By Anote Ajeluorou
Last year when boss of upscale culture centre, Terra Kulture boss, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters embarked on the audacious journey of producing a Broadway-style Musical Theatre, Saro the Musical, not many believed Nigeria was ripe for such grand artistic vision. But she pulled it off, and today, many corporate bodies, which are still skeptical about supporting theatre, are having a serious rethink.
In the past few months, several corporate bodies have had Saro the Musical performed for their exclusive pleasure. Suddenly, theatre, and not music or comedy, is the big entertainment in high demand. This month Saro 2, a modified version of what was offered last year, will be put on stage again at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, for six days from December 23 -26.
In a recent chat, Austin-Peters is boastful of what her theatre company, BAP Production has to offer, when she said, “We will take Lagos by storm even as we get bigger and better. The idea is to have annual performances. Six years ago, there was nothing happening in the theatre. Then we started Theatre@Terra, but there was no audience. Those I started with gave up, but I stayed on until Segun Adefila and Wole Oguntokun came on board.
“It was a small seed we sowed back then. When we started, it was tentative; we were burnt slightly, but we remained. I’m genuinely excited about Saro 2. Think about the jobs and value we’re adding; think about the publicity we’re giving to Nigeria. Last year was a learning curve”.
Although she lost money last year, she has learnt to plan on a small scale and achieve even better result. While budget for Saro was between N80 to N100 million last year, this year it has been pruned down to a tidy N50 million. This is what experience has brought into the picture, to shed all the excesses. As she said, “We didn’t break even last year; it was experimental. The experience has been positive, but financially, it was negative. But we’re not in a hurry. This year we intend to make money”.
Part of Austin-Peters’ confidence lies in her doggedness ,and it’s beginning to yield positive results with some corporate organisations already falling over themselves to be part of this grand artistic production. As she put it, “If I told you somebody would support a N80 – N100 million theatre project, you won’t believe. Now it’s happening. We’re getting to a point where theatre is getting serious”.
PART of rebranding Saro 2 is that new, seasoned artists have been brought into the production to give it a bite. Bimbo Manuel and Gideon Okeke are such two new faces in Saro 2. While Manuel will mentor the four young musicians on their mission to musical self-discovery, Okeke will be one of the four musical arrowheads pointing to a certain direction.
For Austin-Peters, “It’s an honour having Manuel; this means the game is changing. He’s a veteran, who is bringing his expertise. He will also be father-figure to the boys, who will mentor them and help them find direction to move forward. It’s important for the young men as they form a career”.
Bringing established film and TV stars into Saro 2 is strictly business sense designed to attract more people to the theatre to recover its glory days long lost, according to madam Austin-Peters. As she put it, “We’re trying to attract movie and TV stars to theatre; there’s a mileage they bring into theatre. We can’t afford Manuel, but he is in it because of the love. The tide is changing; people are noticing and seeing theatre as a source of entertainment, especially corporate bodies”.
If there’s one compelling factor in Austin-Peters’ drive, a trained international attorney, to promote theatre it has to be her passion for it. This much she admitted, when she said, “The people in theatre made me passionate about it. In the theatre you see people bonding like family. In fact, people in theatre are permanently happy even when they are being paid so little. I also love the aesthetics that come with it!”
Saro 2 directors remain the same - Kenneth Uphopho (drama), Gbenga Yusuf (dance) and Ayo Ajayi (music).
Acceptance is also coming the way of Saro the Musical 2, as Access Bank Plc, AfricaMagic and Etisalat have lined up to support the musical, just as other companies are waiting in the wings to also support it.