Adébayo Bolaji, is a multi-disciplinary artist, theatre director and actor. He studied Law at Guildhall and acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama and is a self-taught painter. His is currently directing Dialektikon at the Park Theatre in London. Alt caught up with him to talk, talk, talk.
Tell us about the new production, Dialektikon?
Dialektikon, is a play but not a play in a traditional sense. It’s based on a real political event ‘The Dialectics of Liberation Congress’, that took place in 1967 at London’s Camden’s Roundhouse. The event had huge counter-culture figures speaking against the Vietnam War and corruption in power. Figures such as R.D. Laing, Stokely Carmichael, Allen Ginsberg et al, were there at this event.
Our play features these figures as characters however, Dialektikon is based around a young immigrant girl, who gets lost in a nightmare of a dream and hears these voices again- they becomes teachers trying to warn her of dangers to come and how she can find her own political voice. It’s a kind of Alice in Wonderland, Pilgrims Progress – Dante’s Inferno play. Very poetic and episodic in is format… lots of fun too.
How did you get into theatre?
By finding out at primary school that I was good at performing and finally seemed to make sense in a way. I was never particularly praised in the classroom, but whenever I got on stage not only did I enjoy it… the whole school would respond positively- so naturally, I wanted to do more of it. This carried on to working with the renowned National Youth Music Theatre, I did seven shows with them as a teenager in the west end, Tokyo, Edinburgh Festival – lots more.
But this was as an actor. In terms of making theatre – which to me is really :”getting into it”. It’s my life as an artist (painter), that has dictated that. I like to make things, and theatre is a medium that makes sense to me.
Are they any parts of the story that resonate with you?
Yes, many. although I think it’s mainly the style of this piece – which isn’t a commercial or popular style – I really get. Dialektikon does not tell a story in a linear way, however, asks the audience to be still and respond, to engage. There may seem like there is a kind of manipulation or preaching involved because there are speeches.. however, if one looks closer, quite the opposite is happening. The play is filled with statements , but almost – again- like a poem… is asking us “what do you think?”.
Ironically , it is not telling you what to think just because one character says something is wrong- it is getting you to challenge it. Having also a legal background, I like this- because it wants me to debate. We do not like to debate, unless it’s via a screen- i.e. social media. But the story wants you to do that. This, I like.
You started quite young as an actor, age 14 in the National Theatre’s Bugsy, at what point did you know what you wanted to do?
Everyone wants to feel like they have purpose, and as a teenager- you want to fit in more than anything. Fitting in is a tiresome process, and this wasn’t, acting just seemed to come naturally to me- acting and drawing, everything else felt like work .
Did your parents encourage you to pursue a career in the arts?
No. that’s the straight answer. The arts meant poverty or rebellion. Although, music was very big and respected- my parents coming from Nigeria to England naturally did not want any of us to suffer, they were also aware of the racial prejudices and wanted to make sure that even if we didn’t have money … we would at least have academia, the ability to express oneself unequivocally, to my parents (especially my dad), was more important than anything.
I hated them for it at the time, but now value their ideas and what I’ve been through. I don’t necessarily agree with the choices or their thinking but with the gift of hindsight, they were only doing what they thought best. That said, they respect and love what I do now.
You have a multitude of artistic disciplines how did painting, theatre, directing and acting all come into play?
For all three (and others) to live in harmony, there is one that supersedes all the rest. It comes down to a unique vision for oneself, and that vision dictates how much time you give to any other discipline and how they live with each other… based on how I see myself or better said, the bigger message I feel I want to say.
Painting, my art , comes first and I sort of ‘float’ into the others when needs be- and they end up complimenting – because there is a bigger vision at hand. If there is no inner vision, there is lack of direction … well then, I’m just all over the place.
As a painter you have worked with Yinka Shonibare tell us a bit about that experience?
This came through one of the artist residencies I have been lucky to do. Shonibare holds a Guest Projects space in East London, it was there I painted an 8-meter painting called ‘Chibok’. The piece was a commentary on the Nigerian girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Back to Dialektikon, what attracted you to this script, what are the themes in the play that you deem most important?
The need to look after our planet, that what one sows what one reaps. The need to not be overwhelmed by all the horrors in the world but how (as one of the lines in the play says) one can start small. I was attracted to it because it was brave and new in its form. I run a small theatre company called Ex Nihilo Theatre Group, we are looking for new ideas all the time. Jacky Ivimy (the writer of Dialektikon) had taken the courage to write something politically brave and quite challenging in terms of its translation, I felt I understood this form and wanted to help bring it to the stage.
Where do you call home?
What advice would you give to anyone trying to get into the creative industries?
Don’t lie to yourself. Be prepared to work hard. Be prepared to have people dislike what you do. Make sure you love it.
Dialektikon is at the Park Theatre N4 until 29th Decemeber 2018
A dragons roar wakes Miranda into a fantastical lost world. The idol Moloch rules over heaps of treasure and weapons as great voices from the past cry out to Miranda to right the wrongs of an angry Earth. Led by Ayida Wedo, mysterious spirit guide, can she find her own wisdom and the courage to escape from this black mirror world of greed and war without falling for the wiles of the ominous Servant? A deliciously dark “down-the-rabbit-hole” tale… a play of ideas.
By Jacky Ivimy
Directed by Adébayo Bolaji
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