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With ‘Wedlock of the Gods,’ the professor brings Nigerian storytelling and culture to the main stage at the University of Southern California (USC) (By Chinyere Amobi)

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  By Chinyere Amobi Associate Editor USC News https www USC edu and USC Trojan Family Magazine Members of the African diaspora transformed USC s Bing Theater into a showcase of Nigerian music culture and folklore last week as they gathered from around the world to see Wedlock of the Gods directed by Bayo Akinfemi assistant professor of theater practice The production which opened in time for Nigerian Independence Day on October 1 featured a cast of almost all black students from the USC School of Dramatic Arts eager to bring the work of the celebrated Zulu playwright to life Sofola Audiences were in full conversation with Sofola s material as the student playwright s dramatic portrayals of characters coupled with the vibrancy of costumes and scenery which transformed the theater into a post colonial Nigerian village elicited laughter snaps gasps and clucks of disapproval The play tells the story of Ogwoma a young widow whose family forced her into an arranged marriage to secure funds to save the life of her sick brother Two months after the death of Ogwoma s husband still within the mandatory three month mourning period imposed on her widows she becomes pregnant with the love of her life Uloko Odibe Ogwoma s mother in law has the mission of punishing the young couple for dishonoring her dead son Likewise Ogwoma and Uloko s parents urge them to abandon their love to avoid embarrassing their families The pair s staunch defiance draws the ire of the entire community with tragic results Bringing Sofola s work to the USC stage had special meaning for Akinfemi Sofola Africa s first professor of theater arts and Nigeria s first published playwright and playwright served as a mentor to Akinfemi who was part of the last cohort of theater students Sofola taught at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria before her death death in 1995 Akinfemi said he had a very special relationship with Sofola whom he and many of his classmates referred to as Mama because of her devotion to her students She was a mother in the truest sense of the word and she went above and beyond the call of duty as head of our department Akinfemi said in an interview before the show My personal connection to this woman makes me very proud and hungry to put her work here in this space for all to see Bringing Wedlock of the Gods to one of USC s premier stages aligns with Akinfemi s larger mission of creating more opportunities for African diaspora artists When Akinfemi came to the United States more than 10 years ago he struggled to secure acting opportunities in an industry that couldn t imagine him in roles beyond those in which he played a servant or served as the butt of jokes Although the connections he made during his master s studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and beyond have served him well He now has a joint full time appointment in USC Cinematic Arts and USC Dramatic Arts and works as an actor consultant and occasional director of the CBS sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola Akinfemi says his initial struggles fuel his desire to create more opportunities for authentic African storytelling I want to present something different not only to the USC community but also to the larger community of Los Angeles California and the United States he said I am so glad that USC has been open to this idea and this experience not only for me but also for the students and the team USC Dean of Dramatic Arts Emily Roxworthy attended Friday s presentation and spoke about how Akinfemi s production and mission further the university s goal of deepening its engagement with the surrounding community Since coming to USC I have been very impressed by President Carol Folt s vision of USC as a private university with a public heart said Roxworthy To be able to honor the legacy of Zulu Sofola and all that he meant to Nigeria and Africa and bring that to our stage and allow our students to have the experience of working on a play like this is really important The School of Drama s mission is to change the face of the entertainment industry and that includes the stories told on our main stages Third year drama undergraduate Nia Baker who played Nneka Ogwoma s mother stressed the importance of exposing African stories told and performed by African artists to a wider audience Art film and theater have this unique power to not only show what the world is but to reflect what the world could be Ella Baker said When audiences are used to only consuming certain types of media that have this image of what Africa is especially what we have seen in the past that can be harmful that could perpetuate harmful narratives and stereotypes That is why it is so important that our African stories are shown in the most authentic way possible by African storytellers MFA third year student Levonte Herbert played Ibekwe Ogwoma s father For Herbert who turned to acting as the only creative outlet that could hold his interest after his careers in boxing and the Marines working with Akinfemi was an opportunity to lose himself in a world he knew little about before It was a blessing to have a director who was from that world because I didn t have to go to Google to do the research Herbert said He was the cheat code and he had a lot to offer whether it was about the character or the story or something else that I didn t understand After the play the Sofola children joined Akinfemi for a conversation with the audience during which USC students and attendees explored the main themes of the play and the impact of seeing African stories told in one of the main stages of the USC From the beginning Akinfemi focused the discussion on the play s main theme female empowerment as traditional gender roles and stigma around female bodily autonomy collide with personal freedom This play is about a woman fighting for independence from patriarchal oppression Akinfemi said Although it is fictional these topics are still very relevant to what is happening in the US and even in Iran right now and I want this to be at the forefront of the conversation Sofola s children praised USC for showcasing their mother s game and shared how their unique upbringing in a family that recognized their potential belied traditional views about the role of women in 1950s Nigerian society and the playwright s living daughter shared stories about how Sofola s grandfather made the then unusual decision to send her to study in the United States at the age of 15 and how years later her husband would wait in his car outside the university where she taught until 4 in the morning to ensure that she could finish teaching her students and get home safely Students in the audience discussed how seeing USC support authentic black storytelling with a strong female lead helped them see themselves in future productions and emphasized that creating spaces like this helped them believe they could have a voice within USC Drama Arts Asked before the show what he wants audience members to take with them after watching it Baker said I want people to be eager to ask questions I want people to be more excited about future Africa focused stories and narratives and for people to open their eyes hearts and ears to new and diverse narratives At the end of the talk Akinfemi stood up and asked the audience to raise their hands if it was their first time attending a play at USC Almost everyone in the theater raised their hand When she asked how many would see another production the same majority raised their hands and joined in a round of applause This article was originally published via USC News https bit ly 3CdSpGo
With ‘Wedlock of the Gods,’ the professor brings Nigerian storytelling and culture to the main stage at the University of Southern California (USC) (By Chinyere Amobi)

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Chinyere Amobi

By Chinyere Amobi, Associate Editor, USC News (https://www.USC.edu) and USC Trojan Family Magazine Members of the African diaspora transformed USC’s Bing Theater into a showcase of Nigerian music, culture and folklore last week as they gathered from around the world to see Wedlock of the Gods, directed by Bayo Akinfemi, assistant professor of theater practice.

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The production, which opened in time for Nigerian Independence Day on October 1, featured a cast of almost all-black students from the USC School of Dramatic Arts, eager to bring the work of the celebrated Zulu playwright to life.

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Sofola.

Audiences were in full conversation with Sofola’s material as the student playwright’s dramatic portrayals of characters, coupled with the vibrancy of costumes and scenery, which transformed the theater into a post-colonial Nigerian village, elicited laughter, snaps, gasps and clucks of disapproval.

The play tells the story of Ogwoma, a young widow whose family forced her into an arranged marriage to secure funds to save the life of her sick brother.

Two months after the death of Ogwoma’s husband, still within the mandatory three-month mourning period imposed on her widows, she becomes pregnant with the love of her life, Uloko.

Odibe, Ogwoma’s mother-in-law, has the mission of punishing the young couple for dishonoring her dead son.

Likewise, Ogwoma and Uloko’s parents urge them to abandon their love to avoid embarrassing their families.

The pair’s staunch defiance draws the ire of the entire community, with tragic results.

Bringing Sofola’s work to the USC stage had special meaning for Akinfemi.

Sofola, Africa’s first professor of theater arts and Nigeria’s first published playwright and playwright, served as a mentor to Akinfemi, who was part of the last cohort of theater students Sofola taught at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria before her death.

death in 1995.

Akinfemi said he had a very special relationship with Sofola, whom he and many of his classmates referred to as “Mama” because of her devotion to her students.

“She was a mother in the truest sense of the word and she went above and beyond the call of duty as head of our department,” Akinfemi said in an interview before the show.

“My personal connection to this woman makes me very proud and hungry to put her work here in this space for all to see.”

Bringing Wedlock of the Gods to one of USC’s premier stages aligns with Akinfemi’s larger mission of creating more opportunities for African diaspora artists.

When Akinfemi came to the United States more than 10 years ago, he struggled to secure acting opportunities in an industry that couldn’t imagine him in roles beyond those in which he played a servant or served as the butt of jokes.

Although the connections he made during his master’s studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and beyond have served him well: He now has a joint full-time appointment in USC Cinematic Arts and USC Dramatic Arts and works as an actor, consultant, and occasional director of the CBS sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola.

Akinfemi says his initial struggles fuel his desire to create more opportunities for authentic African storytelling.

“I want to present something different, not only to the USC community, but also to the larger community of Los Angeles, California and the United States,” he said.

“I am so glad that USC has been open to this idea and this experience not only for me, but also for the students and the team.” USC Dean of Dramatic Arts Emily Roxworthy attended Friday’s presentation and spoke about how Akinfemi’s production and mission further the university’s goal of deepening its engagement with the surrounding community.

“Since coming to USC, I have been very impressed by President Carol Folt‘s vision of USC as a private university with a public heart,” said Roxworthy.

“To be able to honor the legacy of Zulu Sofola and all that he meant to Nigeria and Africa and bring that to our stage and allow our students to have the experience of working on a play like this is really important.

The School of Drama’s mission is to change the face of the entertainment industry, and that includes the stories told on our main stages.”

Third-year drama undergraduate Nia Baker, who played Nneka, Ogwoma’s mother, stressed the importance of exposing African stories told and performed by African artists to a wider audience.

“Art, film and theater have this unique power to not only show what the world is, but to reflect what the world could be,” Ella Baker said.

“When audiences are used to only consuming certain types of media that have this image of what Africa is, especially what we have seen in the past that can be harmful, that could perpetuate harmful narratives and stereotypes.

That is why it is so important that our African stories are shown in the most authentic way possible by African storytellers.” MFA third-year student Levonte Herbert played Ibekwe, Ogwoma’s father.

For Herbert, who turned to acting as the only creative outlet that could hold his interest after his careers in boxing and the Marines, working with Akinfemi was an opportunity to lose himself in a world he knew little about before.

“It was a blessing to have a director who was from that world, because I didn’t have to go to Google to do the research,” Herbert said.

“He was the cheat code and he had a lot to offer, whether it was about the character or the story or something else that I didn’t understand.”

After the play, the Sofola children joined Akinfemi for a “conversation” with the audience, during which USC students and attendees explored the main themes of the play and the impact of seeing African stories told in one of the main stages of the USC.

From the beginning, Akinfemi focused the discussion on the play’s main theme, female empowerment, as traditional gender roles and stigma around female bodily autonomy collide with personal freedom.

“This play is about a woman fighting for independence from patriarchal oppression,” Akinfemi said.

“Although it is fictional, these topics are still very relevant to what is happening in the US and even in Iran right now, and I want this to be at the forefront of the conversation.” Sofola’s children praised USC for showcasing their mother’s game and shared how their unique upbringing in a family that recognized their potential belied traditional views about the role of women in 1950s Nigerian society.

and the playwright’s living daughter shared stories about how Sofola’s grandfather made the then-unusual decision to send her to study in the United States at the age of 15, and how years later her husband would wait in his car outside the university where she taught until 4 in the morning, to ensure that she could finish teaching her students and get home safely.

Students in the audience discussed how seeing USC support authentic, black storytelling with a strong female lead helped them see themselves in future productions and emphasized that creating spaces like this helped them believe they could have a voice within USC.

Drama Arts. Asked before the show what he wants audience members to take with them after watching it, Baker said, “I want people to be eager to ask questions.

I want people to be more excited about future Africa-focused stories and narratives, and for people to open their eyes, hearts and ears to new and diverse narratives.” At the end of the talk, Akinfemi stood up and asked the audience to raise their hands if it was their first time attending a play at USC.

Almost everyone in the theater raised their hand.

When she asked how many would see another production, the same majority raised their hands and joined in a round of applause.

This article was originally published via USC News: https://bit.ly/3CdSpGo.

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