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    Lanre Hassan-Adeshina started acting at a young age about 50 years ago, and the woman, who is better known as Iya Awero, has practically seen it all in theatre. She teamed up with the likes of the late Ojo Ladipo (Baba Mero) from where they formed Ojo Ladipo Theatre group, which became Awada Kerikeri Organisation after the death of Ojo Ladipo in 1978.
    Iya Awero has been consistent since then; acting in several stage plays, celluloid films and she is still relevant in the era of Nollywood. Not only that, Lanre Hassan features in several English soaps on the Nigerian television.
    The veteran thespian, who crossed many hurdles from her parents and hubby to follow her passion, was naturally shaken by the death of two of her children in 1974 and 1978, but she remains resolute and has vowed to continue to be part of the glamorous movie industry until death do them apart.
    Iya Awero spoke on the story of her life as she prepares to celebrate 50 years on stage on Sunday 2nd June at the Blue Roof, LTV 8, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos.

    Is acting what you actually set out to do in life initially
    It started when I was in school, Saint Peters School in Lagos, I came from a polygamous family, they were taking me from one place to another, I was also at Children's Home School in Ibadan, Oyo State, then I came to Lagos. Right from that place, I had been acting at end of the year parties of schools, they would invite us to come and do this and that. I met the late Ojo Ladipo at Christ Cathedral School, we would call him to come and see what we were doing, that ours was better than their own and he would be arguing that his own was better, that was in 1963.
    So, in 1964, we came together as friends and we were doing rehearsals, we were converging at a playground in the evening. We were always practicing and all of us were doing whatever we liked, so we decided to appoint someone as a leader and we put it to vote and the late Ojo Ladipo emerged as our leader, which was why we called the name of the Group Ojo Ladipo Theatre Group in 1964. After his death in 1978, we changed the name to Awada Kerikeri Organisation. It then became like before, the late Edokpolor and Mary Etim were with us, so also Adebayo Salami (Bello). Mary Etim and I were childhood friends, then we said 'who was going to be our leader,' they said it was automatic that I should be the one, but I rejected it, I said I could not lead the group. So, we needed a man that was capable, and they said I should choose. I said, I wanted Mr. Adebayo Salami to be my boss, they couldn't believe it. That is why as an individual, anything we do, we must do it very well. Our first performance at Glover Hall, Bello used his first bicycle allowance at the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to print the poster to stage 'D Madam.' If you are in a place and you are working, don't think nobody sees you, Bello showed interest, I took his application, when he joined Ojo Ladipo Theatre, he paid to join. You know our parents don't want us to do this work.

    So, how did you convince your parents to become an actress
    I did so with the help of the Almighty God that says this work is yours, if God sends you this work, you will do it. It was Professor Wole Soyinka that wrote a letter to my guardian and she was surprised because she had initially threw my personal effect to where we were practicing that I could not live with her again since my parents did not want me to do theatre, but something else. It was that letter that encouraged her and she was surprised how I knew Professor Wole Soyinka. I told her Soyinka was one of those, who were telling us to come for audition, then we go for a course and then straight to the university just like the diploma they do now. That was how my guardian accepted me and gave me full support. So, I went to a school of drama, which is why I can cross from the left to the right.

    What did your parents want you to do
    Ha, by that time, they wanted us to do police, customs or anything force, but I told them 'this is what I have to do and this is what I want to do, please, let me do it.' Even I always praise my guardian, she really supported me and God helped me.

    Did you have any role model that you looked forward to prior to your joining acting
    You know our culture, they don't want you to do theatre, they don't want you to do a profession that you will expose your body, people respected our culture so much, even if you could not cover your body, you wear your wrapper up to the chest, you put on the beads, they would say 'this is culture, may be she is a princess.' You could not expose your body then, that was what we were doing and that is what I am still doing now.

    You started before your marriage, did your husband support your acting career after marriage
    No, no, it was terrible, it was God that helped us with the help of the likes of the late Adediran Ajijedidun and the late Art Alade, who called my husband and counseled him  that the kind of work I am doing is not just for anyhow girl, but to make people laugh away their sorrow. But despite that, before he accepted that I should do the work, it was trouble everyday. Even my late boss, Ojo Ladipo had to talk to him. I now told him that 'if you cannot allow me to do this work again, then leave me alone, if you love me, love me with my job since I am not stealing.' Eventually he accepted with the help of God, but we didn't know he would die young.

    I think why he did that was the issue of sexual harassment, your boss was a man and then it was a traveling theatre thing, or what do you think
    Yes, I traveled a lot with my children, I took them anywhere we went, but when they are two years old, I leave them for my mother. We had traveling theatre. Of course, there is no man that would not suspect his wife in such a scenario and there is no man, who is not jealous, but you have to limit it and try to trust your wife, the wife should also trust the husband. Once this is the work one wants to do, you should love him with the job and I told him that 'you saw that this was what I was doing before you proposed to me.' All he thought was that I would stop doing the work after our marriage. But the thing has a spirit, I couldn't leave it. Even then, when I slept, I would be dramatizing based on our rehearsals and plays and my husband would see me moving my body and he would say 'what is wrong with you,' and I will say 'I didn't do anything.' It is spiritual, if you don't follow it, it would affect you. Whoever is sent by God is different from someone, who just dabbles into it, in most cases, such people run out of it.

    Do you have any regret or sad occurrence since you started the work
    I don't have any regret in doing the work. The only thing that shook me happened around 1974, when I lost a child, while acting on stage. He was with his paternal grandmother, he was seven or eight years and they came to call me that he died that night, I had to rush down to our home town. I lost a second child, when Ojo Ladipo (Baba Mero) died. The two of us were at the burial, I woke up, but my baby did not wake up. It really discouraged me, but I summoned courage that I had been doing the work for long; I won't allow all these to stop me. I believe what has happened has happened and that God would take care of other things and take care of the rest. It actually shook me to the extent that I almost quit acting.

    Today, what would you say makes you happy as an actress, I mean something like an achievement
    It is God that does everything, what makes me happy most is that people accept me everywhere I go, even abroad. I am happy too that I make people laugh away their sorrow in the process of welcoming us, whereas you see that some people are detested because of their deeds. People see you and they are happy, that's all. I am happy that people love me for my profession.

    50 years on stage, but people are saying cinema has gone, theatre has gone and things like that, would you compare theatre then to now, what is actually missing in the industry
    What is missing is stage performance, which led to what we are doing now. There is no place I have not been in Nigeria from traveling from one place to another. We would act here today, tomorrow, we are in another place. But suddenly, home video came and we started forgetting about stage performance. We were doing celluloid, and we said home video would kill celluloid, but people said it was not so. The late Dr. Hubert Ogunde warned us not to do home video that it would spoil our job. If we can go back to celluloid or stage play, it would be better. Stage is real, it is live, it is different, if you want to do part of bush, you will have to cut trees and put it there. We need to go back to cinema and stage plays gradually.
    Kabirat Kafidipe, Lanre Hassan & Dj Melody.jpg

    Look at the time you used to act on television in the area of stories; it is like those days of morals are gone. As a veteran, how do you think we can go back to those days of morals
    In our time, one would sit down to see what we want to do as a play. We would look at the environment, and we would develop the story and the story would affect someone and people would start relating it to themselves and learn from it. But nowadays, people just do what they like, but you need to sit down together and see the kind of story you want to write, not just writing anyhow story. Personally, if I want to work with you, I ask for the script and look at areas of amendment, I will ask for the director and offer suggestion and if they don't listen to me, I will drop the script. But, for those, who listen to advice, we work with them. The world is changing and things are changing, someone used to say we should thank God that we were there before Nollywood and with Nollywood, we are still there.

    In Nigeria today, people believe that the first film on home video was done in 1992 with 'Living In Bondage,' which was why they are celebrating 20 years of Nollywood. Would you say home video actually started in 1992
    Video had been in existence for long, some of our stage plays like 'Kini Show,' were on video tapes, but it was not sold, when we decided to join them, we did “Asewo To Re Mecca,' in Awada Kerikeri Group then, which became popular. Most of our plays had been in the video, but they were not commercial, 'Living In Bondage,' started the commercial aspect of home video. There are documents about our late actors/actresses, who worked hard like the late Pa Kola Ogunmola, Oyin Adejobi and others. We did many things with WNTV and other stations. I don't believe the film industry is just 20 years old.

    It was believed that the late Alade Aromire pioneered Nollywood in 1986 with his film, 'Ekun'
    Yes, it is true, but then home video was not popular and it was not commercial, it became commercial later. Alade did his best too, but it all started from us.

    What is the biggest job that you have done
    All my jobs are great, I cannot point to any particular one, everything I did was okay, may God help us to be more successful. All my jobs are good, we also do television soaps.

    What have been the secrets of your success
    The thing is that when you are doing this job, you must be educated no matter how small. If you can speak Yoruba, you should also speak English. In those days, we were doing strictly Yoruba and people thought we could not speak English; it is not like that, we just chose to follow our culture. But for them to know that we can do the two, we started doing English soap operas and some other works.

    If you look at some of the films we release these days, the theme are almost the same and they portray violence, we don't go into morals and things that will give us much lessons, they are all about violence. Is it because of modernization
    Modernization is a factor and it might not be the only thing. With modernization, we should be mindful of what we produce. Most of the movie marketers dictate the pace, things are turning. You will see that there is violence these days and we have to produce films to teach people that violence is not good. At the end of the day, you will see that we always tell people that the end of evil or violence is not good. We use them to warn people not to do evil, it is what they see people doing that they write about. If you do evil, you will not end well. The repercussion will definitely come no matter what. Atimes, we say 'oh, why did they allow this person to die,' atimes, the antagonist might not die, but he would suffer. They are meant to educate our children.
    You always act as a no-nonsense woman in movies, you always appear like a disciplinarian, is that your nature or is it the scripts
    It is the scripts, when someone is acting a role, people would study you and give you the role, I do other roles as an all-round actress. Once you study someone, you would know what role he/she can play, may be a rich man or a gentle person. All the same, I don't tolerate unwarranted behaviour.

    What are you veterans doing to stop sexual harassment and all kinds of bad behaviour in the industry
    Sexual harassment is not peculiar to theatre, it is everywhere, if you go to the markets or anywhere, it is there. It is for you to know yourself, to keep yourself, all those who wear skimpy dresses, we talk to them, we pray they would listen. We advise them on the scripts, the Nigerian Censors Board is also trying their best. If you see someone, who wears Bikini or so, there is a reason for it in films, we call it shows. In the days of stage plays, we had opening glee and closing glee and the costume we wear covers our body, but we do things to attract the people's interest. After the stage show, you don't have the right to wear the costume on the streets. So, there is a purpose for those dresses in films, may be the person is playing a particular role, it is not meant for outings, and we have even specified the kind of dresses we wear in films because children watch these films.

    Is any of your children in theatre
    Yes, Mr. Wale Adeshina (Walata), he works as a Production Manager and he acts.

    What of your personal films that you have produced
    I have produced 'Ayo Okan,' 'Sure Funmi Baba,' and many others.

    What do you have to say about piracy
    That is death injection, if you release your film today, they would pirate it within an hour, if you have a film and you think you want to go and show people when you travel, they would have watched it before you get there. Even, our sponsors are not encouraged because the works are pirated, what you spent about N2 or N3 million to produce, you see people pirating it anyhow.

    (c) First Weekly Magazine

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