As discussed in How to be an Unhappy Expat, my transition from Lagos to Houston was challenging. But writing helped.
During my Lagos years, working with Buddy Agedah, I became the staff writer for Dance & Art Alive under the name Jo Demmer (see why I chose a pseudonym in To Be Oneself Or To Be Someone Else). In 2008, we produced Music & Dance on the Lagoon for the Lagos Yacht Club and Eye of the Tiger for Mobil Producing Nigeria. My hope was to establish an annual show for these companies to create ongoing business.
I drafted a 2009 show for the yacht club, but after I left Lagos, they pulled out. This caused a huge disappointment and a gut-wrenching number of wasted hours. But as they say, “That’s showbiz.”
We did secure another four shows for Mobil Producing Nigeria, making a total of five. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, but it wasn’t. Each year, we wrote proposals, Buddy attended meetings and we waited … and waited … and waited until we finally we grated a budget. I didn’t write the 2009 show, but I penned the others: Second Chances (2010), A Dangerous Game (2011) and Christmas at My Place (2012).
Buddy set a prerequisite that each show needed a social theme. We debated whether art for the sake of art was enough – a pure romance or thriller – but given funding dollars were so scarce and Nigeria so rife with problems, we agreed that social relevance was mandatory. Over the years, we tackled malaria, child trafficking, gambling and workplace safety.
Writing these shows gave me equal parts joy and frustration. I loved conceptualizing and fleshing out the stories, and spent hours choosing music. It was a privilege and a thrill to have them produced.
Yet after Eye of the Tiger, I never returned to Lagos, so I didn’t have input to the production or see the performances live. I had no idea how my stage directions were interpreted. Grrr! While Skype made communication possible, the time difference was inconvenient. I preferred to be prepared ahead of time, but Buddy was more laid back and didn’t understand my sense of urgency. None of this helped me settle in the U.S.
I wanted to produce a show in Houston, so I wrote Faint of Heart, designed to be low-budget with a small cast and simple staging.
Ex-lovers meet again ten years after their breakup. They relive their romance and question the reasons for their rift. Is it too late to recover from their mistakes and rekindle their relationship?
It was full of intrigue, misunderstandings and angst. I even had drugs as a social theme.
Until this point, I wrote my shows for a single narrator and multiple dancers. This time, I used two narrators (the two lovers in the present) and two dancers (the lovers in the past). While the actors played out the current story, dancers performed their reminiscences. The dialogue between the narrators marked my move to more traditional theatre, while I retained the heavy emphasis on dance.
To proceed, I needed a dance partner. Experience had shown that I didn’t fit the franchise dance studio mold, so I looked for an independent studio. It took time, but eventually, I was referred to Martin Balmaceda. Our first months together were spent in choreography-heaven working on Faint of Heart.
In the meantime, I started writing for Gbenga Yusuf, another dancer I’d met in Lagos. Gbenga had moved to Benin around the same time I moved to Houston and started STAR Performing Arts Company with Penny Mohammed, a dance instructor from South Africa. They asked me to write a show for them about child trafficking. The research I did for this story turned my stomach. I have returned to this material many times – in two dance shows, Second Chances and Batonga; a short story, Abike; and it forms the basis of my second yet-to-be-published novel, Lost in Lagos.
I finished writing the show and helped to prepare proposals, but we couldn’t attract sponsorship. Months passed.
Penny moved back to South Africa. Gbenga returned to Lagos. Still, no production.
Finally, in 2010, we had the opportunity for Buddy to produce the show for Mobil as Second Chances. I thought it was better for the story to be out there rather than remain forever unseen, but it must have been hard for Gbenga to lose control. Perhaps I should have waited …
Because just when we least expected it, Terra Kulture, a theatre on Victoria Island offered Gbenga an opportunity to produce a show. The group booked to perform had pulled out and Gbenga was given their time slots.
We had a week to pull it together. One. Week. Impossible? Most sane people would say so. But I had an idea and there was no time to waste on negativity. The clock was ticking and we had work to do.
Next time: The next interview in the Mansfield series: Greg Romanes on Tree Change, Foster Care and Mansfield’s Next Gold Rush
Next blog about my Houston adventure: Gbenga Yusuf and The Perfect Dance