(Photo of dancer Ukalina, Lilian and Zara.)
Continued from Malaria, Kidnapping, Jewels …
The day before I moved from Lagos to Houston, Buddy came to say goodbye. There was a very real possibility I’d never see him again. It was different with our expat friends—we’d likely meet up again somewhere on the international circuit—but this felt permanent. Buddy and I forced smiles and made small talk about his preparations for the show we’d designed together.
The phone rang.
I almost didn’t pick it up as I didn’t want to be rude to Buddy, but I was still hoping for a stay of execution. Hurricane Ike had hit Texas just that week. Power and water were still out in large parts of the city. Maybe our departure would be delayed.
It was our contact from ExxonMobil to say they’d approved an extension to our budget to fly me back to Lagos for the week of the show. My legs went weak with relief. Goodbye had been reduced to see you soon.
For the next three months, while Buddy recruited a cast, confirmed a venue, arranged sets, costumes and promotional materials, and started rehearsals, Barto and I established our new life in Houston. We bought a house, cars and furniture, started the kids in a new school and Barto started his new job in head office.
Soon, I was on a plane back to Lagos.
I couldn’t wait to see my pregnant friend. Couldn’t wait to see the glow on her face, her dream so close to fulfillment. When she came to the door, her stomach was flat. One look at her tear-filled eyes told what she’d been unable to tell me over the phone. I asked whether she wanted me to change the script , worried the show would be too painful for her to watch, but she maintained a stubborn pride in telling her story, miscarriage by malaria. An enormous responsibility settled on my shoulder—I had to get this right.
I launched into rehearsals. While I longed to dance in the show, one week wasn’t enough time, so grateful just to be there, I accepted my role as script consultant/co-director. It was liberating to be on the outside looking in, I had much clearer vision.
Buddy had secured the award-winning Nigerian actor, Iretiola Doyle, to play the role of the narrator. It was thrilling to hear her read my work. Her energy, inflection and passion brought it to life better than I ever imagined.
Lillian Yeri, the dancer whose character miscarried, was worried about portraying this loss with authenticity. At the time, she was young, unmarried, and had no experience with children. We spoke at length about how to dig deep to find the emotions. She did an incredible job.
Dolakpo (Dolly) Phillips played Tiffany, and we too, spent time discussing the feelings to be portrayed in each dance. Expressive and sincere, she brought both strength and vulnerability to the part.
Ice demonstrated Argentine tango with me in one of the rehearsals. He knew how badly I’d wanted to dance in the show. In a sweet gesture, he offered to do a special performance with me at the end of the show, but I knew it was self-indulgent, so I refused. I wish I’d said yes.
The entire cast was magnificent. Besides those already mentioned, there was another familiar face from Music & Dance on the Lagoon—Gbenga Yusuf—as well as others I’d not worked with before—Ukalina Opuwari, Bernard Okon, Favour Ezeibe, Zara Udofia and Chris Umoh. All incredibly talented.
The week flew by in a blaze of activity. Buddy and the entire cast and crew worked non-stop to get everything done. I made the most of my week as full-time writer/director with no family responsibilities.
Show day arrived. ExxonMobil used the performance as their end of year reward for staff and stakeholders, so we had a ready-made audience. During the performance, I sat with the sound and light crew to give the music cues. From there, I could watch both the stage and the audience.
The performers were hyped and gave it their all. One of the dancers slid on his knees with such vigor that he slipped right off the stage. For three long seconds, he didn’t move. The blood drained out of my head. What have we done? We’ve killed him.
Before I could rush to his aid, he picked himself up and perched on the edge of the stage as if it were part of the choreography. A true professional, he carried on. My heart restarted.
Later, when two of the characters, Greg and Tiffany (Ice and Dolly), fought, they wrestled with such intensity that that they crashed to the ground. Again, they continued as if it had been intentional. We weren’t going to win any safety awards.
We got through the rest of the show with no further injuries and the audience was very generous.
Then I said goodbye for real.
That was ten years ago. I continued to write for Buddy and Gbenga for a further five years, but I haven’t seen a single cast member since.
Just this week, I met Gbenga for lunch. On tour in Australia with Spirit of David, he found time to catch up. Coming soon, hear more about Gbenga Yusuf, director extraodinaire.