ZARA UDOFIA EJOH: I’m a well-rounded performer



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ZARA UDOFIA EJOH: I’m a well-rounded performer

For twenty five years and counting, Zara Udofia Ejoh has been serenading stage and television screen with her craft. Be it stage or television, Zara who calls herself a well – rounded performer is also an expert as a radio, voice – over artiste, singer and dancer – all rolled into one. In this chat with SAM ANOKAM, the well – travelled graduate of History and International studies, Lagos State University speaks about her career.



 

WOULD you tell us your first introduction to the creative industry?



I am an actor. Basically, I am a performer. The sum total of my life is circled around creative and performing arts. My first introduction to professional theatre was in 1992. I was in secondary school and was invited to represent a company that was sending some performers to do an audition for soft drink company.

The audition didn’t hold anymore because of the political situation that was going on in the country at the time. The person who I was working with then at the national theatre Israel Eboh who is now the president, National Association for Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) looked at me and asked if I speak Yoruba, and I answered yes.

At the time NANTAP was celebrating Wole Soyinka with his plays and one of the plays they were doing was the Yoruba adaptation of ‘Death and the King’s Horseman.’

He was working on the play and Segun Ojewuyi now a professor was directing and that was how I got a small part in the play. All the big people you normally see on television were there.

I was just the little one. Before then, I used to do plays in schools and in church. Anything whether it was poetry, singing, dance or drama I was always on the frontline.

That was how I came to the national theatre and performed in that one play and the excitement was out of this world. My mother was very supportive.

In 1994 Israel who had taken me under his mentorship at the time then said I was due to have my baptism on stage. Between that 1992 and 1994, I have featured in plays where I did what we know as ‘waka pass.’

There was a play about Easter, then ‘Trials of Brother Jero’ with Norbert Young, Binta Ayo Mogaji and Edmund Onaigbe. I got a speaking role in a play called ‘Aishatu’ and I think one step at a time. Sometimes it’s a big leap, sometimes things are slow.

How did you transmute into film?

While in secondary school, I have had moments of playing minor roles here and there. My first time of actually been in a film even though I didn’t get the speaking role was interesting.

In the course of the audition, we were shortlisted-just two of us and for hours the producer and director kept going back and forth bringing different tests just to decide who was going to play that role.

There were no two roles for that age. So, they decided to toss a coin and the other person got it. I would have felt better if they had just selected one person because I don’t work well with luck.

Though they still insisted I do a one liner. It was a film that was directed by Sola Osofisan. That was my first stint with Nollywood so to speak.

I know the movie was produced by Okey Ogujiofor but I cannot remember its title. I have had more opportunities on stage.

There is no character that is less stressful to play. Even the ‘waka pass’ is not less stressful. You have to play it in such a way that you are not sticking out from the story. You have to be in the moment. Nothing is less stressful to do.

How many movies have you featured in since you began in the motion picture industry?

I know a couple that I have worked on that has not seen the light of day. Recently I spoke to a producer who was eager for the movie I acted in to come out quickly but she was all about stories about the movie.

Zara Udofia Ejoh

She wasn’t forthcoming. For some of us, it is not really about the money most of the time. Sometimes I do it because I like the story and for visibility or the kind of noise that would follow it.

You put in all your efforts and go to work on the movie only to find out that two, three years running, the thing is still on DVD on somebody’s lampstand somewhere in the house.

It is not funny. I have done 93 Days, Dominos, Waiting for the Hangman, Jungle Ride, Waiting Day, Relentless, Big Daddy, Best Friends, Conversations at Dinner, Battle Ground, Brethren (running currently), among others.

What makes you unique?

My style is different. One of the things that drives me is the fact that anything is possible. Whether I am performing, whether I am me – a friend, sister, wife, producer, I would like to try it out first before I can say it is not going to work. I think that is one of the things that gives me source. I’m also a team player.

 How easy or difficult is it to produce a play on stage?

It is as easy as it is difficult and it is as difficult as it is easy. I used to think that if you wanted to do a cheap play, do not put a lot of people on stage. Just a two or three – man or even one – man show. The value of that one man that you are putting on stage in some production is the value of 10.

There are lots of element that go into production. One is money and then you must have a good material, how do you want to execute this project, how do you wat to bring it to life? I can’t say I want to do show and I want the hall filled and bring all new faces that people don’t know and I don’t do publicity and I count on the fact that it is theatre, people will come.

There is a lot to spend money on. You need to put faces that people want to see, you need to spend money on it so that people would hear about it and want to come.

Make it interesting. Those are some other elements outside things that builds the whole that makes it either easy or hard for you to produce.

What is this perception that stage plays are elitist?

Generally, theatre doesn’t have the kind of funding that film has. What are the disparities in both?  Theatre, I would have to leave my house and go there and these days, film too.

If I want to catch it when it is fresh, I would have to leave my house and go to the cinema but you see in the last 10 years, we have gotten used to the idea of going to the cinema.

It is been a welcome development. But with theatre, maybe people feel its tedious or maybe it is the idea of the elitism. It is pure rumour that it is elitist. It is not.

Another thing I keep saying is that people who would love to but cannot afford to readily travel like someone wants to come and see a play at the national theatre, 6pm and lives in Ikorodu.

They are thinking of the time, traffic and other factors. But in film, one can see a morning and afternoon run and dash back.

Or maybe there is even a cinema close to them in Ikorodu but this particular play is showing at MUSON centre and they begin to calculate all the variables that make them get into that place. For some, it is child’s play because it is a habit for them. I wouldn’t consider it.

For the average market woman or man or just a regular person who likes theatre, admires theatre, they probably have a neigbourhood theatre.

If they don’t see the one at the national theatre, they will see one in their neighbourhood or the ones that has been brought to the market place for them.

‘Hear Word’ for instance -we have performed at Oshodi market, under the bridge, in Mushin, Obalende, different places. We had a performance at Makoko where we had people from Makoko were incorporated into the show.

If there has been somebody in that community who has never seen theatre, when they step out and hear there is a play somewhere, they will make an effort to want to see it because now they have been introduced to it and they have an appreciation of what it was.

I have gone to perform in a hall somewhere in Ikeja and the producer had a sold – out show. It may not have been written by big papers or shown on TV but when it is shown on TV that is when people will think it is elitist. It isn’t. It is that theatre doesn’t have the kind of money to make as much as the cinemas.

You seem to love theatre more than film, why?

No, I don’t love theatre more than film or television. I have done theatre longer and more. It is more a matter of experiences.

Before the lockdown, was there any project you were working on?

I just wrapped the shooting of ‘The Brethren’ that is still airing on DSTV. I have two project I was preparing for. We are supposed to be going on stage this May. Both of them have been put on indefinite lockdown.

How do you balance all of these with family life?

Somehow it just works out. Somehow its been a blessing. My husband is also in the industry. He is an actor and a theatre producer as well. I travel a lot.

A lot of times we are blessed to be on the same project. It means that if I’m on tour, we are on tour together. If I have to be checked into a hotel, we are both there together.

Most times we work it out in such a way that I’m in Lagos, he comes to visit if it has to be outside Lagos as well, I go to visit.

 What are the challenges in film and theatre?

The challenges for theatre are funding, space, awareness. With film in some cases, it maybe funding as well.

Any plan to produce your own film?

Yes, someday soon

 What are your thoughts about women producing, directing?

How many female producers and directors do we have now? We don’t have nearly half as much as we should have. I’m excited about it. It is joy for me.

I have done a bit of directing myself but it is not my focus so to speak. The women who are producing and directing are not doing bad at all.

You cannot look at a Tope Oshin’s film and frown at it so also is Mildred Okwo’s. Judith Audu has won award back to back with practically every film she has done.

Are you saying that people that are judging their works don’t know what they are doing? We’ve had more and more female producers, directors, project managers film and television come up in the industry in the last couple of years and it is very exciting.

They are respectful of the trade and they are handling it well. They are very professional. Why don’t we encourage them and ask for more?

Cumulatively how long have you been in the creative industry?

It is like 25 years. Sometimes I’m conflicted with where the myth end for you as a person and the character that you play. I love the idea of been totally immersed in becoming somebody else.

At that moment you are changed. That is the most exciting thing in life. At that moment, you are a doctor, lawyer, you are completely different and then the next minute you are in a crowd of a hundred and you are fine and happy in your own company.

And I’m that kind of a person. This place can be filled with a crowd and I can have a quiet time by myself here. It might conflict with having to make all that noise and haven to put yourself in people’s face.

 How do you cope with men though married?

You cannot stop people from being themselves. I have seen men park car and block road for pregnant woman and say if you don’t answer me, I will die here.

I had to look around to see if I was walking in a film shoot. Is there a camera somewhere filming the scene? I had to stand for a while to be sure. I could not understand it. It did not make sense to me.

If you cannot explain that kind of scenario, how do you explain it? Somebody has asked me if I was married, I said yes. He said ok, but it really doesn’t matter.

We deal with the situation as it presents itself. Sometimes somebody will come and ask for a date and I will say sorry I am married I can’t. At other times I would say, yes, we can I bring my husband?

ZARA UDOFIA EJOH: I’m a well-rounded performer

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