FeaturesWole Oguntokun: Final Curtain Tor Thespian

Wole Oguntokun: Final Curtain Tor Thespian

April 7, (THEWILL)- His dimples got you first, deep on both cheeks making them the most distinguishing features on his face, especially when he smiled. And he had such a good smile, not the counterfeited glee of someone faking it to please but a genuine one straight from the gut.

Wole Oguntokun (1967-2024) had more than a smile to give the world in his 56 years. Though a lawyer by profession, he was a thoroughgoing professional in the theatre where left an indelible footprint just like his compatriot Biyi Bandele who died unexpectedly in August 2022. Oguntokun’s demise on 26 March has left many experiencing something close to déjà vu in Canada and Nigeria, cruelly bringing to mind the untimely death of the dreadlocked Bandele. Oguntokun’s passing has brought about that sinking feeling in us when young and extremely talented people depart the world too soon.

Both were gifted, productive and on the path of greatness in the theatre on the national and international stage. Both died after a brief illness. And their death literally took the breath away from colleagues, friends and family because of the unexpectedness, eliciting something like “But we saw yesterday and even made plans to meet somewhere.” “He looked fit as a fiddle the last time I saw him.”

Called Laspapis by his close friends, Oguntokun was already so many things to so many people. With a Bachelor and Masters’ degree in law, Oguntokun would have made a brilliant lawyer had he chosen to practice. But it was on the stage he made his mark as a playwright and director, earning respect from senior colleagues. One of them has written that Oguntokun’s “intellectual prowess was matched only by his artistic fervour.”

During the 2022 Stratford Festival, he was dramaturge, culture consultant and dialect coach for Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. He was also dramaturge and played the lead role of Elesin Oba in the production of the same play for Soulpepper Theatre/ Stratford Festival’s Canadian production in 2021. Of course, Oguntokun had his own theatre troupe Renegade Theatre which he has used to direct and produce plays, notably Chibok Girls: Our Story, first at MuSon Centre Onikan in Lagos in 2015 and then at the Cross Currents Festival Washington DC in 2019.

In February 2021, Oguntokun won the Young-Howze award for Dramatic Writing of the year with his drama The Emancipation of Yankee Oluwale based on the death of a Nigerian David Oluwale, a migrant who was killed by two English Bobbies.

Oguntokun’s death was announced by his colleague Kenneth Uphopho for Jasonvision who let it be known on behalf of Guild of Theatre Directors of Nigeria. “Laspapi, as he was fondly called, was an inspiration to many of us and his revolutionary contributions to the renaissance of theatre in Nigeria can never be overemphasized,” Uphopho wrote. “Words can’t describe how much we’ll miss him.”

Ever since his untimely death, Nigerians have continued to pay their respect. “The theatre world is shrouded in sorrow at the passing of Wole Oguntokun, a distinguished Nigerian playwright, who drew his last breath on March 26, 2024, in Canada. Fondly known as Laspapi, Oguntokun’s legacy as a visionary of the dramatic arts, whose brilliance illuminated stages across Nigeria and beyond, remains etched in the hearts of many as can be gleaned from the outpouring of emotions on X in the wake of his untimely departure,” publisher and PR man Toni Kan wailed in a tribute to the Thespian in last Sunday’s The Lagos Review.

For fellow writer and journalist Molara Wood, Oguntokun made the theatre so chic that young men and women began to use it as a venue for dating. Writing @molarawood, she reasons that “It’s thanks to Wole Oguntokun that young Lagos guys/girls started to think of theatre as perfect for a date. This scene we have now where Nigerians of every age now see theatre as a nice day out; it’s why resurgent musicals have become big box office. RIP @laspapi my friend.”

Lawyer, lyricist and polemicist Deji Toye took Oguntokun’s death for a joke, insisting he is shock over the news. Recalling what the dramatist said about reawakening the theatre in the country, Toye quoted Oguntokun thusly: “Sometime between the 80s and the 90s, a bridge collapsed [in the Nigerian theatre culture], and I think we’re looking for a way across that bridge” Wole Oguntokun says, as he prepares to take an adaptation of A Winter’s Tale to Shakespeare’s @The_Globe in 2012. #RIP @laspapi…I hope this news remains unconfirmed. I hope someone says it was an unfounded rumour, a bad joke!” echoes in the hearts of many who loved Laspapi.”

Writing @onyekanwelue, the novelist felt deeply the sudden loss of a theatre giant in Nigeria. “I was about 16 years old when I first met Wole Oguntokun. His name splashed over posters. He was the King and he’s still the King of Theatre in Nigeria. He has been fighting this battle for a long time. Now, he has transitioned. I am pained.”

Dan Baker @dan_baker83 was equally pained by Oguntokun’s passing, saying that he is “devastated to hear that Wole Oguntokun @laspapi has passed. I was lucky to meet him through @ISPA global and he was brilliant, inspiring human whose smile and warmth could power the world. Rest in Power, my friend. His impact wasn’t confined to the stage alone. Oguntokun’s commitment to nurturing young talents and promoting Nigerian arts was evident in his establishment of the Theatre Republic in Lagos.”

Another mourner observed that the late playwright was a world figure. “Beyond his directorial feats, Oguntokun’s influence extended globally. Not only did he run a popular blog, he played a pivotal role in international collaborations, notably directing Nigerian plays at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe, showcasing Nigeria’s rich theatrical heritage on a world stage.”

Oguntokun may have died prematurely, still the world, especially the theatre in which he committed so much of his life will forever remember him. “As the whole world bids farewell to this titan of the stage with shock and disbelief,” Toni Kan opines, “we are reminded of his enduring legacy—a legacy that continues to inspire generations of playwrights, directors, and performers to dream boldly and create fearlessly. Wole Oguntokun’s brilliance may have dimmed with his passing, but his spirit shines eternally through Nigerian theatre. Rest in peace, maestro.”

About the Author

Micheal Jimoh

Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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Michael Jimoh, THEWILLhttps://thewillnews.com
Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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