Patrick Diabuah is one of the promising figures in the Nigerian theatre scene with many stage plays, including musicals and films to his credit. Started acting in 1998, Diabuah has since honed his skills and wormed himself into the hearts of many live theatre going audience, especially in Lagos. His stagecraft, while interpreting roles is usually in the superlative and makes the audience relate to the play the more. He spoke with OMIKO AWA on his experiences, theatre practice in the country and the way forward.
You have been featuring in notable stage performances and playing major roles. Why are you attracted to these roles?
To be honest, I love the art of performance, specifically acting on stage. I would say that it is my first attraction, something that I have always wanted to do as a child, but as it might sound the stage found me. I remember even as a child after watching a movie, I will go out and do my own version of the movie; I create my own actors or puppets and use them to act. At some point, it was I am acting or talking to myself; I am all the characters. So, my main attraction really is the love for the stage.
Secondly, it is the storyline; its positive effects on the society that would make me take up any role in a play. Lastly, we must not forget the money that comes with it.
How do get these roles? Are there things you do extra-ordinarily well or what?
There is a saying that says ‘if you handle little things well, bigger things will be given to you.’ Directors, I think have seen me play smaller roles and along the line, I think most of them felt that I would do much better if given the opportunity to handle bigger roles. Besides, I am an actor who is very passionate about what I do, that I get the chance to play a character, I want to play it down to the marrow, to give it the minutest detail I can possibly think of; so, I guess when directors see this, they like it. Aside this, I do not know of any other reasons and overall, I guess I am just being fortunate.
You must be spending quality time on research and observing people. How true is this?
It is true; everything has to do with observation and practice. Apart from rehearsals for a show, I put in quality time on research and whenever I am alone in the house, I take a random script and research on the characters. I go the extra mile, I don’t know if other actors do it, but tell myself that any character I have to play must stand out. This means I have to put in more effort, give the characters life outside the scripts. I always want to look for that thing that makes a character come alive, and I know, learning lines alone will not do it; it has to be more than lines, my whole being has to be immersed in it, that is one major thing I do. I try to give characters life outside rehearsal space and by this, I mean the script only knows this point to that point of the character; so, after reading a script, I do try to create a past and a possible future of a character, make it three dimensional and I do this as best as I can.
Some people say the make-believe life actors put up stage affects their real life, how true is this about you?
To some extent it is true, but I think this is when the actor needs to learn how to stay in control. There are some characters you play for a long period and you will find out that you have begun to do those things that the characters are known for or do; it is not magic, it’s real. I think it’s that same feeling when you pick up a habit, and you keep doing it every day, it becomes part of you. That’s why when I play a character, I try to go back to my life, I tell myself that I have done with this work and I need to get back to real life. I don’t allow a character to stick to me or engage in the habits it portrays because I know it will involve one living a life of the character even outside. I must say, my Christian background too has made me to remain focus, not absorbing any of the roles interpreted on stage.
Which of your plays would you fall back to say you really tried and which is the most challenging?
The most challenging character that I have ever played comes from Wole Soyinka’s Trials of Brother Jero. I was the Brother Jero. Till date that play remains one of my best plays and Brother Jero, my favourite character. Brother Jero remains the favourite character that I have ever created as an actor.
And for the most challenging play, I would say I always come off a performance feeling like I could have done something extra; thinking I have not really put in my best and I hope I can stop this. Really, I have never finished a play and say to myself, I have nailed it; the only time I came close to saying this was in the Trials of Brother Jero. All the plays I have performed have their own challenges, but the most challenging and my favorite remains the Trials of Brother Jero.
Outside the stage what else do you do?
I am a sculptor and I also draw. My hobbies include learning language and music; I was part of a band at some point, where I played the guitar. But outside theatre, I am a sculptor.
How do you combine both, especially when each is time consuming?
To tell you the truth, theatre is a jealous lover; it doesn’t really afford you time, but recently I have decided to do sculpting at least once a week. I will now embark on a project that I will be doing at my free time. I just need to share my time between theatre and sculpture or else I might lose the skill. Theatre is too jealous and wants to take all my time.
What was the first day you appeared on stage like?
I had a mixed feeling; I was nervous and still get nervous before I go on stage. In fact, if I don’t get nervous before the show I get even more nervous because I know something is about to go down wrong. For me, the nervous energy is a positive force that spurs me to act. When I get that shaking up inside of me, the feeling that there is nothing to lose, it motivates me to work more. If I feel like there is nothing to lose, then there is nothing to die for or fight for; so that’s why I like to feel a bit nervous each time I go on stage. It is not fear, it’s a thing that assures me that all will be alright, but if this does not happen I would then begin to think that something is going to go wrong; maybe it’s just superstition on my part, but it is working for me.
Where do you see the Nigerian theatre in the next few years?
I feel the Nigerian theatre in the next few years would be better than what it is today, in terms of structure and others elements that make the sector vibrant. I am saying this based on the changes that have taken place since I started acting professionally. I could recall that when I started there were a few theatre troupes, a few space for theatre and, of course, one could count the number of shows — big or small — holding in a month, but all that have changed. There are now a lot of spaces for theatre, be it the conventional space or not, with different troupes coming up. So, the future is bright and this connotes that people are beginning to embrace theatre culture as a means of entertainment and education. Writers are also coming up with new plays, while some creative producers are rejigging old ones; the scene is now active and would be better with time. Just visit your
Instagram or Facebook, you will likely have four to five adverts of plays for the weekend.Other things I look forward to seeing practitioners or stakeholders do is to create the right structures, which include regulations or rules for the practice. I have been privileged to work in the United Kingdom and there is this strong regulation that protects artistes, the number of hours he/she has to work, the minimum wage an artiste can earn and other incentives. It is surprising that even for some big shows in the country some artistes do not get their pay at the end of it. There is no law to regulate their contracts and as such they go into shows without entering into a proper contract. With this, if one has an executive producer who has no conscience, he/she could deny the artistes or would not pay them and nothing would be done. There should be a law to protect the artiste, his person and theatre practice. This will be one big way to support the Nigerian theatre; its growth and development. Other ways is to introduce plays in the school curriculums — primary and secondary — and not just introducing them, but to make sure they are properly taught because culture is part of the elements that develop a nation and if we don’t preserve our culture in theatre or the arts, coming generation may likely forget them.
But some of these things you have just mentioned exist in the country
If they are, they are not pronounced. I mean there should be structures as we have them in other place where theatre is bringing in good money if we want to achieve the same result. In those countries, an actor need not to do four or five shows in a month to survive; he/she does one show, which will runs for about six months. Since it’s a live show he/she would be comfortable from the proceeds that come from that one show. I understand it is difficult to run a show, but I must say it is demoralizing to ask an actor or a performer to come to stage and at the end of the day he/she goes home with nothing; not paid. It is also demoralising when an actor sees his face on posters with people believing he has made some money only to go home with stories of no money. Many Nigerian actors cannot even afford three square meals or properly take care of themselves with the little money they earn.
Is theatre actually paying your bills?
Yes, it is and will do better in future when more corporate bodies are involved. Also with good structures in place cast and crew, the whole troupe members will earn more. What we have today is a misfit; we cannot make enough money when the actor, the performer, is his own manager, his own agent, his own publicist, his everything; he is doing more than three people’s job and yet you expect him to be the best.