“Nigeria is now becoming more sophisticated to the extent that people
The above captures Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters’ foray into musical theatre production, and how she has succeeded in changing the narrative, for good. And indeed, there is a sense in being an internationalist, in bringing experiences and passions garnered in foreign lands through travels into concrete and actionable objectives and programmes. It is what Austen-Peters has transformed into a cultural business for which the audience has continued to ask for more.
Having travelled to some of the best places around the world
That was how Theatre@Terra was born, and Wole Oguntokun’s Renegade, Kenneth Uphopho’s PAWSTUDIOS, Ikenna Jude Opala’s Wazobia, and other young theatre groups got their groove plying their craft at Terra Kulture hall. Of course, the audience was small, almost grudging in numbers. Sometimes, five audience members will sit through an hour’s play performance.
Obviously, Austen-Peters was watching the trend with keen interest, but she didn’t want to do the usual. She had her eyes set on bigger things. Then Fela! On Broadway hit Lagos stage at Eko Hotel. It became the turning point for Austin-Peters. It was as though a raw nerve had been seared in her heart. Why would foreigners bring Nigeria’s own Fela to them for an insane amount?
She did her mathematics, and arrived at her own conclusions. If a foreigner could insult Nigerians with that kind of Fela, surely Nigerians could do a lot better. Thus emerged Bolanle Austen-Peters Production (BAP), the theatre production arm of Terra Kulture. And today BAP has become a force of nature, as it has singlehandedly reengineered Lagos cultural landscape, with its mouth-watering offerings in the
She confesses that one of the influences on her life is the legendary Afrobeat king, Fela. According to her, “I love Fela, which inspired some of our musicals and we have used one particular piece he sang: Water no get enemy, and it occurred to me that you can’t fight water no matter what.”
After staging Saro the Musical at Oriental Hotel and
Although Terra Theatre Arena may not be the entire solution to the absence of platforms for stage production, it is a significant step in the right direction. Her ingenuity in spotting prime business in an area otherwise previously seen as making poor returns on investment prompted Lagos State government to select Austen-Peters to handle the proposed six theatres across the state to counteract the comatose and wasting National Theatre that has since become a blight to the state’s performance landscape.
Austen-Peters’ uncanny ability for reviving belief in a theatre sector that has lain comatose for many years stands her out, as an Amazon who dared to thread where trained thespians had thrown up their hands in apparent despair and defeat. Nollywood became the only beacon for trained thespians, but even that sector has its own ugly baggage that has undermined its ascendancy. Now thespians can look forward to the stage as a place to ply their craft, because one woman dared to believe and invested her energy and talent to make it where to be. And because of Nollywood’s less sterling offerings, having exhausted its goodwill and initial novelty, Nigerians can once again step out of their homes and troop out to the stage to see a play in their numbers.
For Austen-Peters, it is not all about making good business out
Terra Kulture has made significant strides in visual arts practice, not just with her gallery but the auctions that have been held to energise the sector and raise it to international standards. She, alongside other gallery owners, through their activities over the years, has taken Nigerian visual arts to the global arena through exposures and other formats.
One area of concern to Austen-Peters is the potential for youth talent the culture sector could engage and take off the streets and crime and other vices. Nigeria, she often says, has a rich tradition that can be commoditised for job creation, but it has sadly been left to fallow. Her job, as she clearly defines it, is clear – harness artistic avenues out of Nigeria’s rich culture and get it to produce jobs for her youth talent that would have otherwise gone to waste. And she is making a fine job of it. With not less than 60 persons working in every production at the same time in a period of three months, what employment possibility could be bigger than that?
She has, in a way, liberalised the space, and others are following her footsteps and have kept widening it to accommodate others, who keep more youth talents out of unemployment. That is the quintessential Mrs. Austin-Peters, a woman whose passion for developing the arts is so infectious corporate Nigeria, which ordinarily doesn’t believe in what the art community is doing, has begun to take a serious look in. Why? She has large numbers to her side, one major requirement that has been lacking until now. At 50, Austin-Peters deserves all the cheers for her doggedness and commitment to her passion for the arts.
Culled from Guardian