Mammy Water’s Wedding: Meet the Wedding Planner

Mammy Water’s Wedding, performed at the Wole Soyinka Theatre, University of Ibadan, from the 4th to 8th of June in celebration of World Environmental Day, was the cynosure of all eyes. An enrapturing experience, it just begged the question, ‘Who cooked this meal? Who planned this wedding?’.  I had the privilege of sitting down with Olanike Bennett Onimisi, the director of the play and co-producer with Cinema Road Media, for an insightful interview. My conversation with her was as follows:

I realised from the call we had this morning that you work in UI. What do you do?

I’m a lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts. I teach directing, stage management, educational drama and children’s theatre. I also introduce 200-level students to the Basic Study and Practice in the Arts of the Theatre.

What was your inspiration for Mammy Water’s Wedding?

The play is heavy on environmental conservation. I enacted it with my 200-level students when I supervised and guided them through their second-semester examinations. I told them that we would do it again because even though the play was first performed sometime in the late 80s, it’s still very significant now as things are getting worse. The ecosystem is being destroyed, climate change, global warming, rain doesn’t fall when it ought to— or when it does, it doesn’t end, the sun can be scorching, and life is gradually getting unbearable for humans and animals alike. Studying this play opened my eyes to how theatre can provoke people’s thoughts, create awareness, and sensitise the public about how individual activities are responsible for some of the consequences we face, including natural disasters like flooding. Most land pollutants are non-biodegradable plastics, which can stay intact for millions of years. They clog waterways, and when the water has nowhere to go, it comes back to us. So the play is an artistic representation of what we are talking about, environmental protection, and bringing to people’s view through the scenery, like the large number of plastic bottles we used for the stage that we easily foraged for. In fact, the Honourable Commissioner of the Oyo State Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Hon AbdulMojeed Mogbonjubola, gave us three bags of plastic bottles just from his house. In the play, Tarella, while persuading Akinla to stay, questions him about his world, asking what it contained that made him fear hers, a world where even the outer fringes are tainted by humans with destructive actions. Plastic waste is a global crisis. and the props made from discarded plastics served to make that statement. Last year, the World Environment Day theme was ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’, we merged that with this year’s theme which is centred on protecting our lands and securing our water. For this reason, I don’t collect nylons in markets. These things should become a lifestyle, and that’s why I tell my cast that we need to practice what we preach.

That was very deep. What were the technicalities/logistics of putting up something of this scale?

To start with, we had 26 days of rehearsals that lasted for just about 2 hours each day and 6 hours on Saturday. We didn’t have so much time to work with. And in the play, we didn’t just put professionals or students but also children because it’s a message that cuts across all ages. This is also why we created a day just for secondary school students who brought waste from their homes and created fantastic artwork from it. We can say we were converting waste to treasure, and the students understood the message, I heard their comments. The Oyo State Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources was represented by Mrs Bukola Areo, Director of Environmental Health, and other directors, who gave brief lectures on waste management and keeping the environment clean and green at the workshop with the secondary school students facilitated by The Waste Museum and Walton Arts. I didn’t want the cast to be just Theatre Arts students so I sought for people from the six-year-old child up to the director of the university media center. Installations also took about four days. We had limited resources and no sponsorship because we started late. However, DBN Multimedia supported us with lights, Walton Art installed the underwater stage and did all the artwork. The bottles we used will be converted into a gazebo in the Department of Theatre Arts. Fan Milk also brought their products to give to the secondary school students who remained and the audience that came in the following days. There were a lot of setbacks. I was everywhere. But having good friends of the Theatre made everything better. There was no profit. In fact, we ran at a loss. A stronger turnout would’ve been expected if UI students were in session, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Wow, that’s a lot. It wasn’t apparent that all these happened behind the scenes. I also wish the World Environment Day fell at a time when school was in session. What do you hope to pass across with the play?

The quality of our environment determines the quality of our lives, and we do not have to wait for the government. We noticed this in the sea queen’s lines when she complained about land, air and noise pollution and their consequences. Don’t be an Adagunodo. What you do will leave a mark. Each day, when the plays ended, there were only a few cellophane wraps and other wastes in the theatre, showing the audience got the message.

I noticed some actors in the play are UI students. How did you recruit them and are there any specific talented actors in the cast we should know about?

As I said, I got actors of all ages. Every single one of the actors is talented; if not, we would be talking about one role more than the other. Atilola Omotehinse and Segun Akinola played Akinla, an advocate of a clean environment, Toluwaleke Owonifari performed well as Adagunodo, the antagonist of the environment, who later suffered the consequences of his actions and repented. Erioluwa Popoola and Precious Chilaka were Tarella, the bridge between the land and sea, showing that there were good people on land, and we could preach the message of cleanliness to them.  Ifeoluwa Ogunde and Benita Imomoh as Bidera, one of Tarella’s playmates, struck the balance and brought in logic so people weren’t lost in emotions. Bisi Ariyo and Eniola Ajoba did amazing with the role of Mama Eleja, and we saw Mr. Ropo Ewenla, Iyanu Ajibike and Abiodun Obadina on different nights as Baba Eleja. The performance of Temitope Agoro as Sea Queen (depicted as Yemoja) was electrifying; all those primary and secondary school students, undergraduates (some from the faculty of Law), postgraduates, lecturers, and professional actors…every single person that performed on that stage (as land or sea creatures) was nothing short of fantastic!

I noticed some TV stars too.

Yes, we had Erioluwa Popoola, who starred in Irora Iya on African Magic. She played Tarella on one of the nights. We also had Mr Ropo Ewenla (director of UI Media Centre), who played Pa Kuti in Wura and was a nominee in AMVCA 2024. He played Baba Eleja on some of the nights. A good number of actors on that stage have featured in one film or the other.

Is there anyone behind anything we should know about?

First, God. The universe aligns with us. Then, people. The wonderful playwright of ‘Mammy Water’s Wedding’, Prof Bode Sowande was very supportive. The Oyo State Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources endorsed us because they believed what we wanted to do aligned with their vision of having a sparkling clean Oyo State. We’re grateful to DBN Multimedia, Waste Museum, and Walton Art. We are grateful to the FoodComedyFest and Fan Milk, who helped reduce the burden on the day we brought the secondary school students because they attended for free. 

Wow, I didn’t know about that. 

They didn’t have to pay. If the production was sponsored, I don’t mind having it free for everybody. Because the more people that can watch, the more impact we can make. We had individuals who helped: Professor Afolayan of Philosophy, Princess Adebukola Adewusi, Dr David Seyi Akanbi, Mr John Onimisi, Mr Olushina Laniyi-Stephens, Mr Tosin Odeku, Dr Awosanmi. In fact, we have a long list of professors, thespians, and other persons who supported us. We even got to use the Wole Soyinka Theatre for free. We budgeted ₦15M for this production, but for the lack of sponsors, we had to micromanage ₦3.4M. All thanks to the people who supported us with funding, and the sales made from ticketing. 

Would there be more wonderful stage plays from you that we should look out for?

The department is always churning out beautiful productions. For instance, there’s Ajayi Osungbekun coming up this Friday, written and directed by the department’s HOD, Dr Bashiru Lasisi, and Oke Langbodo from the 18th of June. From me, there would definitely be more because I’m here to make an impact in our communities through theatre.

Were you a student of the University of Ibadan? If yes, what did you study?

Oh yes, I had my first and second degrees here at the Department of Theatre Arts, UI, specialising in Directing and Media Arts. I’m currently running my third degree, a PhD. It’s a bit different this time, as my PhD is focused on Educational Drama and Children’s Theatre. My work is about how drama can help students better understand core subjects such as Maths, English and Science. I am passionate about children and young adults, and love to see them thrive. Even the Bible says to ‘teach a child in the way he should go and when he grows, he will not depart from you’. I don’t think of what I will get back. The fact that a person is impacted is enough fulfilment for me. 

What do you love the most about the play, and who is the character that stood out the most for you?

I’d like first to say that when people heard about Mammy Water’s Wedding, there was some religious bias but I had to keep explaining that it was just a metaphor. It’s a metaphorical union between the land and the sea because that’s what makes up the earth. And the focus is on the sea because Earth is two-thirds water. What happens to people living in riverine areas whose food comes mostly from water? They will die of hunger. It’s so interesting how the playwright inserted the elements. I would say the elements are my favourite characters because they determine our existence: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Every living thing needs air, sun, heat, water, and land. Akinla also stood out because he was in a position of power, and he didn’t get greedy. He kept saying that he wanted to go home, showing that if you’re in a position today, you can’t be there forever and not think of others. He said, ‘Your world is a big cup of honey, but mine teaches me the taste of honey in drops.’ This shows contentment. Akinla also stands out as an advocate of purity and a clean environment. Another is Adagunodo, who, when he was blind, wasn’t truly blind. He only saw the consequences of his actions (the dead fish). In truth, there are many Adagunodos in our society, who finance projects and communities to shut eyes and mouths prying into their illegal activities. I like Mama Eleja too, that is a very strong role in the play. Especially as she stands her ground as a Mother demanding her child from the sea (another Mother also trying to protect her children and territory). To be honest, the playwright did an amazing job because every character in the play stood out for me.

Thank you for your time, ma.

Ojeniyi Ololade Esther


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