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Wednesday, 3 April 2019


…SAYS, AYO JAIYESIMI (Ex Top Bank Executive, Playwright & Producer, ITAN -The Story)

Multi-talented Playwright and Producer, Ayo Jaiyesimi is big in the news, with her new work, ‘ITAN –The story’ which is coming to rock the theatre this month April. And cheerful Ayo Jaiyesimi is equally rocking the society scene and the creative space. Once a top banker, Ayo Jaiyesimi confesses: “I don’t miss the banking industry!” A sector of the economy where she worked and left as the Group Head Human Capital Management.
An Accountant and Human Resources expert, Ayo Jaiyesimi still calculates figures as the CEO of KONA, her consulting firm, but she confides in us that, the theatre has remained her natural passion. She tells us more in this interview with Paul Ukpabio.

You once worked in a bank, what was the turning point that made you opt out for the creative world, the world of the theatre?
I’ve had a very fulfilling career and worked in Consulting & Audit, Public and the Financial Services Sector. Although I have a background in Accounting, Audit and Human Resource Management l, I have however always been in the creative world. I’ve been in love with the creative arts since I was young. I was very good at painting and design. I was in the school choir and Drama & dance club and our team won many inter school competitions. 

So, if you discovered your creative skills early in life, while did you opt for a career in the financial sector of the economy?
My initial venture into accounting and consulting career was a compromise I had with my Father who was also a Chartered Accountant. He would support my creative quests but he felt that I should do a course that was lucrative. The potential of the Creative Arts industry didn’t seem too robust. Then most people in the field seemed a bit ‘eccentric’, people who were ruled by their passion and very often not able to make ends meet. Luckily that compromise saw me through my various places of work. So I kept at my writings and also produced some for stage with the organizations that I worked for giving me tremendously support and room for expression.

How many productions have you done so far?
I have done quite a number of productions considering that we started off 15 years ago. Some of the Productions include: Wole Soyinka’s Lion & the Jewel, Trials of Brother Jero; Femi Osofisan- Altine’s Wrath; Midnight Hotel; Ahmed Yerima – Tuti; The Wives Lottery Ticket; Ola Rotimi - the Gods Are Not To Blame; Grip Am; Zulu Sofola - Wizard of Law.

These authors really inspire me. Although, the works have been around for a while, they remain evergreen because of their unique styles of weaving together captivating stories that have lessons woven into them. In choosing productions, I look out for those that align with topical discussions or conversations that should be triggered. These timeless plays are usually visual storyboards that’s etched on people’s heart for a long time. Lion and the Jewel is a classic Change Management Story. How on earth could Teacher Lakunle change the village or Sidi’s point of view if he didn’t even understand what he was up against? Some of my plays have also been performed. Some being: Five Maids of Fadaka; ITAN the Story; The Crystal Slippers; Under the Orombo; Beyond the Garb; and, Mad King of Ijudiya. My stories are written bearing my aim to subtly convey a message or trigger conversation.

Apart from Nigeria, do you take your plays on tour outside the country?
Yes, we do. We’ve had over 500 shows in Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ghana and UK. I have also worked with a number of brilliant persons in the Nigerian theatre space- Artistic and Technical Directors, Actors, Choreographers & Dances, Singer’s, Designers...  Every stage production is a ‘factory room’ of different skill-sets using their individual and collective creativity to birth what comes to stage. This for me is a unique blessing because I’ve not only had good quality productions but also able to learn from some of the very best in the industry.

Why theatre? Have you done home movies too?
I’m in Theatre because, it’s one of the loudest ‘voices’ if optimized. It’s a powerful tool for storytelling and storytelling is imperative for social reorientation and transformation. People, teams, communities don’t just change because they are mandated to. There has to be a compelling reason that they can align with and buy into a belief or ideology. As a Change Management Professional, I’m aware that people volunteer to change because they have been able to see how it drills down to them. The stage touches the core of the heart and has the ability to paint vivid pictures of what needs to be discarded and the envisioned future. Sometimes a theatre ticket is a t icket to a long-term life-changing experience. I remember that after I watched ‘Wicked’, in the UK, anytime I felt weighed down, I would jump up spontaneously, saying ‘I defy gravity’. For me, the experience at that point kept that line alive and has been a call to action. In Maya Angelou’s words: ‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Do you hope to do home movies?
We’ve done a Television series but no movies yet. Eventually, we will do movies but theatre is still our first love. I believe the impact of TV and the large screen usually can’t be compared to stage. A well-produced stage play with a compelling storyline speaks directly to the soul.  That’s why a good stage performance comparatively is more expensive to produce than screen productions considering the amount invested in production vis-a-vis the people who get to see it, and the number of times it is shown. It however has a more enduring impact on people.

Do you act as well? If no, do you look forward to acting some day?
I don’t act professionally, although sometimes I can be quite a Drama Queen of some sort! I actually did a few minutes appearance in one of my shows and  decided to stick to my traditional ‘Curtain -Call -on -Stage -Roll (laugh) I acted as a young girl and those memories will tide me through...

What was growing up like for you and where was that?
Growing up was good. God blessed me with a really lovely family and I couldn’t have wished for anything else. I didn’t just have a Father but a Dad.

What is the difference?
The difference is that, a father merely refers to a biological relationship. There are so many fathers around with little or no emotional investment in their children. I had a Dad, dedicated and committed to his lifelong duty, of bringing up his children. He gave me confidence to be what I desired and not to stay within confines of stereotypes. My mother was and still a great support system. A bit too strict when we were growing up so our houses was called ‘Alagbon Close’ and when you crossed the threshold you got the better of her tongue! But today and all my life, I’m very grateful for her tutelage. Many women find it hard to strike the balance between love and discipline and I believe my mom is the World’s best role model when it comes to that. However my passion for storytelling will be incomplete without mentioning her. Even when we were living abroad, she told us stories: Stories that made us aware of our identity and heritage. Stories that we learnt from! I think I know all the Ijapa (Tortoise ) stories and choruses, many proverbs  and games. My siblings and I, though away from Nigeria had Africa etched on our hearts! 

Who influenced you most, mom or dad?
They both influenced me tremendously.

Do you miss banking?
Truthfully, not really! I believe I brought my profession into banking. So, I remain a Human Practitioner and Accountant in or out of the Bank. It’s however great to have retired after years of active service. I’m able to pursue my dream and my day starts using my own clock!

Which do you consider your best creative work?
With respect to my plays, they are in different stages of perfection and each with a unique trigger and target audience. I think I’m attached however to ITAN the Story. ITAN the Story is a masterful showcase of Nigerian dance, drama, music and culture enmeshed in an epic story that cuts across generations. 

What is ITAN all about, tell us about the cast, and some of the memories you have cherished while putting it together on stage?
ÌTÀN was first staged at the British Council’s Lagos Theatre Festival and was a hit! It has been shown in Lagos, Abeokuta, Abuja and Ghana and is back in the theatre in Lagos this month April.

The stage play ITAN is inspired by the need to resolve generational tensions. Generational diversity and the emerging culture and future has its impact on work and communities and this should be appropriately managed. It provokes thoughts around the emerging digital space and how life, work, spaces and communities would change over the coming years. The play will be showing at AGIP Hall MUSON. ITAN is an intriguing stageplay performed in English, laced with cultural and contemporary dance and music.

It is based on cross-generational conflicts prevalent in our modern day world. An old and lonely recluse and village elder, Pa Latinwo, is shocked to find out that he has a grandson somewhere in the city. He sets off with high hopes to connect with the one person he can call family! He finds his grandson, Dee-Kay but rather than acceptance, this city gangster dares to challenge Pa Latinwo’s beliefs and motives. Both rooted strongly in their generational beliefs, get into a bitter scuffle . Asiko, TIME personified, intervenes and takes them on a journey into the past and the future. They both discover dark secrets that have been shrouded by the veil of time. Does this mediation save the day or tear both worlds further apart? It is an exciting 90- minute performance featuring a 70- man cast and crew by THESPIAN Family Theatre & Productions.

Apart from theatre, what occupies your time mostly these days, because we hear you are into human resources too. How do you combine that?
Apart from theatre training, writing and my new recreation space, The KÖNÀ, Lekki occupies my time.

How about your husband, how does he cope with your hectic work schedule? How have you been able to combine marriage with different aspect of your career life?
I’m married to a man who has supported me through my career and my aspirations, without his understanding and support; I won’t have been able to manage the different aspects of my career life. I give hugs to my children who also have not only encouraged me but been a great source of inspiration.

Who are your role models?
I’ve always admired my Aunt Taiwo Ajai- Lycet and I’m certain she doesn’t realize how much her gait, confidence and self-determination were much admired. I also have my ‘adopted father’ Professor Oduneye, who I ever do often I call when I need reassurance. ‘Hello darling, don’t worry you’re doing well,’ he says, but that works magic when I need a pep. 

If you are to advice young ladies about career and marriage, what will you say? 
My advice to young ladies about career, is to do what you enjoy; or find a way to weave it into what you do. Marry your friend. He will invest in your dream and make you make it happen.

Over the years actors turn into celebrities faster than producers and directors, what have you got to say to that?
That’s life. Some get more visibility than others. However each role within the chain is important and has a model for which income is earned.

What is the natural progression because, what we notice in Nigeria is, people become actors, then producer and then a director?
It is not necessarily the natural progression for people to become actors, then producers and then directors. They are different roles with separate skill sets and it’s not necessarily hierarchical. They are however not necessarily mutually exclusive and skills can be added on. It’s usually good practice to separate all three. However every business has its model and they work with fit- for-purpose models based on their peculiarities and the environmental challenges.

When there is production for instance, one notices that its stars that producers consider, so how do our young talents grow?
Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong if there is a best-fit for the role. In our case we select on role-fit, budget, target audience and differentiating competences. 

If you are not what you are today, what else would you have loved to be?
I love being me, the unique storyteller with different exposures. I truly thank God for the privilege of being me. 

Tell us something about fashion and style and what fashion and style appeals to you?
My style is everyday style and it is simple and practical. I love African prints and am most at home in simple kaftans or trousers and African tops. I love black or red. For our ‘owambes’ I love a beautiful Nigerian style top with a wrapper and gorgeously tied ‘gele’ (headtie)

What fashion accessories do you not do without?
Whilst I love accessories, I’m not incomplete without any. There are days especially Production periods when I really would rather not have any accessories and minimal makeup.

What do you do at leisure?
I write stories and articles. I also sketch, go to the movies and eat out.

Are you into sports? 
Yes, I am the Vice President for Kokowa (Traditional Wrestling) of the Lagos State Traditional Sports Association.

With so much talent, confidence and ability, do men feel intimidated by you? 
Why should anyone be? We all have our skills and experiences that are unique to us and there are people who have attained much more. Interestingly that some people don’t have such varied experiences may not necessarily mean they have achieved any less. It all depends on what each person sets out to achieve.

What does success mean to you?
It means using my gifts, crafts and life to impact others. 

Why is it difficult to separate glamour from acting, as a producer, do you feel the pressure to be glamorous?
Not at all, I’m very comfortable being me. I’m not under any pressure to be someone else or impress others. I am aware of the virtue of my position that I should look good always. That’s alright for me. I am not boxed into a mound.

Are perfumes and make-up compulsory for a lady?
I use what makes me come out glowing. However it is important to remember that as a person, you are a ‘brand’. You need to look good, smell good, stand tall and ‘sound’ good. Try to improve yourself and raise the bar. I love Dior’s Hypnotic Poison or J’adore and Ajmal Amberwood. Make up brands - L’Oreal, Black Up.

What do you value most?
What I value most is my relationship with God.

How about your most memorable holiday?
Oh, I have so many. I’ll pen down Paris. I clocked the longest nonstop walk I have ever had. It’s yet to be replicated, and I must mention, it was achieved non-voluntarily! Apart from this, possibly Abeokuta when I was younger and the guides on Olumo rock had to put grown on their back and jump from one rock to the other! I don’t know which made my heart almost drop out, it could have been seeing the ridges in between the rocks. I hear it’s changed. I haven’t been back there, but that certainly was an adventure.

So after ITAN, what next?
That is a story for another day!

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