something every performer should experience – people echoing things after you. I think at some point, they were even singing some of the songs after us. It really shows you that these people are engaged with your work; they are not pressing their phones like in cinema. I think this is the beauty of theatre, and we should do more of this. It gives you fulfilment and puts your audience in another light.

Hector Amiwero (as Olaitan)

SARO story is something that everybody relates to. It comes in different phases and sizes. A lot of guys who live outside Lagos believe they can come and make it in Lagos. You have such people in entertainment sector and in other sectors as well, who believe that Lagos is the centre of excellence, the biggest economy in Nigeria. So they come to Lagos to make it. It’s a relatable story. Everybody seeing Saro can relate to it. It’s also the same thing with people that go outside Nigeria, people that ‘japa’ abroad and make it big and make their name on the global stage. You can see Burna Boy, Davido; you see them thriving. It’s a generational story, especially for young people, who are ambitious and aspirational, to make it big in their career.

The arrival and eventual success of the four young people is amazing. Usually, when you’re in a strange land, you usually find someone who sees your potential, your talent and believes he can actually make something out of it, create a living, something sustainable for you.

This is my first production with BAP that I will be co-lead, but it’s my fifth production with BAP. I did Moremi, Death and the King’s Horseman, Motherland the Musical, etc. Austen-Peters is a visioner; she’s a mother. She understands people’s talents just like Don C and gives them a platform to grow. I’m grateful that I’ve grown. She brings light to people, their aspirations and careers. She’s so good at what she does. She’s an amazing person to work with.

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