ARDA Treads the Boards

Sometimes, a task seems so daunting just uttering it comes with a gasp.

We were going to stage a whole drama, The Wives’ Revolt by the legendary JP Clark. That wasn’t the daunting part- at ARDA pride ourselves on our creativity no matter the medium.

What WAS daunting was the fact that we were going to stage this play, in front of a demanding and knowledgable theatre-loving public, in less than a month. Two weeks to be exact.

Somehow, after many fervid days and sleepless nights, and a herculean effort behind the scenes from both ARDA and the Cast and Crew, we made it just in time.

“Our mantra throughout the whole process was ‘the show must go on’,” says Ajemina Ogan, ARDA Program Officer. “We didn’t have time to get upset at any setbacks, it was just ok, how can we solve this issue.”

ARDA wanted to stage the play before March ended as we had secured funding premised on it being a production to celebrate International Women’s History Month.

“We chose this play because it addresses the issues of gender inequality and toxic masculinity very well.” ARDA Executive Director, Alison Data Phido said. “The play was written in 1984, and the themes and the subject matter are still relevant today.”

The play depicts what happens when the women of a small community in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta grow weary of the daily injustices they face due to gender inequality. In this case, a windfall from the local oil company is shared between the men, women and village elders. The village elders are all men so in actual fact are double-dipping into the fund. When the women protest this, they are silenced and accused of witchcraft. This leads to them eventually taking their leave of the village leaving the men to contemplate and experience a world without women.

The production was minimalist, with a main cast of three and some background dancers but was well acted, with well known actors and ARDA radio drama-alums, Toyin Oshinaike and Albert Akaeze playing the hapless men, Okoro and Idama; and popular actress Zara Udofia-Ejoh playing the feisty Koko, wife of Okoro and one of the key women in the revolt.

The Wives’ Revolt is interesting as it actually showed some attitudes of the men towards the fight for gender equality. The traditional patriarchal attitude was held by Okoro, whilst Idama represented more moderate attitudes. You can and could actually see some of the arguments between Koko and Okoro playing out across various social media channels.

Acting in the play had a profound effect on the actors. Toyin Oshinaike who played the chauvinistic Okoro, said that he learned “that we should take [gender] equity and equality into consideration when making decisions.”

Director Toritseju Ejoh echoed the sentiment. “It was a wonderful experience working with ARDA.” “I’ve worked with ARDA in the past, doing voiceover work for their radio production, and when we got the chance to collaborate with ARDA, and on a theatre for development project, we at Oxzygen Koncepts [Mr Ejoh’s Theatre Company] jumped at the opportunity.”

He praised his cast and crew. “It’s been two absolutely fantastic days. The cast was on point, my lighting director…the set was fantastic,” he said.

Mr Ejoh said he hoped The Wives’ Revolt could have more, and longer runs in the future. “What ARDA is doing is very important. [Development] Communication through theatre is very important and we hope corporate bodies and other organizations can see the benefit of this…not just for their personal brands but also for the message of the play.”

Mrs Phido declared herself happy with the production. “I think we really got the message out,” she said. “You cannot have a developed country where one of the sexes is favored over the other, you cannot have a developed society that does not include anyone in the decision making, in contributions to development.”

“We are staging The Wives’ Revolt in honour of the people- women and also men- who are fighting for gender equality, equity and fairness,” she said.

She also said the play was selected to honour one of Nigeria’s literary greats, J.P Clark. “We’ve lost one of our literary icons recently in Gabriel Okara,” she said. “These people started writing as we know it. JP Clark for instance is 84 years old and is still a prolific writer- he writes poems, he still writes prose and we wanted to honour him and introduce him to a new generation of people while he was still alive.”

Professor Clark’s son was present for the production. We’re glad we were able to do justice to his father’s work.

Sometimes a task seems so daunting, but then you do it and surprise yourself at what you can do with the right people around you.

Executive Director, ARDA, Alison Data Phido

Executive Producer, ARDA, Femi Jarrett

ARDA Staff, Priscilla Fiberesima (left), Vivian Effiong, Femi Jarrett, Cast, The Wives Revolt, Zara Udofia-Ejoh, Toritseju Akiya Ejoh,  Toyin Oshinaike, and ARDA Staff,  Ajemina Ogan, Ayotunde Adeola Akisan

On Stage: Toyin Oshinaike (left), Albert Akaeze and Koko (Zara Udofia-Ejoh)