Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Art meets business: Wakaa! The Musical on the floor of Nigerian Stock Exchange

The cast and crew of Wakaa! The Musical engaged officials of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) last week in a historic and symbolic visit designed to endear the arts and culture community to Nigeria’s business world. ANOTE AJELUOROU, who was there, reports

It was a historic moment last week Thursday when some of the cast and crew members of the new Broadway-style musical theatre production on the Nigerian scene, Wakaa! The Musical, visited the eighth, trading floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) on Custom Street, Marina, Lagos. It was not just a courtesy visit, as the Executive Producer and Director of the musical showpiece and boss of Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters, had the singular honour of sounding the closing gong for the close of the market at exactly 2.30pm for a market that opened 9.30am.
  It was a major first for the arts and culture sector, as only the Director-General, Mr. Oscar Onyema, had the honour of performing that task or assigned the same role to a highflying business personality. But Austin-Peters is no ordinary woman or newcomer in the arts and culture sector of the economy that is usually neglected or deemed unserious. Her upscale culture centre, Terra Kulture, has made a business name for itself with its five star restaurant and bar lounge, art gallery, bookshop and reading room, Nigerian languages’ teaching centre and theatre@terra segment.
  In the past two years, Austin-Peters has made a major leap forward in theatre production when she took up the challenge of making Broadway-style musical theatres. Her inspiration came from Fela! On Broadway, based on the late Afrobeat maverick, Fela Anikulapo, an essential Nigerian story that was imported from the United States and sold to Nigerians for a princely sum. It was symptomatic of most things Nigerian which do not have value until they are first taken outside the country, repackaged and imported back and sold to Nigerians at a premium.
  Austin-Peters felt challenged, as indeed all local producers should, and decided to change the narrative. And thus Saro the Musical was borne as her resounding response. It paid off handsomely going by the huge audiences that trooped, first to Oriental Hotel, and later, to MUSON Centre, to enjoy the sheer spectacle of a great cultural extravaganza it offered. It also caught the attention of international media which feasted on it to show what Nigeria is capable of doing. Even austere President Muhammadu Buhari could not resist the magic Saro the Musical promised, as he took off time during his election campaigns to see the theatre showpiece last April.
  It had not happened like that in a long while since Festival of African Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77) when the entire black race converged on Lagos in 1977 in a cultural showpiece. In just two hours Saro the Musical packed so much punch and power that those who had seen it kept coming back to experience anew the beauty of art at its peak. Not even Fela! On Broadway came close to rivaling the grandeur of Saro the Musical. Now, Austin-Peters has promised even bigger spectacle with Wakaa! The Musical, as it broadens its thematic scope to also engage political issues in an irresistible dramatic form. Already, rehearsals are at advanced stage preparatory to staging the musical theatre this Christmas holidays – December 30 through January 3. Last week, Austin-Peters’ directorial ability was put to the analytical gaze when theatre professor from University of Illinois, Carbon-Dale, U.S., Segun Ojewuyi and other renowned theatre experts like Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, Mr. Teju Kareem, Mr. Ade Martins, Mr. Tunde Babalola, Mrs. Aduke Gomez, Mrs. Alexandra Lustrati and Amritt Flora, previewed Wakaa The Musical just to ensure a tight production worth the audience’s time money value was being made. She passed the litmus test, as it were.

IN a rare, candid turn of financial accounting and market projection for her new theatre project, Wakaa! The Musical, Mrs. Austin-Peters gave a breakdown of the cost implication and return-on-investment for performing Saro the Musical which started showing in 2013 through 2015. According to her, “The Lion King musical has grossed over $6.2 billion since inception in 1994, making it the most successful box office total of any work in any media in entertainment history. It is followed by $6 billion-earning The Phantom of the Opera.
  Saro the Musical at its premiere in 2013 had over 7,000 people in attend at its nine shows in three days. 35% of the cost of production was realised for ticket sales. In December 2014, another 8,000 people attended the 11 shows of Saro the Musical over six days. 50% of the cost of production was realised from ticket sales. In April 2015, over 9,000 people saw the 13 shows in six days. 55% of the cost of production was realised from ticket sales.
  “The cost for staging each of the three productions above is between N70 and 80 million (cost both in kind and cash). The majority of the cost goes into venue rental and technical cost since the venues are not equipped for Broadway-style musical theatre productions like Saro the Musical and Wakaa! The Musical”.
  Then she submits futuristically, “From the above, you can imagine how much the production will turn over if it were to run at its own venue for six months,” as all musicals are wont to do.

AND so, on the eighth floor when trading on the Nigerian Stock Exchange was coming to a close, Austin-Peters had the symbolic honour of sounding the gong to bring activities in the market to a close. Even the hardnosed traders who were hunched over their computers poring over figures, monitoring the movement of shares, advising customers to mop up shares with potentials to rise or dump toxic ones sliding badly, Austin-Peters, in the company of Executive Director, Market Operations and Technology, Mr. Ade Bajomo, sounded the gong after addresses to the traders on the need for the visit from the arts and culture community to the stock market and its potentials for Nigeria’s big businesses.
  Bajomo commended the Executive Producer and Director of Wakaa! The Musical, Austin-Peters, for her astute business initiative in not only seeing the business potentials in the arts, but making the most of it by investing in it, with identifiable outcomes to show for it. He further praised her for bringing attention of the business community to the arts as never before thus generating awareness about the arts among business leaders. According to him, it was Austin-Peters’ bold efforts in bringing out the business in the arts that endeared her to his organisation, a foremost one in Nigeria’s business world. It was Bajomo’s hope that now, more than ever, the country’s business leaders would begin to see the business in the arts and entertainment thereby look at ways of investing in that sector that is often neglected largely because of lack of information backed by data, as to the possible bottom line therein worth the investor’s time and money.
  However, with Wakaa! The Musical that is following on the heels of Saro the Musical, Bajomo hoped that business leaders would be better enlightened on business opportunities in the arts and culture sector. He also enjoined those in the arts and entertainment sector to look to also investing in stocks, as it was a viable way of making money to further invest in their artistic endeavours to further raise the stakes. By so doing, he posited that business leaders would then begin to see the business potentials in the sector and gradually make inroads into it. He said it had become necessary as a way of diversifying the economy from its mono-product economy currently in recession.
  On her part, Mrs. Austin-Peters educated Nigeria Stock Exchange officials on how much progress the arts and culture sector has made over the years. A trained lawyer and economists, Austin-Peters stated that until now those in the arts and theatre business had been perceived as illiterate and unserious people. She noted that such perception was borne out of ignorance and unwillingness to understand the sector, as most of those who performed in Saro the Musical and now in Wakaa! The Musical are trained lawyers, engineers and other professionals who had turned away from those professions to their true passion in the arts and theatre and were ready to make good as they would have done in the professions they studied given the opportunity Wakaa! The Musical has to offer.
  Austin-Peters also harped on the job-creation potentials of the arts and culture sector. Saro the Musical alone had about 60 cast and crew youth members. Imagine having five such musicals in a year in the country employing about the same number of young people, the effect, she said would be huge as it would help mop up most of the unemployed youth roaming the streets and being tempted into anti-social behaviours like crime, insurgency or militancy. It was clear from her submission that the arts has a model worth considering for many reasons that are beneficial to the economy, as she canvased a robust engagement with the country’s arts and culture sector as a viable that could help solve the myriads of problems plaguing Nigeria.
  According to Austin-Peters, “What is significant with our visit and my sounding the gong to close the market today is that in Nigeria, the arts are relegated to the background. The business world needs to realise that there is power in the arts to impact society. The world is taking note of the arts and also that the stock exchange is also recognising the power that the arts wield in shaping society”.
  For the General Manager of Terra Kulture, Mr. Joseph Omoibom, “Theatre will be a multi-million naira business soon enough. Coming to the stock market is to make business people see the future in the theatre and for them to invest in it”.

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