01 Aug SEUN AWOBAJO SPEAKS…
June 7, 2020
BARIGA ART AND ARTIST MAGAZINE BAAM)
SUCCESS, FAILURES AND CHALLENGES OF CHILDREN THEATRE (FOD- Footprints of David as case study) – An interactive session with Seun Awobajo
Q: What can you say about the impact of economic force at this time – using FOD as a yardstick?
Ans: Ahead of time in FOD, we’ve been able to prepare ourselves through diversification and expansion in the community growth. It is a big blow on us but we are trying in our sphere to diversify into other hand skills that we have; shoemaking, clothing(facemasks etc), delivery. Some of the members are putting in for online dance competitions that enable them win cash prizes, making adverts.
Predominantly, there is no formula for us but rather we look inward for other things we can lay our hands on.
Crafts and other expertise that we can put align in a creative period like this.
Q: Kindly explain how to start a children theatre company. What’s the journey so far as a children theatre director?
Ans: To start a children theatre company, you must identify with a father and mother theatre company. We don’t exist in isolation. The tripod that carries art in Nigeria is different from the way it is in other parts of the world. You have to ensure you belong to a father and mother theatre company.
In Footprint of David, Crown Troupe of Africa is our own father theatre company while Starlight Home of entertainment is our mother theatre company. These companies guide in practical forms what we do and how we do it. They serve as reference points for the children.
Children Theatre Company is like raising a family. You have to put them at the apex of all your decisions and you have to ensure the viability of your ability to relate with the children and to think for them. The father and the mother theatre companies serve as models to the children where they can pick mentors and ideas.
The journey has been interesting but of course there’s more to it.
Q: How do you cope especially during this period when everything seems blocked?(Strength and drive)
Ans: When it looks as if the chips are down, you do not have any technique to triumph whatever the challenge is ahead of you. You have to believe in God, you have to strife to let God bless the works of your hands. You can’t give what you don’t have, so you have to look for what you need to survive within your enclave. Everything has to be embedded in the growth of the children and it will turn around to help. The priority has to be developing them.
Q: What is a theatre company?
Ans: A theatre company should encompass what we call total theatre; music, dance, drama, poetry, visuals, audiovisuals.
Theatre in the 21st century has metamorphosed also into works we can call positive community cultism – whereby we decide to do things in the same manner.
Q: When they become older what happens to them?
Ans: In Footprint, we accommodate children from age 6 to 16years, once you’re 16years you must have gotten an expression of your own.
Over the years, we have graduated them either to the father theatre company or the mother theatre company or other companies in the community, depending on the area of specialization of graduands. It is not in it place to decide their future or what they become, bringing them together as children is to give them the discipline they need and provide them opportunities and options.
Q: Critical challenge and influence of FOD in Bariga and the nation at large – What can we learn from FOD?
Ans: A lot can be learnt from FOD.
Our challenged lies in the parents, the the community and the Nigerian factor.
When we started, lots of parents did not want their children to come into art, we had to literally convince them to allow them be part of us through our modest way of life, how we relate with people in the society, the kind of people we mingle with.
The challenges are there but you have to face them.
As regards influence, there are lots of kids who want to be part of FOD, we now have accommodation for children. This we have been able to achieve by blurring the line of social stratification that is prevailing in the community.
Q: Does a child necessarily have to show interest in or be theatrically inclined before joining a theatre group and at what age minimally can a child join a theatre group?
Ans: The discipline in theatre is what every child needs to become whatever in future.
Theatre is emphirical, you can feel it. Every child should experience theatre from age three.
Q: Are there plans to expand to other theatre communities?
Ans: There are plans to expand to other theatre communities, at the moment we have Footprints of David in Texas, Sango, Calabar. What we do with these outlets is based on franchise, some of our students are now coming for franchise so we delegate our people down there to synergize and replicate. We also do it with churches, mosques, small circles and groups. It is possible, we have been doing it and we are not going to stop.
Q: How do you manage parents that actually detest the art, especially the dance industry?
Ans: I have seen parents say NO with excuses that hinges on psychological, mental health, financial success and overall social morality but I believe art is a way of life and as an imperfect being, the best that can be done is to ensure I possess right characters that will win their hearts. Look for a convincing performance or scenario to show them the potentials and possibility of what their children can become. Have good moral standard enough to present to them.
Q: How many of your shows are no finance based and how do you survive it?
Ans: Lots of them, everyone knows that at the start you just want to put out works and ensure people understand them. Eventually it pays off. When you do the right thing, a time will come when it will definitely pay off and you have to save. Be disciplined.
Q: What has been your marketing strategies to the survival of FOD as a children theatre director?
Ans: Look for a model(father or mother theatre company) and ride on their template. We leverage on the kind of market Crown Troupe has created already and attach to it and ride on their wings. Learn from their mistakes and strengths. Get pointers on what to work on. Ensure quality of art because it is the real thing and also the uniqueness of approach.
Q: Mention the moment that makes you stronger or the moment that makes you want to quit.
Ans: The integral part of this journey is what really breaks you and you just feel like ‘I’m signing out’ and this happens almost every year, there must always be something that makes you want to quit. Sometimes you feel like you’re graduating your best hands and then you become worried about raising a new set.
But pragmatically, we just have to endure the pain and the gains will start coming. The other part is providing the basic needs of the children, this can be very painful when you don’t have the means. Sometimes there are sicknesses but we just forge on with faith. And also the temptation of offers from abroad to become a art teacher or director or for greener pastures.
Q: How do you establish your relationship with the mother and father theatre companies and other partners you have? What is your responsibility/relationship towards them?
Ans: Whatever you want to do, you have to look for somebody who has towed that part, analyze them, dissect their pros and cons and work on them. Because if you do not get an example, you will not get a prototype to work with and it will be diffiu to identify the right father and mother theatre company. Do personal research, find a way to establish a relationship with them, align yourself and let yourself be used constructively. Build through serving diligently.
Q: What is the gain in children’s theatre? And in a situation where there’s no resource to start it, what can be done?
Ans: The gain is in heaven. On Earth, it is the smile of joy and accomplishment you see in the face of the children and their parents/community.
When there’s no resource, start with yourself. Start with whatever capacity you have – start small so as not to hit the rock.
Q: What are your short/long term goals? How did you achieve them? What are your collaborative gains and future collaboration for FOD and BAF in view?
Ans: You cannot survive the art world in Bariga without collaborating, we work together as one recognizing one another’s strength.
We’ve been able to achieve our goals of graduating members at age 16 and luckily for us we have a space for rehearsal.
Also, we ensure they come tops in their academics and this is a major win for us.
We are trying to strike a deal with Bi-Okoto company in USA and we’ve done some collaborations with MonsterTruck in Germany and put some works together. Finland. Denmark and we’re still open for collaborations. We’re looking forward to FOD Art Complex(six acres of land) to be shared into two each for free school/hostel, theatre and recreation centre
Q: Do you have any partnership, collaborative effort or support from other companies around? International grant from abroad?
Ans: There is no international grant, Footprint has never applied for any grant in the past and we don’t plan to apply for because all of those grants are baits.
Q: Your achievements – All about hardwork? What are your success secrets?
Ans: Success secret is Christ Jesus
Q: Did you follow the formal business structure to run FOD or you just did everything your own way?
Ans: I attended Lagos Business School and Ford foundation which gave me ideas. I have a great team which comprises of a writer, graphic designer, adminstrative officer, medical doctor and psychologist. All was achieved because the children and community are in support.
Q: What is FOD exploring styles, techniques and methods?
Ans: What had practically worked overtime is having Christ as a cornerstone, then we try to suttle in what is appealing to our community, our audience and how we are going to achieve that. We work on things that are evergreen, we don’t dwell on a particular subject/reigning matter, we touch on topics that are metaphorical. We live everyday as it comes.
Q: How well are you making the best use of the social media with the kids this time?
Ans: We’ve had to cut down on feeding in order to get a wifi. There are lots of things the kids are learning from the internet, so now they get free access to tutorials – graphics, animation, photography etc.
Q: Throwback – How did you get here – FOD?
Ans: We are just products of grace. And we have not even started yet, until we officially launch the free school, theatre and recreation centre.
Q: If it is asked – FOD what do you do, what will be your answer?
Ans: We are an embodiment of various expressions. We are an art foundation, we have the seaside cottage theatre, My Bariga My Pride initiative, Bright Achievers School, Bariga Photo, Bariga TV, Agbon Magbe clan, FOD Gang. It is a conglomerate of different expression. We are community organisers.
***Every CEO is the first and Last born of every group or troupe.