Temilolu Fosudo, son of actor and professor of English, Sola Fosudo, has emerged the winner in the fourth edition of the prestigious Beeta Playwriting Competition organised by the Bikiya Graham-Douglas-led Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF) in Lagos.
The sparkling ceremony was held at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Tuesday, August 3 to an admiring audience of art lovers and arts-friendly corporate entities that are supporting the arts with funding and investments.
Young Fosudo had burst into the glittering room just when his mother, who arrived earlier, had collected the award on his behalf. He’d been stuck in one of Lagos’ snarling traffic jams and raced through the car lot to be there just in time to collect his prize presented by publisher and organiser of Quramo Prize, Mrs Gbemi Shasore. His father walked in moments later to share in the family glory of a prize-winning son in the same performance arts where the senior Fosudo has excelled as an actor right at the inception of Nigeria’s Nollywood, before concentrating fully in academics, where he’s now a professor at Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Lagos.
Fosudo won N1 million prize money with his play, Black Dust, which will also be published by Paperworth Books, as part of the competition package that includes staging the play. He expressed happiness for clinching the prize this year, having come close in the third edition as one of the longlisted young playwrights.
The young Fosudo showered encomiums on his parents, particularly his father for his support in walking him through the rubrics of the arts and writing where he said he’s written over 10 drama scripts.
Ibukun Fasunhan was first runner-up with his play, Beertanglement while Kalayingi John-Africa was second runner up with her play, Orchid.
An all-round artist, who is also the director of the Lagos Theatre Festival, Graham-Douglas reiterated her passion for developing young talent in the creative sector where she has chosen theatre as forte, insisting that government alone could not do everything and called on individuals to also help out.
According to her, “We are pleased to be able to holistically impact the value-chain of the performing arts industry in Nigeria by empowering all players to include the writers, directors, actors, and other professionals in the ecosystem. At Beeta we are passionate about telling contemporary organic stories and understand the responsibility that comes with this. It can be daunting putting competitions and productions like these together but we believe it is our responsibility and we are committed to continuing doing so.
“We are often in need of supporters, partners and collaborations. That is why we commend Union Bank Plc and Shell for their continuing support over the years. We urge them not to relent and also enjoin other friends of the culture sector not to shy away from supporting culture productions like this.”
Remarkably, both corporate sponsors of the contest, Union Bank Plc and Shell emphasized that they had actually put their money where their mouths are, affirming that supporting the contest was the right thing to do, not just as part of their corporate social responsibility, but in standing behind Nigeria’s art as a veritable instrument to cause social change and build up teeming youth talent in the country.
Notable arts administrator and chair of Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), organisers of Lagos Art and Book Festival (LABAF) and journalist, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, commended Graham-Douglas for her steadfastness in organising the competition for the fourth time in a row. He said in clime where darkness seems to be holding sway, it was heartwarming that people like Graham-Douglas were still shining a light, “by pursuing the path of light away from the prevailing darkness.”
He urged more support for her to grow the prize.
Also, filmmaker, Mr Femi Odugbemi, outlined the importance of Beeta Playwriting Competition to include enabling young Nigerians “not just to tell stories, but tell god stories,” adding that “we are not being consumed by bad stories, but bad told stories.” He noted that the contest is a good avenue to begin the process of reinventing the storytelling wheel for the better.
Mrs Shasore, stressed the importance of storytelling, saying, “I believe everybody has a story to tell. Bikiya is indefatigable in what she does and this is really important for the sector.”
Afterwards, Fosudo spoke extensively about his growing art and how much impact winning Beeta Playwriting Competition would have on him.
“Well, I feel great. I feel overwhelmed right now and I didn’t think I would win, but I did and I’m grateful to Beeta for this opportunity and I hope to work with them more in the future to produce the play and to publish the play; it has been wonderful. I was actually part of the shortlisted playwrights last year, and I was the second runner up. So to win it this year feels quite wonderful.
“Black Dust is about corruption; it’s about the situation in Nigeria generally. How corrupts leaders and megalomaniacs seize freedom from the people and how certain individuals in the society raise up against these corrupt megalomaniacs. So, there is a character in the play, an activist who challenges the authority.
“First of all, I like to write about social issues. So the two plays have that in common. The other play was basically about identity. You know, Nigeria is still trying to find its identity. Our major problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that we don’t have identity. We don’t know who we are as a country. You know we are borrowing from the West. We are mixed; we are Igbo, we are Yoruba, we are Hausa, and all the other tribes, and we are borrowing a lot of culture from the West and from the East. So, it is this juxtaposition of cultures and ideas that make us a bit confused as a people. My last play is about finding our identity, respecting our identity as a country, but this one basically touches on corruption and abuse of power.”
Fosudo also spoke about his father’s influence on his career as budding theatre practitioner.
“Definitely; in fact, he urged me on at the start of my career. What happened was that when I decided I wanted to become a playwright which was very sudden; it’s a funny story. I wrote these ridiculous piece of work and I gave it to him and he read it and in spite of how ridiculous it was, he got it typed for me and gave it to me and said: ‘my son, this is your first play.’ You know, that act really urged me on. I was 18; I was just about to enter the University of Ibadan. So, he did that for me and he sent me to Ibadan. I had not enter school yet; he sent me to Ibadan to meet one of the lecturers there, Dr. Tunde Awosanmi, a fantastic man who took me under his wings and trained me as well. So, these things helped shaped my career.”
AS for the organizer, Graham-Douglas, making social impact through the tool of theatre is key to engaging young people creatively.
“It’s very important as an individual that we make our own contribution to national development and I’m somebody who is very passionate about the arts. I’m an art leader and so I see this as a responsibility for someone who has been producing plays for the last 10 years, working with different materials and seeing that there was a vacuum in the literary form of drama. All we had were Professors Wole Soyinka, Ahmed Yerima, Femi Osanfisan, Zulu Sofolo, JP Clark, representatives of their generation. But who represents the younger generation?
“So, I asked myself that question and I couldn’t answer it, and I felt I needed to create that answer and that’s why I’m still here and it’s been rewarding to get to meet all these young, budding play wrights who, before Beeta Playwriting Competition, did not have a platform to express themselves and tell our stories through plays. Yes, we have Nollywood; it’s thriving, it’s huge; you can’t even ignore it anymore, but should we let our theatre also die?
“No; there are few people, who are the major players in the industry. Is that enough for Nigerian? No, and everything starts with a story and that’s what keeps me going, because I see it as a responsibility to document this part of our history and create platforms for young people coming after me for the next generation of Nigerian playwrights.”
Having made her imprint on the Nigerian playwright scene, are there plans for her to take the contest to the larger African continent?
“That is the idea, I feel more than ever as a continent we need to unify and what’s the best way to do that than through the art? Nothing brings people together like the arts and sports and I am a player in the arts and I feel it’s essential that we make it pan-African, so that we begin to integrate as a continent and share our stories and participate in each others’ lives, because we are one continent. The rest of Africa consumes Nigeria arts, but Nigerians don’t really consume much from the other part of Africa. We don’t really know much about them, and if this platform can bring all of us together and get us to understand each other, and hopefully even develop this industry, which it will do by the time we started having this conversations, why not?
“I believe in Africa; I believe that we should be interacting more and especially in the arts space. I’m looking forward to an African where an artist can walk freely across the continent, where their stories can be told across the continent freely and that’s not happening much right now and if Beeta Playwriting Competition can do that, then yes, we would be part of it.”
Graham-Douglas also shared thoughts on what has been the most challenging part of her drive to raise more young playwrights in the country.
“Number one, I will say funding. We can all agree that this is a laudable project but getting fund has been very challenging and that is why I appreciate Union Bank and Shell for actually committing to this. It’s been really difficult to have funds, because a lot of organizations are not just interested; you can’t blame them. They think about their bottom line, how is it going to contribute to their businesses and so on. As I say to people, the equity you get from this competition is developing talents in our society, developing communities. So, I will like to really appreciate Shell and Union Bank for holding my hand; so, funding has been the most challenging but it hasn’t stopped us.
“The other thing was losing my mother, who was a trustee of Beeta and she fueled this idea. I had the idea, but I was not really sure how to go about it and she held my hand through from the concept phase to becoming what it is to coming up with the structure. She was there and she was at every stage of it. She tried to be at every show and, as I say, she was our biggest supporter. So, that has been the greatest challenge of my journey, losing such a vital person in my life and also such a vital contribution to Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF) and everything we represent.”