‘Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again’

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Investment banker cum theatre producer and columnist, Joseph Edgar is literarily going mad with his new production titled ‘Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again’. Fondly known by his platform The Duke of Shomolu Productions, Edgar, talks about the play which he says is a socio-political commentary on life in Nigeria in 2020. He also talks about his other projects with Ferdinand Ekechukwu

You are set to stage your latest production called ‘Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again’. What is the theme of the play?

‘You Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again’ is a compilation, an anthology. During the lockdown, there were a lot of issues, a lot of themes that was going in and out of my head that affected me as a person and also affected our society. You know things that people would not want to engage and that’s me trying to provide a platform for them. So that’s me trying to show the society their lives through my own eyes. Themes like love, themes like anger, themes like how do you react to the loss of a loved one, economic themes and then it’s with a lot of humour. It’s a 6-man production; it has Patrick Diabuah, it has Kemi Bickersteth, it has Chantel Edgar, and it’s coming up somewhere called The Finery, Ikoyi. It’s because of the pandemic it’s a very close, exclusive play. That place sits 500 people but we are taking just 200 people per show; four shows on the 25 and the 26 December. It is a socio-political commentary on life in Nigeria in 2020 and it’s a must watch.

This is your seventh theatrical effort. Compared to your other productions, what makes this upcoming performance distinguishable?
Yes, it’s my seventh theatrical production and like you know before this we have done Loud Whispers, we have also done Isale Eko, and we did that twice. And we had Oba Esugbayi which was phenomenal. And then we had the great, wonderful boundary pushing 3Some. After 3Some we had Emotan which was very, very successful I must say because it was named the official play of the National Festival for Arts and Culture in Benin. And then we have done Aremu. Now the difference between this particular play is that this play throws me out there through that persona Joseph Edgar, the Duke of Shomolu, without shame.

So all my thought processes, my contrarian views about life in Nigeria, about life in itself, about the themes I mentioned earlier like themes of love, themes of marriage, themes of premarital sex, themes that make society oddly is put out there. So for the first time in my short career in theatre actually, the focus is on me. This is coming out of the phenomenal followership that we have been able to garner in the last five to six years across all platforms. From the THISDAY column to the over four five books we have written and then all of these other productions. It’s a 98 percent dialogue production. It’s going to be directed by one of the most talented theatre directors, Segun Adefila. And it’s going to really, really be epochal because it’s going to really push the boundaries, take logic on its head and begin to open up general thought processes to a different kinds of assessments.

Going by the play performance at the well-heeled Ikoyi neighbourhood with dress code for attendees, this production seems to be targeted at upscale audience. Why so?
Yeah it looks like it has an upscale feel about it you know judging by its location, it’s pricing, and then in dress code and I will tell you why. The pandemic as at the time we started designing this production we were just coming out, that’s if we have come out of the pandemic now. So we (I for one) couldn’t be very comfortable in wanting to put people in an enclosed compartment. That’s one. Then so the idea of having an open air play came up. And then where in Lagos can you get such a beautiful place as The Finery? I think you should go see that place. It’s in upscale Ikoyi, it’s on Probyne Rd. So you would agree with me that because of the location, the costing of that venue is almost a thousand percent of the cost of what we are trying to do here. And then again because we do not want to risk, because we are pushing for safety, we try to put the pricing out there so that it can be a little bit easier to control.

Now we are having Ogele which is the largest aggregator of African content in this world with over 20,000 content and with 1.1 million followers to live stream it all over the world so you don’t really have to physically come and see the play to enjoy it. So Ogele will live stream it and then do a second showing again sometime in January for those who missed it again. And for the dress code the idea behind that dress code is that we have lost a lot of people this year. I for one have lost my wife, Erelu and so many other close friends. Even as we speak I just lost my greatest mentor, Albert Okumagba. So I decided to celebrate those who had lost loved one, celebrate loved ones that have gone this 2020. So we said let’s wear white. So we have pictures of those that have gone some of our colleagues that have passed. Bikiya Graham-Douglas, a wonderful actress will stand out there on the day and pay homage to all of those people at the beginning of the play. That’s why we are having that dress code there.

It seems you have completely abandoned your investment banking profession for media and theatre?
Noooo I have not abandoned investment banking o! I’m still an investment banker. But just that it could be very, very sensitive so you don’t really, really hear me talk about my mandates or talk about my clients like that, that’s investment banking. So, because theatre is something that has to do with entertainment, it has to do with the people, it has to do with media, that side of me is very, very prominent. I’m still a thoroughbred investment banker. Investment Banking is my passion and I have not left it for anything.

Funding of theatrical entertainment projects isn’t a tea party. Tell us about the funding and budget and how much of your investment banking reach/background do you explore to hitting targets and getting sponsorships and partnerships?
I have a different idea towards funding. I do not believe that some sponsorship is sustainable for a vibrant theatrical industry or a vibrant entertainment industry. I feel as an investment banker there are structures; institutionalization should be put in place that would allow for the continuous funneling of funds towards theatre and entertainment assets. So in funding some of my productions in the last three, four, five years I have built on my network as a 22 year veteran in investment banking.

But in also pushing those relationships and those networks, it takes a lot of value. So the difference between myself and other people is that when you go to seat in front of a business person, someone that has target, someone that has product to shift he wants to know how he can leverage on that platform to shift his goods, to shift his services. So as an investment banker I understand that language very well. So I sit down with them we discuss figures, we discuss his targets, we discuss how he’s going to leverage on my platform and that gets him interested and that’s why on this production we have about sixteen corporates on it because I understand their language and they understand mine.

Your plays are for matured minds and adults. Is this play in any way similar and restrictive by any age limit?
(Laughs) I think you are looking at me with the idea of ‘3Some’. Or my new book that is coming up called ‘Anonymous Nipples’. Yes, this latest play may not be too child friendly. But my seventeen year old daughter (Chantal Edgar) is in it. But it addresses adult themes. So I think a teenager from the age of sixteen and above can see this play. It has a lot of contrarian views; it has a lot of deductive reasoning. Because the challenges we are having in this society right now is a lot of emotive argument, a lot of emotive positions taken on issues. So this particular play is going to look at these issues in a didactic manner, it’s going to look at these issues in a logical sequencing manner and it will not attempt to answer any question even though it’s going to throw up a lot of issues in the air. But we expect the audience to go home and reason differently. I think we should start rebuilding the renaissance of this country from reasoning.

Do you have any plans of bringing your previous productions back on stage; especially the Ahmed Yerima scripted ‘Aremu’ which celebrates ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s life?
Of course… you know the Covid-19 pandemic dismantled a lot of things but just temporarily shutting things down. The plan was to have a Duke of Shomolu Theatre Festival this December and already a committee had been in place. We were going to have all six of our productions over a weekend. But all of that is going to happen next year 2021. And then we add one new play I can’t call right now. We have not really finished with Aremu just yet because of the lockdown we are hoping to bring Aremu back early next year. We are going to be having Aremu first half of the year.

It is in the public domain that you are putting a team of experts towards raising funds for a massive theatre space. How far have you gone with this initiative?
Yeah I’m putting plans in place to raise a lot of money to build The People’s Theatre. There’s nothing to hide there. People’s Theatre is going to be a massive structure that would recreate wealth around the entertainment industry using theatre specifically. The plan is to have over 500 Nigerians own shares in this theatre, provide sustainable funding for productions and then open up the space widely all over the country and Africa as a whole. We are going to start first quarter next year (2021) and then we hope to deliver on that project first quarter 2022.

Any plans of venturing into Nollywood cinemas or adapting any of your stage productions into movies?
We don’t have any plans in the immediate future to go into Nollywood. I have had people come to say ‘oh let’s put Esugbayi on movie or let’s do Emotan on movie and all of that. For me I look at it from a business angle. Movie is a very huge production, it’s a very huge project and that comes with a lot of leakages. But most importantly comes with the inability to control everything around it; that’s sucking for me and it’s a no-no. I want to be in control of everything from entry to exit. Because if I’m going to get the kudos, then I must know what’s up. If I’m going to get the flag, then I must know what’s up. I don’t know what the future hold. We might want to get to that point at some point. But as at today, where I’m seated, Nollywood is no-no for me. I’m beginning to think about documentaries; I love documentaries. Just maybe in the near future we might do one or two on a very interesting subject.