The name, Duro Ladipo, cannot be removed from the evolution of theatre in Nigeria. He was one of the proponents of travelling theatre more than 5 decades ago in Nigeria. Other pioneers that they were in the business together included Herbert Ogunade and Kola Ogunmola. Those who came shortly after include Oyin Adejobi; Akin Euba among others.
Duro Ladipo, according to a documentary about him, he was the 14th child of his parents and the first to survive, as such, he was given the name, Duro, and thereafter his parents had 7 other children. His father was an Anglican clergy. He supported his father’s ministry by being a member of the church choir but over time, he felt the hymns were sounding monotonous, as such, he wanted to introduce the traditional drums into his ministration. This was seen as an act of desecration and he was expunged from the church.
Equally, this exodus was the genesis of his journey into being a thespian abandoning his teaching job with the mission and he went into researching various Yoruba historical events and he got his facts from the royal fathers that were involved at certain times in history; this made him a dependable historical dramatist to the Alaafin of Oyo; Timi of Ede; Ooni of Ife; Alake of Abeokuta; Olowo of Owo and many more notable Kings.
In the course of doing all these, he met Ulli Beier, a researcher in the University College Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, they co-founded Mbari-Mbayo in Osogbo and he even helped in the translation of Ladipo’s works into other languages. The partnership was his springboard to global fame. As he had the opportunity to travel to various nations with his troupe where they regularly performed “Oba Koso” translated as the King did not hang. The troupe visited countries such as Scotland, Italy, Iran, Belgium, Austria and Holland. Others are France, Switzerland, Yusoglavia, Brazil and The United States of America.
A question was raised about how people of other nationalities understood their performance. As explained by one of his wives, who was usually a lead actor in many of the performances, Biodun Duro-Ladipo, “there would be a narrator who would briefly introduce the next scene to the audience while the cast are backstage but importantly the audience usually understood the play through gestures and the costumes and stage movements.”
Other prominent plays performed by his troupe included Oba Waja; Oba Moro. These trilogy were centered on various Alaafin of Oyo of the ancient Oyo Kingdom at different point in history. He also wrote on the exploits of Moremi- a female heroine of Ile-Ife; Eda; Ajagun Nla and other unpublished and yet to be staged plays. As described by Britannica.com, Duro Ladipo’s performances were innovative folk operas incorporating folk poetry and traditional rhythms performed on indigenous instruments were based on Yoruba history. The thespian cum playwright revived all the respectable aspect of Yoruba culture and tradition these include his use of Dancing, Singing, Poetry, Dressing, Respect and all these form the core of Yoruba culture.
In all these, Duro Ladipo had various challenges which included the frequent travel from one community to another with the lorry developing mechanic faults; the publicity for their performances; the need to construct their set from one location to another and the limited income from their shows. However, they all share the profit at the end of the month.
As a family man, Duro Ladipo, who took cultural lessons from his Grandfather, had three wives, who played various roles in ensuring his successes, namely Mabel- the home keeper; Biodun- lead actor and Bisi Idowu- best dancer. According to him, Yoruba men marry according to their profession and financial wherewithal.
In one of the interviews with Biodun, she noted that it was boredom that led her to going to Mbari Mbari because she was residing with her sister family in Osogbo as of that time. Afterwards, her sister wanted her to stop going to the centre by stacking her up with a lot of house chores but rehearsals could not continue without her presence. Eventually Ulli Beier told her husband “if he wanted to succeed in the theatre industry, he must marry her”. She became an actor against her earlier desire of becoming a Nurse. She added that the perception of female actor during this period in history, she noted that they were usually considered as prostitutes because the assumption is that the backstage is meant for illicit sex and the generally actors are considered to be beggars.
The conviction that drove Duro Ladipo from the classroom eventually led to his success in the theatre industry. He received the Federal Government of Nigeria Cultural Achievement Award in 1963; he won the first prize at the Berlin Arts Festival in Germany in1964 and the First Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1965. He died rather early at the age of 47 in 1978 but he accomplished many feats that is still spoken off across the globe 40 years after his demise.
You may enjoy the documentary-