Nneamaka Nwadei Is Fast Becoming Nigerian Theatre’s Star-To-Watch

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After starring in a couple of prestigious plays, Nneamaka Nwadei’s role as Fara in the Prideland Theatrical’s groundbreaking musical ‘Love Is’, brings her to an acclaimed position. In this encompassing profile, she discusses her background in theatre and some professional skills that have propelled her to recognition on-stage and beyond.

When Nneamaka Nwadei was in junior secondary school, she visited the National Theatre in Lagos to watch the play, The Adventures of the Sugar Cane Man by Femi Osofisan, the renowned dramatist who was then working with CHAMS theatre. A stirring rendition of the play loosely based on a title by the legendary D.O Fagunwa, it inspired the young girl to become a stage actor. “I knew for a fact that I was going to do theatre,” she said to Lekki Post recently. Irrespective, for some reason she entered into the sciences as a senior secondary student, only switching to arts sometime later. Drama, and cultural activities, however, were some of the longstanding pillars in the structure of her life.

Schooling at a federal school in Sagamu, just on the outskirts of Lagos, her English teachers doubled as art instructors, while Nneamaka engaged in all sorts of artistic endeavours. That was the initial spur—being around so many artistically inclined people. When she gained admission to study Theatre Arts at the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), she majored in acting. Nneamaka was deliberate, even then, to accrue the velocity and values of school life, within her department and outside of it. A lady who was then in her second year told the fresher Nneamaka that there were no small roles; the fun came from giving one’s all to every production they got to take part in. She also worked at a radio station and MC’d at shows and events. “It was a really interesting experience,” she affirms.

After graduating from university in 2018, she did her mandatory one-year service at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and there her career in broadcasting started. “I was present so I always got to do a lot of production, presented a few shows and I was always going about as a journalist, going for the interviews, going for the events”. After service, she stayed an additional three years, until 2022, when Nneamaka got into corporate creativity, using her multidimensional experience to stage wonderful projects.

Last year, she was typically proficient, becoming certified in film production and its other accoutrements, and got her master’s in Theatre Arts. If there’s a focused progression to Nneamaka’s achievements, it’s because she’s intent on leveraging her skills and never being afraid to try. As she tells us, “When you meet people and network, and you tell them what you can do, and you’re confident about what you can do, they want to see what you can do”.

The latest of Nneamaka’s glittering feats, after featuring on FELA! and When We Let Go comes from the ‘Love Is,’ play, a musical staged by The Prideland Theatrical. She heard about the group two years ago, when she was invited by the music director Ayo Alade to audition for a role and though she missed earlier auditions, her depiction of the character Fara convinced them wholesomely. “I like Fara as a person, and I liked her from the audition day,” Nneamaka recalls. “The first time I met that character, it was her lines they gave me. It was this block of lines; it was a monologue and I had about thirty minutes to use that as my audition piece. When I read it, just that page, I could see that she was a strong character who was hurting. All of a sudden, it just made me feel that ‘Wow, what could have made this woman feel like this?’ You know you want to fight, but at the same time, you know that something is missing in your life”.

That emotional resonance went into her carrying of the monologue, a determined pursuit of her always-show-up philosophy. Considering it was a musical, she also sang, all on the spot, but undaunted. “I feel like Fara embodies the African woman, or any woman anywhere because women are so full of love, women are nurturers and women are strong. They carry so much and they still can be soft. They are not roughened by the harshness of the world. Reading the script over and over, getting to understand why she acted the way she did, external influences, relationship with her brothers and uncle—it really made me like her”.

Nneamaka is a thorough professional and this shows in her handling of acting and singing attributes which the musical requires. Considering the genre’s history, especially in European cities of the fifteenth century, and executed informally even before then, it was one role she took seriously. “I would say that what you give attention to grows,” she responds to the question of how difficult it is to find performers skilled at both qualities. “Some people don’t focus on singing; some people only focus on acting and body improvement.

That’s why you see some actors working out and building body muscle. But most of the time my friends in the theatre would recommend that you do a total character or personal development. I would be honest to say that not everybody can sing; some people can hold notes, and some people are talented at singing. Some people prefer to build what they know they already have some capacity in. At the end of the day, people want somebody who gives more than just what is required of them. This is one of the reasons why I like this babe (points to a co-star); even when she’s on stage, she doesn’t perform because the audience is watching, she performs because she is a performer”.

Theatre lovers in Lagos, for three days this past December, were treated to the spellbinding family-based play in which Nneamaka’s character of Fara stars. Love Is, a collaboration between Prideland Theatre and Eko Hotels & Suites, was staged at the Victoria Island-located premises. Viewers thought it was breathtakingly original, and on a cultural level, it’s a timely reminder of the peculiarities of being African, from the flamboyant outfits to the music’s tone, and the audible leanings of a continental taste embedded within. If Lion King were played by humans rather than animals, and the dramatic flair replaced by psychological denseness and pristine musical arrangement, the result would be Love Is.

Nneamaka sees immense potential in the Prideland Theatre. She assesses the production’s quality as universal, its overall quality having the potential to excite anyone, anywhere. The Swahili-toned conversations and the actors being unencumbered by their actual personalities, because they were taken so far from what was familiar, the play is a kaleidoscope of standout performances, on-stage and outside of it. “What are the recurring themes?” she asks, “Themes of loyalty, of love, of community, those are things that are common to all of humanity. Now, the specifics of it is what brings the colour”.

Of theatre’s place in the popular Nigerian consciousness, Nneamaka agrees it’s not placed at the zenith but there’s room for improvement and some reasons, for her, to be optimistic. “Over a decade ago, we couldn’t boast of theatre spaces, where people could even see shows, apart from the National Theatre and maybe church troupes,” she says. “Apart from [legendary stage director Herbert] Ogunde who had a travelling theatre that we all know and love and all claim as one of the foundations of Nigerian theatre, we’ve come a long way. Can we move faster? Yes. Are we where we used to be? No. Some years ago, we’d only see a few plays in a year, now [it’s way more frequent—she mentions Saro, Kakadu, The King Must Dance Naked]. And, people are coming together to do things now; they’re no longer waiting for the big sponsor so we don’t have to get paid—let’s get our work out there”.

Aside from this creative spur, Nneamaka bemoans the negligence of theatre infrastructure across the country. She affirms that there is no standard theatre in the country, while the ongoing renovations at the National Theatre might also come with a change of name. What becomes of the timeless practice in such conditions? Private organisations are most beneficial in the development of theatre tourism and she gives peculiar recognition to Eko Hotels. She draws from an anecdote of someone in his thirties who was seeing a theatre play for the first time, and how there are many such people, their distance from theatre not only because of steep prices but also from lack of frequency and accessibility. If Eko Hotels can solve these issues, she says, “Before you know it, you’re not even talking about ‘Oh, there’s a show happening in Eko Hotel, you’re talking about how Eko Hotel is championing theatre in Nigeria with the quality of the shows and accessibility to the general public”.

In all of this, Nneamaka counts herself blessed to be so strategically placed at the wonderful intersection that is theatre, film and the larger society. She traces it all to the roots, the grace of God and her willingness to grow her acting skills. “I always think it is a blessing to be able to act in this lifetime,” she says. “Many people are talented but it’s not always about who has the talent. It’s about who has the talent and who can use the talent. So, I consider it a great blessing that I can use my talent, which I have sharpened into a skill capable of inspiring people. I’m just doing what I love to do”.

By Emmanuel Esomnofu

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