I was requested four years ago by the faculty head of the African Film Festival (AFRIFF), to serve as the acting coach for young actors in the industry and those wanting to be part of Nollywood. They didn’t just want a known actor to do this job; they wanted one with a background in teaching as well. It was important to them that they maintained their program objectives.
On the first day of training I had arrived prepared to follow my training plan as a professional trainer but seeing those selected for the program and listening to them introduce themselves, I knew they needed to have a clear background understanding of the business they were trying to get into, so I asked three open questions:
- What did they know about acting and Nollywood?
- Why did they want to be actors?
- What would they do with the training that they were about to receive?
I gave them a few minutes to ponder and then capped up the questions with a grand one: “Where do you want to see yourself on the ladder of your career in five years?” Many wondered why I chose five years and I said because they always ask all those who apply for other jobs for five years’ experience. It made everyone laugh and I smiled too.
Prior to this training, I had been teaching art forms for reform and performance techniques for nearly ten years. I had partnered with several organizations in capacity development and actually operated an accredited and licensed performance and media school. I have been guest to several well-known training centres and even universities, speaking on talent enhancement and working with onstage and screen actors on the Meisner technique.
I am described by many who know me as a method actor but I would rather say I do a truthful and convincing representation. Every time I speak to people I pose these questions because when the need for a thing is unknown abuse is inevitable. Most times I get the same responses. People want to be part of the industry because they think they are talented but underlined you can hear the real reason; they want the fame and glamour. The kind of figure they hear entertainers make and the lifestyle they see on social media makes it enticing and they want all that power associated with being an actor.
In the past actors were considered dropouts, ne’er-do-wells. Parents hated knowing that their wards wanted a degree in theatre arts. There were only a few places to practice. Those who wanted stage went to the few state-owned art councils and those who wanted screen went to the very few television stations. But today everyone wants Nollywood and from Nollywood, those who have theatre backgrounds find the stage performance a display of their prowess and would gladly accept roles there albeit with lesser pay.
Today we do not see the clear distinction between the screen actor and the stage actor because every stage actor wants a place on screen too. Television and film have become the ultimate goal of most actors that I have trained and coached individually or in teams. The stage actor finds his performance on stage as a good opportunity to be seen and heard. They don’t mind accepting roles for very little fees too. The stage actor gets the opportunity of training through rehearsals – a time that adequately prepares the actor for the performance as some casting directors would rather attend shows, and based on the performances cast their next television series or movie. The stage actor knows how good he but also knows he isn’t as popular or accepted and thus wants the opportunity to show what he can do. This is based on the fact that most of those who initiated and sustained what is known today as Nollywood came from that background. They feel the need to take over their industry and seek a place to reach more people.
Film and television give a wider global reach to the actor and there is always a need for fresh faces especially on television, hence musicians and comedians all clamour to be part of the industry. When directors, producers and indeed all filmmakers attend shows, they are constantly looking for those who sold-out shows, gave out amazing interpretations and or have high followership on social media. The bulk of production casting today happens informally. Actors who become film and television prime time successes today are mostly recruited from reality shows hosted by these cable stations who also use it as a means of saving money and forcing their participants on the audience as they leverage on the popularity or notoriety they had gained whilst in the show.
The other reason for the need to be on screen is validation and authenticity. As more people get to see you (not just at where you practice but around the globe), you become identifiable – like the public is validating you as a practitioner.