A different kind of powerful

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By Iquo DianaAbasi

“I am a different kind of broken, a different kind of woman,” Donna Ogunnaike stressed as she began the last lap of her show Strelitzia”, weaving strands of stories into a colourful tapestry that demonstrated our humanity, our strengths and our frailties.

From religious fanaticism and cancer to rape and lost loves, Ogunnaike sowed emotive tales in her audience and she reaped a bounty of acceptance, sighs and applause.

It was the last day of the Lagos Theatre Festival and I let myself be taken on a journey to the past—recent and otherwise— that covered a period before I was born, to the time when all we did was wait for the stroke of four when the multicoloured lines on our TV screen would announce the beginning of the day’s transmission (and fun).

And so we moved from one uniquely lit chamber to the next, enraptured by stories that poured out with pain and passion. The memories packed in the “Strelitzia” chambers included nostalgic adverts (Blue Band margarine, Super Visco-static, Thermocool,) household faithful like JET petroleum jelly, antiseptic powder and the now-forgotten Walkman.

But these memories were only the beginning of a series of encounters that struck a chord within us, like a communal ritual that loosened our clenched muscles and made us warm up to the idea of becoming “Strelitzians” – travellers intent on discovering self by letting go of our fears.

We were arrested by the tear-jerking performance of Samson (Samurai) who told of his mother’s passing, and the agony of not fulfilling his dreams before she died. Amidst tears and a solemn rendition of Yoruba hymns, we could feel his pain and we in turn became one with it.

There was a light bearer who served as guide on this journey. Unobtrusive yet enchanting, she bore a light and without words served as pointer on each step of the journey. We encountered an energetic dance with moves which dared one and all to wake their dreams, feed them and watch them take flight. Then we came upon ‘Sensual memory’ and we were reminded of “things which keep us ashamed all night, but stay on our minds all day.”

These thoughts were soon erased from our minds when the Opera-style singer, Jennifer O, took the audience through childhood rhymes and a few resonant tunes from the past. And then Tony the Emperor strummed his guitar and ushered us with a soulful voice into what would be the final and most intense part of the Strelitzia journey.

When she called out to us to “Give your pain a name, let it go!” it was the crowning of a magical session in which people were invited to drop their pains – literally, by writing them individually on a white wall, and affirming oneself therein, to enable one move forward, stronger.

This moment was therapy, a powerful cathartic statement not to be forgotten in a hurry. Even I felt a different kind of wonderful, a different kind of powerful.

This invitation to cleanse ourselves after revealing our innermost worries, in my opinion, was what set Strelitzia apart from the other performances that I experienced at the 2018 Lagos Theatre Festival. At the end of the session, we were not allowed to return whence we came. Each person was invited to exit from a different point; a new beginning devoid of the past fears. This truly was the rebirth piece of the Lagos Theatre festival 2018, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it!

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