By Funke Olaode
Bolanle Austen-Peters is often described as a game changer who stormed the entertainment industry with a bang and has continued to stay at the top. She is a lawyer turned culture promoter.
What many do not know is that she always loved Theatre arts, particularly Dance. Like many in her generation, she sought to satisfy her parents with her career. And that was how she became a lawyer. But the last seven years have been an exhilarating period of self-discovery. Her wholehearted embrace of her passion for the performing arts have enabled her to beak new grounds.
Her father, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, a lawyer turned educationist is a legal luminary of note. It was not by accident that Austen-Peters first t oed his line after her first degree in Law from the University of Lagos and an MSc from London School of Economic. She would later work at the United Nations as a lawyer before calling it quits to follow her dreams. She has totally lost interest in the law. The wig and gown will never be found on her again. Her father has also become very supportive.
In the last 12 months, Austen-Peters has hit the international mark. First, her award winning ‘Wakaa the Musical’ was the first Nigerian stage play to grace a London Theatre. This past August also saw the Ado-Ekiti state born culture promoter going back to the British terrain to showcase the finest of Nigerian culture at The Shaw Theatre in West London in a six-day stage play.
Both productions have patriotic side that she is so very proud of. “Last year was Wakaa! Now Saro The musical. It is very fine and I am happy to do this because we often complain that people don’t understand us as Nigerians, that people don’t know about our culture but we do nothing about it. People learn about you if you export your culture through music, stage play and movies. Like in the Shaw Theatre, they didn’t know anything about Nigerian theatre. But this year, they gave us a discount, they have been so welcoming because they were overwhelmed by the quality and the number of people that came to the show last year. It is like a game changer. That is essentially what we are doing. The vibes have been impressive because we have a lot of partners and different organisations that support us such as MTN and Bank of Industry. We have so much good will that is very why it is easy to get the push from our partners,” she said.
How Austen Peters explained why she jettisoned the law for the theatre. “I was working as an international lawyer with the United Nations and when I returned home I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and clearly the arts was fascinating. When I started out I didn’t realise that I have this much in me. The more you do it the more you know that you are gifted. It was easy for me and if I had had my way from the onset may be I would have been a dancer, writer.”
She recounted what she considers the most important achievements of staging her plays in London “As you know, there are combination of people living abroad. So people learn about who we are. What Wakaa and Saro are doing is about education: People learn about who we are. And we are building on the success of acceptance both home and abroad. I am glad that we have been able to showcase Nigerian culture to the global audience. You know anywhere you go you will always see a South African, an American, the question is where are Nigerians? We are changing perception, we are changing content, we are changing the way people see us. Infrastructure is critical to arts because without theatre, without museum, galleries you can’t really do anything. It is like movies.”
Speaking further on the years of systematic planning that went into developing and exporting her plays, she said, “We started stage play about seven years ago through our Terra Kulture Initiative. We opened our doors and as we began to grow the industry slowly. Theatre had died down and over the past seven years, the brand has grown steadily now it is crossing borders. Wakaa and Saro might go to the United States of America next year.”
Like every new venture, it was difficult initially. However, with sponsorship rolling in, things are looking up on the brighter side.”
For those who are yearning for something new, Austen Peters let the cat out of bag. By end of this year, Nigerians are going to see a brand new production and is going to be called Fela and the Kalakuta. It is going to be focusing on the life of the late legend. It is based on the true story which will be organized collaboration with his family.