Her stage name is Iya Awero. Everyone calls her that. But her real name is Lanre Hassan Adesina. She is a veteran actress who started acting at age 14. The 69-year-old actress, who hails from Isale Eko on Lagos Island is a highly sought veteran Yoruba actress. Last week, she came to City People as a guest at our Movie roundtable session. In this interview, she speaks on how she started in 1964 when the defunct Awada Kerikeri Organisation (AKO)
How have you remained very active in the industry for over 50 years?
The thing is once you are in this Theatre arts profession and you love it, it becomes a part of you. I started my acting in 1964. That time, I was at St. Peter’s School in Lagos. That time we used to do end of the year programme. We would come together to perform at school stage during events. That was where Prof Wole Soyinka discovered us, just like managers of today scouts for talented football players. And you know he’s in the theatre arts line and you know we don’t have enough people studying theatre arts in the university at the time, so they always try to encourage us. That was when I went to the school of drama. One Mr. Olubi at the time told us if we could do it for a year, we get automatic admission into the university.
But for the kind of drama that I do, we used to travel a lot from one state to another, there is hardly any town or state that I haven’t been to in the whole of Nigeria. I was moving so frequently that I couldn’t even remember that I had to study at the university. But I thank God that I went to the school of drama because it really boosted my performance.
And those times, the likes of Wole Soyinka usually organised dramatic arts festival where all the drama groups come to perform on one stage in Ile Ife. That was where I met Toun Oni of the blessed memory. We all would meet at Ile Ife. That was the time I met my boss, Ojo Ladipo. He was in Christ Cathedral School, I was in St Peters School. We used to compete, but after school, we all came together and named our group, Young Star Concert Party in 1964.
But the concert party had no boss, we were all equals, but in 1966, we chose Ojo Ladipo to lead us to ensure coordination. That was when we took the theatre seriously and started travelling. The first person we went on tour with was the late IK Dairo. Once IK Dairo performed, we took the stage for a moment and performed, we danced and acted. We would go on tour from Ilorin, Jebba, Mokwa all the way to Mubi.
When we got to a village, we would speak pidgin, if we discovered they didn’t understand our language, we danced and acted. When we got anywhere, we tried to investigate the language that was common, so we could adapt it to connect with them. Wherever we got to and we didn’t find a Yoruba person, we didn’t spend the night. When we got to the north, they referred to us as beggars. So, we must collect beggars’ permit in the north before we could do anything. That was how I had been getting along all the while. So, this is the only thing I have enjoyed doing all my life. So, how can you come and tell me to sit in a place? Sometimes when I don’t get the chance to perform for a period, I fall sick. So, I can’t. That is why I wrote it in the book I published on my 50th anniversary of acting that “I will die in acting”.
All the while you were travelling around, you were young. What was the response of your parents towards your profession? Did they approve?
I come from a polygamous home. You know how a polygamous home is being run. I was moved from my parents’ house to guardian’s house, the Late Mrs. Olayemi Sasegbon Pedro. She was also the Headmistress of St Peters School that I attended at the time. I had earlier attended school in Ibadan. You know, as I said, a polygamous house sometimes causes children to move around. My parents didn’t like my choice of career at all. But what helped at that time was the series of letters that I got from clients and coaches, who usually organised theatre event. You know when these people have seen how good you are, they call you.
So, Prof. Wole Soyinka wrote me a letter and it was my guardian who received the letter. She asked me, this is Wole Soyinka, how come?
There was a time my guardian sent me parking from her house and came to location to dump my luggage, while I was dancing. You know parents of those days, they are very disciplined. From that very day, he saw Wole Soyinka’s letter directed to me, that was when she freed me. But it didn’t end there.
I was married and faced the second phase of challenges in my profession. My husband thought, when he married me, I would stop acting. But I couldn’t. I told him, if you love me, you will love me with my job. So far, I am not stealing. This is what I love to do. If you want me, please accept me for what I am doing. It became a big fight. Whenever I would go to work, I would come back and begin to argue.
Then, we used to have a lot of shows, especially Bar Beach show with Art Alade of the blessed memory. We used to have that show every Saturday at this same NTA. Whenever I came back, my husband would engage me in a physical fight. And he won’t let me go away.
There was a time Bank Olemo I can’t recollect his full name anymore) in NTA, with Diran Ajijedidun. They had to sit with my husband. They came to our house and sat him down and convinced him that he should allow me to work without distractions. They advised him to trust me. And that was it. That was how he supported me. You know at that time, there were a very few women in the industry. Anytime we wanted to travel, he would help me arrange and pack my things to the park. I would also go with my kids. I don’t leave my kids behind when I went for shows except those that were younger than 2 years.
What would you say is the setback that has been experienced in the industry after the Ojo Ladipo era?
When Ojo Ladipo died, we had to sit down to deliberate on what to do. That was when we formed Awada Kerikeri organization; I, Bello, and Aluwe. Bello had been with us for a long time. I was the one who received his application. He paid one pound, to join the theatre group. His parents too did not agree. He was so up and doing and very committed. His father would come and warn us to send him away whenever he comes, but he was so unbending at the time. That was how he persevered at the time.
Bello’s story should teach us a lesson that once you dedicate yourself to a cause, you will be honored in due course because you are doing it for yourself.
When we wanted to buy our lorry in 1970 or 1971, he gave up the money given to him to further his education, for us to buy the lorry. The first bicycle allowance he got, he gave us all of it to print posters for D Madam, that we premiered in Global Hall back then. And he was doing it willingly. Now he is the head of Awada Kerikeri organization. Can’t you see how his life is? Can’t you see the life of his children and the family, for what he has done? Be nice to people on your way up because you might meet them on your way down. And in anything you do in life, never run after money.
That reminds me ma, how come this generation of actors don’t put the kind of commitment that your generation put in it back then?
It can’t be like that. For us, we love only the feeling of the job, we didn’t do it for money or fame. Although money will come, but that is not the main aim. Actors of today don’t have the zeal. When you do things with keen interest, things will go right for you. For the main fact that I went to the school of drama, was what has helped me this far, I speak English, Pidgin.
Ma, you said you never acquired University education, How come you are this eloquent and sound in your grammatical delivery?
That is what I’m saying that it helped a lot. And I want to say something, travelling is part of education.
You meet a lot of people and you mingle with them. All these things, at times it comes down to what God has sent you to do. And also those you have travelled with and met along your way add value into your life. I would have loved to go to the university, but I couldn’t leave my kids behind, or take excuse from school for one or two months, and say I am going to locations. It’s not possible. Theatre has taken over everything.
How were you able to accept and cope with changing trend in the movie industry?
We have been familiar with Cameras all the while, but it’s not like we have today. We have worked with Pa Ogunde, Ola Balogun and others, before Awada Kerikeri did Ogun Ajaiye, Eri Okan, Omo Orukan then. By the time we wanted to start, we had to go and get a loan. Our lorry was paid for by installment. There was a time our creditor came to Kaduna to collect our lorry because we couldn’t pay as required.
We have paved the way for the young ones so they have little or no challenge at all.
Ma, we have also noticed that the concept, ideal and message of your shows in the 60s, 70s, and 80s are totally different from what we have today.
Yes, you see when I said you are a comedian, let your comedy pass messages. Although, we say we make people laugh away their sorrow, while you do that, ensure that you are passing a message. Not when they do it hastily, it will be exhausted and they can’t even recall it.
When is your next birthday?
I will be 69 by the 3rd of October. Have you had any cause to regret going into acting?
Well, no regrets. I’m so happy I was able to do what I love. I am not hungry. I see something to drink, to eat and all. The profession might not be lucrative, but it gives you connections. Wherever I go, I get special treatment and attention because of my popularity and integrity. I am not very rich but there’s hardly anything I want that I don’t get by God’s grace.
What has kept it you going in the industry?
Practising as a professional actress makes me happy and gives me rest of mind. I derive pleasure from the job. You know movie artistes are like preachers but ours has a unique style. We make people learn from our make-believe stories. I am happy I chose to be an actress and I will be an actress till I die.